Interview by Catling
My adventures with Alex Grey began when a dear friend of mine dared me to go to Brazil for Alex Grey's Visionary Art And Ayahuasca workshop in February 2004. That email went something like, "Catling, how would you like to rob a bank, go AWOL from Seattle and trip in Brazil with Alex Grey?" My reply was heartfelt: "You asshole! What are you trying to do to me?" I decided then and there that improbable or no, I was going to Brazil to explore ayahuasca and visionary art with Alex Grey, and the world could just catch up to me. Having set my intentions so clearly and powerfully, it all fell into place. In the weeks that followed, I managed to raise the money to call his bluff. No-one was more surprised or delighted than my friend.
Down in the Amazon rainforest I met Alex and adopted him as heart family. He was an amazing guide and support during the places we explored those weeks. The ayahuasca experiences that we shared opened my mind to a world of infinite human potential, to my own creative and healing ability and to the spirit of the Earth and the realms beyond. It catalyzed a realization within that through art we can create a reality we want to live in and share it others, that artistic expression can act as a force of healing and positive change for the world.
Alex, a visionary artist living in New York City, is powerfully motivated by love. Originally an atheist, a combination of LSD and meeting his future wife, Allyson, triggered a mystical rebirth that transformed his life and his art. Since that awakening he has worked continually to express humanity's spiritual potential in artwork that shows how the aetheric body interfaces with the physical, how there's a web of light that connects us all to divinity. Allyson also received divine transmission in that shared LSD trip as she saw a vision of a net that underlies all physical reality and is woven of love. The form this takes in her art is exploration of sacred language and symbols.
What is so strikingly powerful about Alex is that to view his art is truly to know him. This is not some arrogant self-proclaimed guru spouting wisdom from on high. This is a gentle man, a loving human devoted to his family, a deeply silly man who has never allowed his success to tarnish his inherently delightful, ridiculous spirit, or to create a vast divide between him and his audience.
I've stayed close to the Greys over the years, visiting when I can. In 2004 I spent a month in New York City helping them open their Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, an evolving space that fuses temple with art gallery and serves as a gathering place for many young artists and spiritual seekers in the New York City area. I recently spoke with Alex about the CoSM, art and spirituality.
Catling: It has been beautiful to watch your Chapel of Sacred Mirrors project evolve over the years and become what it is today. I realize that the current incarnation of the CoSM is not the final version. What do you feel will be the next phase of this project? Can you talk a bit about your vision for the continued evolution of the Chapel, both the space that holds it and the community that surrounds it?
Alex Grey: When Allyson and I first envisioned a Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in 1985, we did not conceive of the community that would grow there. Birthing the Chapel is a metaphor for manifesting one's most unreasonable and noble dreams. We have been so transformed by the process that we hardly recognize ourselves from what we were before. It is our vision that the Chapel have a future that endures beyond our generation. The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors has come to represent a new kind of spirituality that embraces the primary religious experience, direct contact with the Divine through any means.
Alex Grey 'Tantra'
Catling: As we enter the Chapel of the Sacred Mirrors we are met with the words, "Surrender to Love." It's clear that love has played a huge role in your artwork; love is a current that runs through everything you create. Can you speak a little bit about that, about the role that love plays for you in life and art?
Alex: Love is the energetic core of reality. Art is an expression of love, a way to share your love of life and inspire others. Falling in love with Allyson was the path leading to the creation of the Sacred Mirrors and all of my work.
Catling: Your partnership with Allyson is amazing, it's beautiful to see your shared vision, how you sustain one another. Can you speak a bit about how this dynamic supports your work, about how being together has led you both to where you are today?
Alex: Everyone wants to love and be loved. Seeing your life partner as the source of your own life provides a powerful force for personal transformation and empowers common goals.
Catling: As you've gained recognition and popularity as an artist, what challenges has that created for you, personally and as part of a family? How do you balance the demands of being a public figure with getting enough time to yourself, and with Allyson and Zena? How has achieving recognition affected your art?
Alex: I painted a lot more when no one was knocking at the door. I have many new responsibilities. Thank Goddess I still have Allyson and Zena. Balancing being a public persona and time for art and family is something I'm very much still learning.
Catling: Being a family man, do you see the structure of family staying stable in future generations? What about tribalism and the breakdown of the nuclear family?
Alex: People have many choices now. Different kinds of families are acceptable. Allyson and I enjoy monogamy and transformative family values. Each member of the family should fulfill their greatest potential, pulling for each other, seeing that everybody has a role and a calling. Because we love each other we strive to be better people.
Catling: I know that entheogen use has played a big part in your path as a human being and an artist. Can you please speak of a few moments that were turning points, times of entheogen use that really stand out, that really shifted your vision?
Alex: My first psychedelic experience was a turning point, literally, which introduced me to the existence of the Divine. Before that I was an atheist and an existentialist. Subsequent journeys have altered my artwork and focus entirely. These stories have been told in my books and lectures1. Entheogen use can be dangerous for some people. You have to be judicious and have a sense of whether you are stable enough mentally to get value from it. If you decide to use entheogens it is important to be with a loving partner or trusted friends in safe surroundings.
Catling: A theme that flows through your art is contact with messengers, angelic entities; with auras, chakras and energetic connections within and without. How much of that do you experience in day to day life? What forms does it take?
Alex: My inner life is filled with imagery and symbolism. Visions of one depth or another occur on a daily basis. This is my connection with creative spirit. I also see devils and demons in my inner life and have relations with all the forces both joyful and transgressive. At the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors our outer life is filled with relationships and interactions with people we love. That is the manifestation of our spiritual life. Making the art is also the outer manifestation of this inner world.
Catling: Do you have any regular spiritual practice, such as yoga, meditation? How do you feel it has changed you, helped you, over the years?
Alex: Art is my spiritual practice. After an initiation into psychedelic mystical experiences, spiritual content became the focus of my work and led me to create the Chapel as a new context in which to view art, focusing less on commodity and suggesting that art can be a portal to higher states. Over my lifetime I have explored a number of spiritual practices, all of which have been helpful. Buddhist meditation has been extremely valuable.
Catling: Finding our way to God, by whatever name we call the Divine, is a very personal journey. What is your view as the role of the guru or teacher in finding a spiritual path?
Alex: It's important to have a mentor or spiritual friend, which is the meaning of the word "guru." Ultimately, it is important for each of us to transit our highest teacher so we respond to the inner guru. Your guru is a reflection of your own higher possibility or inner mastery.
Catling: Which teachers have inspired you, spiritually and artistically, on your journey? Who has played a big role for you in helping you bring forth your vision?
Alex: My wife Allyson is my greatest teacher and inspiration for my art. Ken Wilber has been a profound spiritual friend. Namkai Norbu is a Tibetan Buddhist that introduced Dzogchen to the West. He has been one of my most important teachers. I look for wisdom in many spiritual leaders -- the Dalai Lama, particularly. Ammachi is a wonderfully wise spiritual leader.
Catling: What are your views on spiritual traditions in the new millennium, how they are evolving as we evolve?
Alex: There is a lot of decay and fundamentalism in the major world religions today. Religion sometimes has a frightening face of intolerance.
On the positive side, consider the Santo Daime religion, which is a synchratic fusion of psychedelic sacrament and Christian faith. This kind of hybrid spiritual path is encouraging. Ken Wilber and the Integral Institute have been considering the nature of integrative spirituality, a non-mythic spirituality compatible with the Occam's Razor of science, carving away the unnecessary baggage of religion and attempting to determine what that is.
Catling: The Burning Man art theme for this year is Hope and Fear for the Future: Dystopia and Utopia. I know that you are planning to bring the CoSM to the Playa this year. What hopes and fears do you have for the future, and how does the CoSM fit into them?
Alex: Buddhism cautions against attachment to both hope and fear. Hope is an unconscious longing on which the heart thrives. Hoping doesn't always lead to striving. Fear is simply non-productive but is always present. Our greatest hope is that there might be a collective awakening that would inspire humanity to mature quickly and find creative solutions to save and sustain what is left of the web of life. CoSM is a sacred space that can inspire people to take on big problems.
Catling: Your art truly inspires a huge number of people. I have heard genuine outpourings from many people who have connected to your art, who have felt some soul hunger in themselves nourished by it. (Myself included), many are artists and/or visionaries in our own right, struggling to bring forth our own light, our own messages to the world. To we artists who are struggling right now, what words of comfort and advice do you have for us?
Alex: Keep going. Never give up. Your life is a labyrinth, not a maze. Dedicate your work to something higher than yourself.