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Alex Grey

unlike your contemporary paintings which have a more positive transcendent quality to them. Can you tell me what caused the shift of focus in your creative work?

Alex: Well, I had a dramatic series of vision states that occurred after doing certain performances. They were performances that were done in the morgue where I worked, using the dead bodies. Using people’s bodies in my artwork had questionable ethical ramifications. It was trespassing and there were consequences. I experienced a vision where I was in a courtroom being judged. I couldn’t see the face of the judge, but I knew the accuser was a woman’s body who I had violated in the morgue work. She was accusing me of this sin. I said “It was for art’s sake.” This excuse didn’t hold up under scrutiny for the judge. I was put on lifetime probation and not forgiven. The content of my work and my orientation would be watched from that point on. It made me consider the ethical intentions of my art. The motivation that moves us to creative work is critical.

David: In terms of the consequences?

Alex: Yeah. What does one intend for the viewer to experience? I also had an intense experience after I shot photographs of about thirty malformed fetuses from a collection. One night I was lying in bed, but awake. I saw one malformed fetus hovering in front of me. It was like a holographic projection in space which spoke with many voices, all saying the same thing. “It’s time for you to come with us. We’ve come to take you.” The being itself, the creature in the jar that I photographed, was not an evil being. But somehow, in this holographic hallucination it was a personification of malevolence. It was threatening me, seeking to take over, take control, and I felt like I was on the precipice of sanity, about to go over the edge.

I started calling on divine love. I said, “Divine love is the strongest power,” and I just kept reaffirming that in the face of this being who was calling me. I made a commitment from that point on to reorient myself. After calling that out several times the hallucination dissolved, as if it were banished, and it was replaced by a bluish light that spoke. The light identified itself as Mr. Lewis, an interplanetary angel, who said he was going to watch over me for a little while. He would be helpful and guide me. That was mind-changing and life-changing.

David: Have you any experiences with Mr. Lewis since?

Alex: I’m not sure. I think he’s been working back-stage, and manipulating things.

David: What other kinds of experiences have you had?

Alex: Well, in Tibetan Buddhist practices one projects visions of deity and guru forms like Garab Dorje, who is one of the earliest Dzogchen masters. Garab Dorje is a very strong spiritual archetype and guru. Although he lived over two thousand years ago, he is accessible as a helper-being because he attained the pinnacle of realization known as the ja-lus or rainbow body. By following certain secret practices, a yogi can dissolve their physical body into the essence of the elements, hence the name rainbow body, leaving behind only their hair, fingernails and toenails. It takes about seven days to shrink and disappear completely. There is a continuous lineage of Tibetan masters who have accomplished this seemingly unbelievable feat of self-liberation. The same thing is true with the great master Padmasambhava. who wrote theTibetan Book of the Dead. With the right mantra and visualization you may experience these masters presence and blessing.

David: What relationship do you see between sex and death?

Alex: They are both inevitable, and they are crystallizations of our life force and our loss of vitality. Orgasms have been described as mini-deaths. Certainly there can be an ecstatic ego-death, a convergence with the beloved during sex. I hope that death will be like a cosmic orgasm, where I’m released into convergence with the infinite one. Certain tantric traditions have sexual rituals to be performed in charnel grounds, and there are some pretty intense paintings of Kali astride corpse Shiva.

David: Do you view yourself as a shaman?

Alex: I can’t really claim that pedigree.

David: In Carlo McCormick’s essay in your book, he compares you to a shaman, and says that it was a necessary part of your journey to go through the darkness.

Alex: Metaphorically, the path of the wounded healer, or the journey of the shaman has very important implications for the future of spirituality. No other metaphor sufficiently deals with the journey of humanity. We are wounded, and whether we’re going to be the wounded victim, or the wounded healer is our choice. We have wounded the planet. We have wounded our genes. We’ve wounded the coming generations. Whether we make some remediation to the environment, and to our psyches, is something that only time will tell.

David: To promote healing, the shamanic approach is to reach into the higher spheres, into the invisible world, into something more than the material universe, to gain knowledge that will help deal with the problems here.

Alex: Right, that is critical. We need transcendent vision to guide us, and the vision of a common good to motivate and drive our creative efforts. Another role that is critical at this time is the role of the Bodhisattva, because this is an archetype of ethical idealism. In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva, one whose being is enlightenment, expresses their compassion by working for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhichitta is altruistic positive motivation in all ones actions. These Mahayana Buddhist teachings emphasize a universal compassion and responsibility, and are the logical consequence of realizing that we are all connected and that we can’t turn our backs on a suffering world.

I love the yogic and shamanic path as a metaphor. A lot of my work is related to those paths. My early performance work started with an animal, the dead dog pieces, Secret Dog and Rendered Dog. That was my power animal that opened me up to the world of mortality and decay and led me to the underworld of death.

After the morgue pieces and a positive reorientation, my performances dealt with the possibilities of global death from nuclear war, and ecotastrophy. I think that everyone with a conscious sense of responsibility carries around a heavy sadness, fear or guilt about these possibilities. My daughter at age five made a little book about the earth. It started with the a happy earth from the earliest times when Adam and Eve were around. The globe had a happy face. Then the earth was being trashed and the trees and people were dying. The earth was dying. It frightens everyone. Even young children know the fear.

David: How and when did you start painting?

Alex: My father was an artist, a graphic designer, and he started teaching me how to draw. So at a young age I was drawing alot, and in first grade I was recognized by my teacher who said to the class “Alex is going to be a great artist someday.” This made me very proud and it probably gave me confidence early on. I think my ability to draw exceeds my ability to paint.

David: You would say that you draw more realistically than, say, expressionistically? Your work seems almost photographic to me.

Alex: I suppose.

David: Even when you’re painting transcendental realms, it appears anatomically accurate.

Alex: Right. I use the effect of simultaneous X-ray and Kirlian photography in my paintings. This combination evokes the appearance of a clairvoyant healers vision. Artists like Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian intended their art to be spiritual and my motives are not that different than theirs. After the twentieth century, these and other early Modernists wanted to create a new spiritual image divorced from representation. To them, Realism had been an impediment to the development of the spiritual in art. In some ways, I suppose they were right. The nineteenth century European Academies were filled with competent representational art. A stiff kind of neo-classical realism abounded which occasionally had its peaks in Jacques Louis David and Ingres, but for the most part was simply tiresome and totally bourgeois – portraits or still lifes, scenes from mythology or history. Art seemed like a mirror to the white mans world without a glimpse of the individual visionary soul, let alone a glimpse of the World Soul. The early modernists wanted to bypass the natural world and simply invent forms from their minds. This resulted in a great leap forward in the purely mental and formal development of art. Art was free from the drudgery of representational art. But, when you eliminate references to the body and the external world, it’s difficult for some people to identify with the aesthetic object. Abstraction is seen as no more than an arrangement of shapes. If you ask Joe Six-pack whether Kandinsky’s work is spiritual, that thought might never have occurred to him. It took weirdo renegade symbolists like Blake, Redon and Delville to deepen the spiritual discourse of art.

Like those symbolists, I want to make work that is obviously spiritual. Even if a person doesn’t

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