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Art and Psychedelics

Psychedelic Art

by
David Jay Brown

Every creative person who has ever taken a psychedelic substance yearns
to express the experience. Among other things, psychedelics have a most
extraordinary effect on the imagination and the optical cortex of the
brain. Visual art that is reminiscent of the kinds of hallucinatory
visions– intricate, brightly colored, unusual, complex, imbued with
meaning, and often geometrically organized– that one sees with closed
eyes during this hyperdimensional brain state has been dubbed “psychedelic
art”.

Psychedelic art is not always inspired by a drug-induced experience,
but often it is. Although sometimes referred to as visionary or surreal
art– in that, like dreams, they all draw upon the unconscious as their
source of inspiration– the truly psychedelic painting is charged with an
unmistakable psychoactive intensity. Sex and death are common co-mingling
themes. Psychedelic art is, of course, best viewed and most appreciated
while one is under the influence of a psychedelic.

Artists, for the most part, seem to take naturally to the psychedelic
experience, and LSD has been shown with scientific validation to increase
the creativity of artists. (This doesn’t mean that taking LSD will make
you creative. It means that if one already has a creative talent, then LSD
has the potential to amplify this.) When psychiatric researcher Oscar
Janiger did his famous LSD and creativity studies in the early sixties, he
found that the group which had the most positive experiences with the
substance were the artists. (Which group had the greatest number of
bummers? The psychiatrists.) Psychedelic art is certainly nothing new.
It’s been around for as long as human beings. This article is by no means
meant to be an overview of this vast subject– that has been done in
detail elsewhere– but rather, this is a compilation of short profiles on
some of the major psychedelic artists on the scene today.

H.R. Giger

H.R. Giger– creator of the Necronomican collection– lives in Chur,
Switzerland. He is perhaps best known for the creature and sets he
designed (and won an academy award for) in the original film Alien, but
his paintings, which have appeared popularly as posters and on record
album covers, are actually even more extraordinary. Giger is the master of
capturing the bad trip. If one were able to freeze a moment from Poe or
Lovecraft’s worst nightmare, we would probably have an image that very
much resembled one of Giger’s pieces. Macabre metalic biomechanical
creatures erotically slither through his dark decaying landscapes, locked
in a gruesome orgy of repulsive torment, while dirty grey cyborgs grind
together over carpets of screaming mutilated baby heads. He says that he
has always been fascinated by the combination of “elegance and horror.”
His work provides us with a tour through the interior chambers of hell,
the darkest regions of our souls, and it is certainly not for the
squeamish. But to some, it can be so horrific that it becomes extremely
beautiful. His work can be obtained through: Leslie Barany Communications,
121 West 27th St., Suite 202, New York, New York 10001, (212) 627-8488, or
through: Morpheus International, 200 N. Robertson Blvd. #312, Beverly
Hills, California 90211, (310) 859-2557.

Robert Williams

Robert Williams lives in North Hollywood, California. He became well
known for the contributions that he made to Zap and other underground
comics during the late sixties, and his collection entitled Zombie Mystery
Paintings has become a cult classic. Although Williams is a architect of
grotesque and disturbing nightmare visions, and a deliberately sleazy,
low-life flavor permeates his work, there is cartoony cuteness about it,
and a good deal of hallucinogenic humor giggles through. So intricately
detailed is Williams’ work that one often can not grasp what they are
looking at upon first glance. One usually has to stare at it for awhile
before the complex imagery begins to emerge– then it’s almost hard to
believe what one is seeing. When asked how psychedelics influenced his
work, he replied, “Tremendously… they opened up the world of color and
shape, and put an emphasis on things that were really not paid attention
to before.” Recently his work has received a great deal of recognition,
including a showing at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
Posters, prints, and books by Robert can be ordered through: L, Imagerie,
15030 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, California 91403, (818) 995-8488. (Full
color catalog available for $4.)

Alex Grey

Alex Grey– well-known as a performance artist– lives in Brooklyn, New
York. If Henry Gray– the physician who put together Gray’s Anatomy– had
ever done a hit of acid we may have seen something emerge from him that is
very similar to the work that Alex Grey has done. Alex Grey’s collection
of paintings entitled Sacred Mirrors was inspired by a psychedelic vision
that he shared with his wife, which he describes in the preface to the
collection as an experience of the “Universal Mind Lattice.” Many of his
paintings show people with transparent skin so that one can see the inner
workings of their circulatory, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems.
Radiating out from his precisely detailed, anatomically exposed figures
are auric waves of metaphysical energies, making many invisible dimensions
visible. At times heavenly and other times horrific, Alex Grey paints
people the way that they often appear to someone at the peak of an acid
trip. For information on how to purchase his work contact Inner Traditions
at (800) 488-2665 or Pomegranate at (800) 227-1428.

Mati Klarwein

Mati Klarwein– creator of the infamous Milk and Honey collection–
lives in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Andy Warhol said that Mati was his “favorite painter.” Mati has called
himself “the most famous unknown painter in the world”, because most
everyone has seen the widely reproduced, visionary piece that he did on
the cover of Santana’s album Abraxas or his painting “A Grain of Sand” (in
this issue), yet very few people know who painted them. Influenced by his
mentor Ernst Fuchs, Mati’s work is brightly colored, often full of dense
intricate imagery shamanically juxtaposed together. There is a rapturous
blissful quality to his paintings. Timothy Leary told him that he didn’t
need psychedelics. “I painted psychedelically before I took psychedelics,”
Mati says, “It’s like what Dali said, I don’t take drugs, I am drugs.” His
Collected Works 1959-1975 is available from the Raymond Martin Press in
Markt Erlbach, Germany. Mati can be reached in Spain by calling: (34)
71-639-281.

Tadanori Yokoo

Tadanori Yokoo lives in Tokyo, Japan, and is well recognized as one of
the leaders in the pop art movement that began in the sixties. Although he
is a very highly accomplished and talented painter, his most amazing
psychedelic work is accomplished with the collages that he does, wherein
are assembled many images from popular culture interfaced with angels,
buddhas, and other religious images from both Eastern and Western
traditions. He creates a unique celestial paradise, beautifully blending
together global icons in order to invoke a transcendental realm that
expresses the escalation of the human spirit. One of his best collections
is simply entitled 100 Posters of Tadanori Yokoo, and his collaboration
with body builder and artist Lisa Lyon-Lilly produced some wonderful
psychedelic results in both painting and video. His work can be obtained
through: Tadanori Yokoo Atelier, 4-19-7 Seijo Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 157
Japan. Phone: 81-3-3482-2826.

Barbara Mendes

Barbara Mendes– creator of the “Psychedelic Legacy” series– lives in
downtown Los Angeles. Barbara covers her canvases with a richly detailed
tapestry of joyous colorful celebrative images, where multi-cultural
archetypes dance through an ecological blend of urban and natural
settings, and intertwining plant-like structures form symbiotic unions
with beautiful creatures that are delightfully dripping with erotic
sensuality. The resonance with African and Hindu rhythms is present, as is
the influence of underground comics. Her work has a happy feeling about
it, and it simply makes one feel good. Barbara doesn’t like being labled a
sixties artist. “This is not just a sixties thing, it’s a human thing,”
she says. “To me minimal art is a joke, because life isn’t minimal, today
it’s maximal!” “My art,” Barbara says, “visualizes and symbolizes the vast
universe within each human brain.” For information on where to view
Barbara’s work, or for an appointment at her private gallery call (213)
488-3508 during business hours.

Brummbaer

Brummbaer lives in Venice, California. Famous for the magazine Germania
that he published in Germany years ago and the light shows he orchestrated
in the late sixties for such luminaries as Frank Zappa and Tangerine
Dream, Brummbaer found his most expressive medium when he discovered the
computer. Brummbaer stylishly blends the mathematical precision achievable
on a computer with sensuous human sexuality, and fabricates fantastic
polymorphic, cyberdelic universes. His annimated alien worlds are composed
of Escheresquely organized, interlocking tubeular networks, and spinning
hyperdimensional objects encoded with cryptic esoteric messages. Brummbaer
says that his philosophy of creativity stems from his notion that an
artist is but a humble window washer. His computer screen is simply a
window, he says, that allows us to see through into other worlds, and all
he does is polish the screen so that we can see through them to the other
side. Brummbaer can be contacted through: Saturday Afternoon in the
Universe, 520 Washington Blvd. Suite # 114, Marina del Rey, CA 90292.

Carolyn Kleefeld

Carolyn Kleefeld lives in Big Sur, California. Author of five books,
she is presently completing her sixth– The Eye Change: Architecture of
the Sixth Dimension– and is well-known as an award-winning poet. Her
books are being used nationwide at universities and human potential
centers, and they have received the rare honor of being translated into
Braille. Carolyn painted the Songs of Ecstasy collection, a visionary
series that was also published as a book of the same title. Her paintings
are presently being shown in galleries across the country, and they have
appeared in and on several books. She paints the ecstatic vision, and
there is a profoundly joyous quality to her abstract expressionistic work.
Her pieces seem like postcards from heaven. She paints a higher
dimensional world that blends the organic with the astral, alchemically
weaving together a magical paradisical landscape that is inhabited by
strangely familiar mythic archetypes, unusual biological forms, mysterious
giggling nature spirits, and radiant explosions of erotic energy. “The
wilderness of the unconscious is lush with the gems of infinity,” she said
when speaking of her inspiration. By combining several media– including
iridescent acrylics and metal leaf– a delightful and enigmatic
characteristic arises; the paintings continuously change and transform
when viewed from different angles and under different lights. To find out
more about Carolyn Kleefeld’s artwork and publications contact: Atoms
Mirror Atoms, P.O. Box 221693, Carmel, California 93922. (408) 626-2924.

There are many other brilliant artists worthy of discussion, but
unfortunately our space here is limited. Japanese computer graphic artist
Yoichiro Kawaguchi– creator of Growth Metamorphosis– designs uncanny
animations that combine fractals with organic forms, resembling DMT
visions of extraterrestrial marine life. Pablo Amaringo, a Peruvian
shaman, paints remarkable ayahuasca visions in Amazon jungle settings.
Jorge Sicre, a Southern California painter, does marvelous surreal
dreamscapes that are reminiscent of some of Max Ernst’s late work. Suzanne
Williams, wife of Robert Williams, does a form of abstract painting that
very closely resembles the brightly contrasting, symmetrical mandalas
present in many closed-eye acid visions. More than any other single
effect, the psychedelics amplify the imagination, and good psychedelic art
reflects this. To find out about more hallucinogenic artists there is a
gallery in New York City called The Psychedelic Solution that carries a
large selection of psychedelic artwork (including a large collection of
blotter designs). They can be contacted at: 33w 8th St. 2nd Fl., New York,
New York 10011. (212) 529-2462 ($4 for catalog.)

Robert Williams

Visual Addiction

What it boils down to is we’re manipulated by a priestly elite of cultural directors in the art world, that’s telling us what is and isn’t art.

with Robert Williams

Robert Williams’ paintings are so wildly psychedelic that Timothy Leary had several of his paintings hanging in his living room. Williams told me that his work was “tremendously” influenced by psychedelics, and it certainly shows. Prior to his psychedelic transformation Williams was hot rod illustrator who worked with Ed Big Daddy “Ratfink” Roth. He became well known for the contributions that he made to Zap and other underground comics during the late sixties, and his books Zombie Mystery Paintings, Visual Addiction, and Twisted Libido have all become cult classics.

Although Williams is a architect of grotesque and disturbing nightmare visions, and a deliberately sleazy, low-life flavor permeates his work, there is cartoony cuteness about it, and a good deal of hallucinogenic humor giggles through. So intricately detailed is Williams’ work that one often can not grasp what they are looking at upon first glance. One usually has to stare at it for awhile before the complex imagery begins to emerge– then it’s almost hard to believe what one is seeing. Over the past few years his work has received a great deal of recognition from the mainstream art world, including a showing at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. I conducted this interview with Robert Williams at his home in North Hollywood, California.

 

David: What was it that originally inspired you to start drawing and painting?

Robert: I just had a natural propensity to express myself graphically. When I was a little kid I would scribble, and things like that. I’m left-handed, and I think that has a great deal to do with it.

David: Why is that?

Robert: Because I use the other side of my brain. I’m driven to fiddle. I remember when I was extremely young– like three or four– my parents would sit me down on a big piece of butcher paper with crayons. I remember drawing a human skeleton, bone by bone, gigantic in red crayon. This was supposed to be Red Skeleton.

David: So you think that because you are left-handed, and therefore use the right side of your brain more, you see with a perspective that most people don’t have?

Robert: There’s an awful lot of people claiming an elitism by being left-handed, and I wouldn’t want to do that. But I did have a propensity for drawing, and I think being left-handed had something to do with it. I’m not the only underground artist that’s left-handed. There are an unbelievable amount of artists that are left-handed. There’s also a disproportionate amount of people that are in prison and insane asylums that are left-handed.

David: Is that right? That would be an interesting subject to do a study on.

Robert: Yes, a lot of people have. All they’ve come up with is– a lot more left-handed people are involved in graphic arts, and are in insane asylums and prisons (laughter ). A lot more commit suicide, and I think left-handed people tend to die a little earlier too.

David: Did you know that also in families where schizophrenia runs, there are also much higher percentages of gifted artists and other creative individuals? Apparently, the gene that encodes for schizophrenia expresses itself as high levels of creativity in those who aren’t afflicted with the disorder.

Robert: There’s a very thin line between a genius and a maniac.

David: What do you think separates the two?

Robert: I don’t know. Robert Crumb is a very brilliant person, and he’s got a brother that’s a flat maniac, an absolute imbecile, a genius imbecile.

David: It appears that the same genes can go either way. What were some of the major influences in your life that affected the development of your unique style of visual expression?

Robert: Comic books, movies, and things like that. Being able to render things that have an adventurous air to them, that affected me as a child. Automobile racing, airplane and aircraft warfare, things that affect a little kid. War comics, and EC comic books. Are you familiar with EC comics?

David: Oh sure. Tales from the Crypt, Weird Science Fantasy, Mad.

Robert: That’s before your time. I bought them at the newsstand when I was young.

David: My dad had a whole box of them, and he used to let me pick one when I did something for him.

Robert: He’s got originals huh? Is that right? Oh, you were very fortunate. I bought those when they came out on the stands in the early Fifties. That had a great effect on me, as did Disney. Are you familiar with Carl Barks?

David: He did the Donald Duck comics.

Robert: Yeah, and CC Beck who did Captain Marvel. There’s a whole slew of bizarre comic books that always helped my fantasy. Classic Comics were big with me. Do you remember Classics ?

David: Sure, that’s how I discovered Frankenstien, The Invisible Man, and Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They were great. So comic books were a big influence. Did you have any formal art training?

Robert: Well, I always excelled in art class, and then when I got into college I did real well. Then I went to art school at Chouinards for a small period of time.

David: If you could sum up some of the basic messages that you’re trying to communicate with your work, what would they be?

Robert: I’m a product of my situation. I’m trapped in a matrix of circumstances, like all the rest of us are. What I obviously represent is this artist that does representational artwork that’s trying to force his way into fine arts. When I went to art school in the Sixties, the predominating art of that decade was abstract expressionism, which was, to me, a very limited thing. To a lot of people it was a free form of revolution, but to me it was like a very confining thing. You were limited to working with a small pallet of earth colors and maybe blue. Draftsmanship and craftsmanship was really discouraged. When I entered art school my head was full of EC images, Salvador Dali, and other things that put a stop to you right away in art school. My peer group pressured me, referring to me as an illustrator. This happened not only to me, but to a lot of the artists in Zap Comix.

David: Are you saying that being called an illustrator was a put down?

Robert: Yeah, it’s very derogatory to refer to someone as an illustrator. I’m facing the same problems that Fredick Remington, James Montgomery Flag, and other real capable artists who were categorized as illustrators faced. For maybe fifty years the established art world has been in a very loose form of abstraction. In the last ten or fifteen years it’s just been ridiculous. It’s formed itself over into situations like minimalism and conceptualism, and it’s got further and further away from a graphic language. It’s like an absolute revolt against anything to go with a graphic language.

So in my generation, and two or three generations before me, people who were technically capable stayed out of fine art. They went into illustration, movie posters, and this whole variety of other sub-arts. I represent a percentage of people who are like the waves coming back on the shore, the chickens coming back to roost. This is a valid language. What’s happening is comic books are demanding their position in the art world, and cartoon imagery is the art of the Twentieth Century. Just like in the future rock-n-roll music will be the music of the Twentieth Century, cartoons will be the art of the Twentieth Century. This is coming to be realized, and that’s what I tend to see myself as representing.

David: There is something about cartoon imagery that particularly appeals to both children and people who do psychedelics.

Robert: It’s a language.

David: How do you differentiate then between what is cartoon art and what is fine art?

Robert: The difference between “low-brow” and “high-brow” art is that the later is real snobby. To be snobby you have to make it very stoic and boring. In other words, it’s got to be profoundly bland– like holding your nose against a brick wall and looking at it for an hour. You’re just looking at a fucking brick wall, and you can walk down eight paces and see the same brick wall with a little different texture. What it boils down to is we’re manipulated by a priestly elite of cultural directors in the art world, that’s telling us what is and isn’t art.

This would have probably held up into the next century, except for the fact that the economy collapsed. So these incredible pieces of artwork that these people have made– like two railroad ties chained together, named “Untitled #14″, that were going for a quarter of a million dollars– can’t even get pennies on the dollar. They can’t give some of this shit away that they paid a quarter of a million dollars for. This is what’s happening. New York is almost completely collapsed on the art market. They’re approaching losing half of their galleries now, the big ones. Okay, so I come to New York with thirty oil paintings for a sold out show. Do you understand what kind of an effect this would have on the art community in New York? Do you comprehend that?

David: No, I’m not quite sure what you are getting at.

Robert: The very stanch and conservative and entrenched art world has collapsed, financially on its ass. It’s on its knees, waiting for the storm to blow by, so it can try to crawl back up. It’s lost half it’s galleries. So, I come in there, and sell out a show of thirty oil paintings, before the doors even open. The opening night there’s 2000 people in there. The police had barricades on the street. I had a lot of very important gallery people from around SoHo at my opening, telling me, “you’re only one of ten people in all of New York that’s selling.” One of ten, out of 100,000 people that call themselves fine artists, in the art capital of this planet. But I’m doing ugly cartoons with naked ladies with big titties. The feminists were throwing rocks at me. (laughter ) I’m doing everything wrong, but here I am with a sold out show, and standing room only crowds, continually coming in. The first Saturday there was a thousand people in attendance, and the show was held over.

David: And this isn’t because somebody with a row of fancy prestigious degrees after their name is praising it. People just look at it and really enjoy it.

Robert: That’s right. Because it’s a basic language of things that you’re interested in. But it’s not because I am so brilliant that I create it, it’s just that I am a symptom of the situation. I came up with the rest of my underground buddies, reading underground comics, Hot Rod magazine, surfing, and all this stuff that people are really interested in. We’ve cooked it like soup, brewed it into an essence, and made art out of the things you want to fucking see– not what’s intellectually proper.

David: Is there a particular age group that your artwork seems to especially appeal to?

Robert: Yeah, from thirty down is who I appeal to.

David: How did you get into the underground comic scene?

Robert: I used to be art director for Ed Big Daddy Roth, and that was very much an underground think tank down in Maywood. Roth was this very important seminal character in the underground. During 1959-1961 Roth was doing monster T-shirts. He would go to car shows, set up an airbrush, and just paint shirts for people. They caught on really big. So he started doing decals, and then selling these shirts through the mail. It became an institution in the early Sixties. He used very low-brow subject matter. There’s a lot of beer cans, open wounds, warts, monsters with drool coming out, and popping eyeballs, like Basil Woverton. Now Basil Woverton was an influence on Ed Roth and me too. Have you heard of the poster artists refered to as the Big Five? Stanley Mouse, Rick Giffin, Victor Moscoso, Alton Kelly, and Wes Wilson, who did the very first psychedelic poster. Mouse is one of the better ones, on par nearly with Rick. He was a competitor. He started out doing hot rod T-shirts, as a competitor with Roth. But, there’s always been a West coast underground that’s been like a brotherhood.

David: How have psychedelics influenced your work?

Robert: They influenced it tremendously.

David: How so? What was your work like prior to and then after?

Robert: My work before psychedelics was kind of like a Wallace Wood style.

David: The guy who did those old science fiction stories in the EC comics?

Robert: Yeah, he was big influence on me too. It was kind of like a street element, hot-rod Wallace Wood effect I had in my work. Maybe a little science fiction fantasy. But when psychedelics came along, it opened up the world of color and shape– an emphasis was put on things that were really not paid attention to before. The predominant thing about psychedelics is harsh contrast, working one color against another. That had been done by the German Expressionists, but it wasn’t done like this. The German Expressionists like to get one color against another color to make it ugly– real dark green against harsh pink, for example– and it would be this real obtrusive thing. But psychedelic art wasn’t like that, it was colors at their maximum. It’s like 100% yellow against 100% red.

David: That stark contrast which is similar to what you see when you’re tripping.

Robert: Yeah, it’s sort of like putting green up against a red-orange, so where they touched each other, your eye would vibrate. Then Op-Art came along, which was a product of psychedelic art. That had like a two or three year hiatus, and then fell out. When I was working for Roth I had to render a lot of automobile stuff. He always hired a lot of artists that were technical illustrators, to do really slick automotive renderings. There was a fellow there named Ed Newton, who could do the best chrome in the world. The smooth chrome would just make your mouth water, but his imagination wouldn’t let him take it any further than car or industrial surfaces. He showed me the formulas for working chrome.

David: I seem to recall a piece that you did as a center spread in Zap, with all these really highly polished chrome characters.

Robert: Yeah. So, being psychedelic, man, I just saw all the possibilities to that shit on water, air, women– everything. So that chrome center-spread that you’re talking about was my first attempt to make everything chrome in the picture. In fact, that’s a reproduction of it on a mirror up there.

David: Oh yeah, that’s it.

Robert: A fellow from England sent that to me. That’s the “Rosetta Stone” of Chrome there. It tells you how to handle any shape. (laughter) So, I’m talking about 67, 68. So I started doing this, and it got out in the car magazines, and before long, advertising agencies started picking up on this. I started having advertising agencies calling me. J. Walter Thompson called me, but I couldn’t get along with them, and I didn’t want to be bosed by them. Inside three or four years, the entire advertising thing– all over the United States, Europe, and the world– started having chrome lettering. The chrome lettering you see today started with me. So I netted exactly nothing out of that. There was a number of artists that made pretty good livings off of doing chrome.

David: But why is that? You didn’t try to market it?

Robert: Well, I’m not a commercial artist, see.

David: Not like one of those… illustrators.

Robert: Yeah. When I got into it, and I got really deep into it. I started figuring, well this is a stylization, and I’ve got a language going with a whole new form of visual surface control. And if I get deeper into this, I’m going to find something even better. I started getting more abstract, and getting deeper into working with this.

David: I’m not sure what you mean by “getting deeper into this.” You mean you elaborated on it more?

Robert: Yeah. Instead of making it look like chrome, I started changing the colors on it, trying to alter the language– so it doesn’t read properly as chrome, yet the language is there. It’s psychedelic as hell. It’s obvious that the guy who that did this has taken some drugs. (laughter )

David: Is there a deliberate attempt to shock people with your work?

Robert: Well, you know I hear this all the time. “Are you just like shocking people there? So now you have this open wound and this naked lady?” That’s kind of a cold way to phrase it. The uglier way to phrase it to say I’m exploiting subject matter. But what it is is, if you do a cartoon or you do a picture, and you want attention, and you’re trying to gain an audience, you have so much to compete against. You’ve got television, movies, music, you got so many diversities and diversions that you have to compete against, that a picture has got to have so much energy in it. One way to get the energy is to have emotional tricks.

In other words, not only is the picture composed of a composition of color and shape, but there is emotional composition in it. Like you might have a dying baby next to a dog turd. These things are just like really disturbing situations, and they’re not things to win your favor– they’re things to hold you. And while you’re sitting there being upset, but yet attracted, the rest of the picture is taking effect on you too. So yes, the stuff is just contrived to be shocking, but it’s done in a language of it’s own. It’s demanding your attention. It’s trying to addict you to it, but it’s not necessarily trying to win your approval. What it’s trying to do is to get you to go to the next painting.

David: So in other words, you’re just trying to make it so fascinating, that people can’t help but be interested and drawn into it.

Robert: That’s right.

David: You said that you’ve had to compete with other mediums for people’s attention. Have you experimented with other mediums for your own expression, such as animation or computers?

Robert: I’ve done story boards, and one thing or another like that. I’ve had some awful good offers, but, you know, I’m a painter, and if I really can’t get off on these other things. But I’ve been offered some really good situations.

David: Have you tried doing any work on a computer?

Robert: No, I haven’t tried that. But I’ve seen my work that someone else has digitized on a computer. The guys in he band Butt Hole Surfers took some of my work and did this.

David: You said that you had some good offers– to do what?

Robert: To do all kinds stuff for television– like movies, both animated and live-action. They want me to do a series on HBO.

David: And you don’t want to do it?

Robert: It’s not that I don’t want to do it. It’s how much are they going to do for me, and how much time am I going to absorb in doing this? I’m really in a safe position now that I’ve worked thirty years to get to. Things are really flowing smooth for me. I’ve accomplished an awful lot. And if I just set that aside and start fucking around with something that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, I’ll start ending up under the dictates of someone else after awhile.

David: There seems to be a co-mingling of sex and death in your work. What’s the association between the two for you?

Robert: I think a lot of what you’re seeing is melodramatic. A lot of this stuff is hokum.

David: The recurring motif of corpses making love to beautiful women.

Robert: You see, if I was to pass myself off as fine arts, I would tell you that this all has religious significance. (laughter ) This is so deep, I can’t explain it to you. If you don’t understand it, you’ll never understand it. You know what I’m saying? But I can’t say that, because all that it is, is just melodramatic hokum.

David: But you do see an association between sex and death?

Robert: Of course I see that.

David: What’s the association that you see then? I’m really curious about that.

Robert: Well, I see exactly what you see. There’s– fucking’s fun, and you’re going to die. (laughter ) You’re driven by your libido, but yet death’s waiting for you.

David: There’s the fear of death, the promise of sex, and those two forces drive much of life.

Robert: No. The thing that overdominates the fear of death and the want of sex is the ego that wants to be gratified. The strutting of the rooster. It’s not getting the pussy– it’s being able to get the pussy.

David: Are you aware that sex and death occurred simultaneously in the evolutionarily process? Billions of years ago, in the primordial soup, they arrived at the exact same moment. Before death, all organisms were asexual and cloned themselves into immortality. Mortality hit when sexual reproduction started. I think that’s were the sex-death association began.

Robert: I think you’re simplifying the situation there.

David: You think it’s more complex than that? I especially see the motif in psychedelic artwork. You and Giger do it quite a bit.

Robert: That’s just melodramatic hocum, things that go bump in the night– things that get your interest.

David: To grab people’s fascination.

Robert: Right, those are devices.

David: What do you think happens to human consciousness after death?

Robert: It’s over pal.

David: You don’t think that there is any continuation of consciousness?

Robert: Hey, what can I tell you? How do you want it? (laughter ) You go up to the sky and you live up there with angels, where you spend eternity not being able to use foul language (laughter ). You call that heaven? You live forever among these very stoic people with beards, and you can’t fuck or say shit or anything. Would you like to spend eternity like that? Or would you rather be with the devil?

David: If I could have my preference, I wouldn’t want something in the Christian framework at all, thank you.

Robert: Well, would you want to be you today, and in your next life a armadillo? (laughter )

David: I’d be interested in trying on a new body. What would you like?

Robert: I’m going with this one ticket. This is it.

David: Don’t want another shot at it?

Robert: Well, I want another shot at it, but I’m not going to sit here and dream it up. I’m realistic.

David: Really? And I thought you were surrealistic all this time.

Robert: Have you ever looked into the eyes of a skull and think this guy’s somewhere else now?

David: No, but when I was studying neuroscience, I held a human brain in my hands before dissecting it, and tried to imagine where the person’s spirit was. I marveled at how a whole person’s life all took place in this little three pound handful of grey meat. It was an extraordinary experience.

Robert: That’s right. Three pounds of Jello.

David: It’s just a grey blob.

Robert: Better enjoy it while you can pal. This is it.

David: Live for the moment philosophy?

Robert: Well, you know I deal in abstraction and fantasy, but I know what reality is. I’ve been in jail before. I’ve been in fights. I’ve had my life threatened. I’ve been in hospitals a bunch of times. I’ve seen people die. I’ve had a lot of people die before me.

David: You’ve had a lot of really intense life experiences, and this is reflected in your work.

Robert: I’m just an old guy in tract home over in the Valley. My house looks just like everyone else’s house.

David: Yeah, you know, I was really surprised at that. (laughter ) I think I was expecting a polished chrome house, with a giant nude woman on the roof wrapped in a huge taco shell. Why did you choose to live here?

Robert: I got the house at a good price years ago. I used to live over in Hollywood, right in the eye of the vortex, man– taking drugs, and lots of parties in the Sixties. I was glad to get the hell out of there.

David: So what are you working on these days?

Robert: Well, I’m starting my next book– Views from a Twisted Libido.

David: Is there a theme to the new series?

Robert: I’m getting a little more psychological material. That might interest you. Did you read my Zombie Mystery Paintings ?

David: Yup, you bet, savored it from cover to cover.

Robert: You should have enjoyed that.

David: I loved it. I thought it was brilliant.

Robert: Every painting was looked at in three directions.

David: Unless one reads the three titles and descriptions, they’ll miss a lot of it. Zombie Mytery Paintings is one of my favorite books.

Robert: Those were really rough paintings– a lot of gratuitous sex and violence. The reason they were so rough was because I had to compete with punk rock artists in LA and After Hours clubs in the early Eighties. So, the original idea I had for presenting this material was that I was going to have two psychiatrists interview me, and give their opinion on each painting. What I was going to do was this. In the first paragraph I would state the painting verbatim the way you look at it. Then the second paragraph would be from the very liberal gestalt psychiatrist. And then my third paragraph would be a behaviorist psychiatrist, like from the marine core, a very pragmatic idiot finder. So, I got in touch with a bunch of psychiatrists, and I had them go through a couple of pictures and give me their take on it. But everyone I talked to kept justifying everything. They just wouldn’t cut me down. I couldn’t get anyone to attack me. So I just wrote the whole thing myself.

David: You wanted them to say something like “this is obviously the product of a disturbed and diseased mind. As you can see there are several varieties of psychopathology evident here.”

Robert: Yeah (laughter ), yeah, right. Someone ought to take me and put me in the presence of my mother and have me describe this thing of how I treat women. (laughter )

Posters, prints, and books by Williams can be ordered through: L, Imagerie, 15030 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, California 91403, (818) 995-8488. (Full color catalog available for $4.)

Robert Anton Wilson – 2

Quantum Sociology and Neuropolitics
David Jay Brown Interviews Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson is a writer and philosopher with a huge cult following. He is the author of over 35 popular fiction and nonfiction books, dealing with such themes as quantum mechanics, the future evolution of the human species, weird unexplained phenomena, conspiracy theories, synchronicity, the occult, altered states of consciousness, and the nature of belief systems. His books explore the relationship between the brain and consciousness, and the link between science and mysticism, with wit, wisdom, and personal insights. Comedian George Carlin said, “I have learned more from Robert Anton Wilson than I have from any other source.”

Wilson is a very entertaining writer, and both his fiction and nonfiction books can be as reality-shifting as a hearty swig of shamanic jungle juice. Wilson has an uncanny ability to lead his readers, unsuspectingly, into a state of mind where they are playfully tricked into “aha” experiences that cause them to question their most basic assumptions. The writers of many popular science fiction films and television shows have been influenced by Wilson’s writings, and they will sometimes make subtle cryptic references to his philosophy in their stories–often by making the number 23 significant in some way, which refers to Wilson’s strange synchronicities around that number.

Since 1962 Wilson has worked as an editor, futurist, novelist, playwright, poet, lecturer and stand-up comic. He earned his doctorate in psychology from Paideia University, and from 1966-1971 he was the Associate Editor of Playboy magazine. He is perhaps best known for the science fiction trilogy Illuminatus!, which he co-authored with Robert Shea in 1975. The Village Voice called the trilogy “the biggest sci-fi cult novel to come along since Dune.” His Schroedinger’s Cat trilogy was called “the most scientific of all science-fiction novels” by New Scientist magazine.

Some of Wilson’s popular nonfiction books, which blend social philosophy with satire, as well as with personal experiments and experience, include Cosmic Trigger, Prometheus Rising, Quantum Psychology, The New Inquisition, The Illuminati Papers, Right Where You Are Sitting Now, and Everything is Under Control. His most current book is TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution, a satirical commentary about the loss of constitutional rights in America. (TSOG is an acronym for “Tsarist Occupation Government”.)

Wilson has also appeared as a stand-up comic at night clubs throughout the world, and he made a comedy record called Secrets of Power. His more academic lectures are best described as “stand-up philosophy”, and they are as funny and thought-provoking as his comedy routines. He also teaches seminars at New Age retreats, like the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and his Web site–www.rawilson.com–is in the top two percent of the most visited sites on the internet. Rev. Ivan Stang, cofounder of The Church Of The Subgenius, described Wilson as “the Carl Sagan of religion, the Jerry Falwell of quantum physics, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of feminism and the James Joyce of swing-set assembly manuals.”

Wilson starred on a Punk Rock record called The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy, and his play Wilhelm Reich in Hell was performed at the Edmund Burke Theater in Dublin, Ireland. His novel Illuninatus! was adapted as a ten-hour science fiction rock epic and performed under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Great Britain’s National Theater (where he appeared briefly on stage in a special cameo role).

A documentary about Wilson’s life and work entitled “Maybe Logic” (by Lance Bauscher) was released on July 23, 2003. At the premiere of the film (at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz, California), the mayor of Santa Cruz (Emily Reilly) officially declared that, from that day forth, July 23rd would be “Robert Anton Wilson Day” in Santa Cruz.

It was Bob’s book Cosmic Trigger that not only inspired me to become a writer when I was a teenager, but it was also where I first discovered many of the fascinating individuals who would later become the subjects of my interview books. So it was a great thrill for me when Bob wrote the introduction to my first book, Brainchild. I interviewed Bob for my second book, Mavericks of the Mind, in 1989, and wanted to check in with him again to see what he thought about some of the things that we spoke about fourteen years ago, as well as the present state of the world. Bob and I have been good friends for many years, and he continues to inspire me. He is particularly fond of the writings of James Joyce and Ezra Pound, and I’ve learned a lot about Finnegan’s Wake and The Cantos by going to his weekly discussion groups.

I interviewed Bob on September 23, 2003. At 72 he remains as sharp and witty as ever. Bob has an uncanny ability to perceive things that few people notice, and he has an incredible memory. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of many different fields–ranging from literature and psychology, to quantum physics and neuroscience. He is unusually creative in his use of language, and he has his own unique style of humor. Despite many personal challenges over the years, Bob has always maintained a strongly upbeat perspective on life, and–regardless of the circumstances–he never fails to make me smile every time I see him. Everyone who meets him agrees; there’s something truly magical about Robert Anton Wilson.

I spoke with Bob about the nature of optimism, why politics on this planet is such a big mess, his decision to run for governor of California, our vanishing constitutional rights in America, the philosophy of “maybe logic”, extraterrestrial intelligence, and why he thinks Hannibal Lector would make a better president than George W. Bush.

David: What were you like as a child?

Bob: Stubborn, it seems; maybe pig-headed. My mother often told me how, when I had polio at age 4, I kept trying to get up and walk. She said that no matter how hard I fell, I’d stand and stagger again until I fell again. I attribute that to Irish genetics–after 800 years of British occupation, the quitters did not survive to reproduce, you know. But I still loathe pessimism, masochism and every kind of self-pity. I regard loser scripts as actively nefarious and, in high doses, toxic. Due to that Nietzschean attitude, and the Sister Kenny treatment, I did walk again and then became highly verbal.

A neighbor said, even before I started school, that I should become a lawyer because no judge could shut me up. I attribute that, not to genetics, but to the polio and polio-related early reading skills. Due to a year of total-to-partial paralysis,I missed a vital part of normal male socialization and never became any good at sports, but I devoured books like a glutton. The nuns at the Catholic school where my parents sent me did shut me up for a while. Catholic education employs both psychologocal and physical terrorism: threats of “Hell” and physical abuse. But they never stopped me from thinking–just from saying what I thought.

David: What inspired you to become a writer?

Bob: The magic of words. One of the biggest thrills of my childhood came at the end of King Kong when Carl Denham says. “No, it wasn’t the airplanes–it was Beauty that killed the Beast.” I didn’t know what the hell that meant, but it stirred something in me. In fact, it felt like what the nuns told me I would feel after eating Holy Eucharist–what we call a mystic experience–except that I didn’t get it from the eucharist but from a gigantic gorilla falling off a gigantic skyscraper and having that line as his epitaph. I wanted to learn to use words in a way that would open people’s minds to wonder and poetry the way those words had opened mine.

David: What is “maybe logic”?

Bob: A label that got stuck on my ideas by film-maker Lance Bauscher. I guess it fits. I certainly recognize the central importance in my thinking–or in my stumbling and fumbling efforts to think–of non-aristotelian systems. That includes von Neumann’s three-valued logic [true, false, maybe], Rapoport’s four-valued logic [true, false, indeterminate, meaningless], Korzybski’s multi-valued logic [degrees of probability], and also Mahayana Buddhist paradoxical logic [it

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Alex Grey – 2

Sacred Reflections and Transfigurations

David Jay Brown
Interviews Alex Grey

Alex Grey is a visionary artist recognized the world over for his astonishing paintings. His work has been exhibited at museums and galleries around the globe, including the New Museum and Stux Gallery in New York City, the Grand Palais in Paris, the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil, and the ARK exhibition space in Tokyo. His paintings have been used in extremely diverse venues–from Newsweek magazine and the Discovery Channel, to Rave flyers and sheets of blotter acid. Grey’s art has been featured on many posters, greeting cards, book covers, and as album art for such bands as Tool, the Beastie Boys, the String Cheese Incident, and Nirvana. 

Grey’s unique painting style is unmistakable. His work often depicts naked translucent people, as though they were caught in the midst of a mystical experience, with uncanny scientific precision. Grey’s paintings are painstakingly detailed, revealing anatomically accurate views of the inner body. Intricate blood-vascular configurations, eerie skeletal structures, and nervous systems that are exploding with electrical activity, are visible inside bodies that radiate spiritual auras, acupuncture merdians, and metaphysical energies. The subjects are often engaged in activities that make the most of this incredible, eyeball-grabbing technique that “x-rays” multiple levels of reality simultaneously. Grey applies this multidimensional perspective to such archetypal human experiences as being born, dying, praying, meditating, and making love. I find that merely looking at one of his paintings can trigger a mystical state of consciousness. Deepak Chopra said, “Alex Grey’s art will bring you face to face with your soul and move you to a new level of enlightenment.”

Grey went to the Columbus College of Art and Design for two years (1971-73), then dropped out and painted billboards in Ohio for a year (73-74). He then attended the Boston Museum School for one year, to study with the conceptual artist, Jay Jaroslav. Grey then spent five years at Harvard Medical School working in the Anatomy department studying the body and preparing cadavers for dissection. He also worked at Harvard’s department of Mind/Body Medicine with Dr. Herbert Benson and Dr. Joan Borysenko conducting scientific experiments to investigate subtle healing energies. Grey was an instructor in Artistic Anatomy and Figure Sculpture for ten years at New York University, and now teaches courses in Visionary Art with his wife Allyson at The Open Center in New York City, Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado and Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. 

Grey began his career as a performance artist, doing live pieces that often involved dark ritualistic elements related to death and rebirth. Although his later work has become much more positive, rapturous, and even ecstatic, his early art demonstrates that he wasn’t afraid to explore the dark side of his psyche. Grey began doing performance art in 1972, which he describes as “rites of passage, in that they present stages of a developing psyche.” Grey’s approximately fifty performance rites, conducted over the last twenty five years, move through “transformations from an egocentric to more sociocentric and increasingly worldcentric and theocentric identity”.

A large collection of work by Grey and his wife called “Heart Net” was displayed at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum in 1998-99. In 1999 the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego honored Grey with a mid-career retrospective. Many of Grey’s paintings have been collected in his books Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey (Inner Traditions, 1990) and Transfigurations (Inner Traditions, 2001). In addition to Grey’s two large format art books, he is also the author of the book The Mission of Art, which traces the evolution of human consciousness through art history, exploring the role of an artist’s intention and conscience, and reflecting on the creative process as a spiritual path. He also co-edited the book, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (Chronicle Books, 2002). Grey’s recent video exploring the healing potential of sacred art is called ARTmind. To find out more about Grey’s work visit his web site: www.alexgrey.com

Alex lives in New York City with his wife, artist Allyson Grey, and their daughter, actress Zena Grey. I first interviewed Alex while he was visiting San Francisco on March 15, 1995, at the beautiful Victorian bed and breakfast where he was staying. I spoke with him again, nine years later, to update the interview on March 2, 2004, although I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with Alex over the past few years. He has a very warm and generous spirit. I found him to be unusally focused, with great clarity of mind. He came across as a deeply spiritual person, with a strong commitment to integrating his work with his own personal evolution. We talked about the inspiration for his art, what it’s like to cut up bodies in a morgue, and the relationship between shamanism and art, mysticism and creativity. 

David: What were you like as a child?

Alex: The first memories I have are of lying in bed and seeing textures. First, I would see a pure field, white light, like bliss–ecstatic space. Then I remember a narley snaggle-branched, brownish, ugly dark force moving into that space from the periphery of my perception, coming in clumps, and then taking over. This dynamic, ugly sharp texture would terrify me, and it seemed to consume me. I guess it was the primordial chaos. Then little islands of purity would crop up. The pools would clear away and I’d have a white light ocean again. I was around two years old. Very strange.

David: So your earliest memories are tactile, not really visual?

Alex: Well, they were internally-based visions of texture, like yin-yang energies, the constant flux of repose and motion, or darkness and light. As I got a little older, I became interested in dead animals. I started a small pet cemetery in the back yard, and buried numerous animals back there.

David: Were you dissecting any of them?

Alex: I didn’t really do much dissection. I wasn’t so interested in that. It was just being aware of dead animals, and seeing them close up.

David: Were you fascinated by the differences between a living and a dead animal?

Alex: Yes, absolutely. They were so still. One day some kid said, “Oh, look there’s a dead bird.” When I picked it up, I found out it wasn’t a dead bird. It was a rabid bat, and it bit me on the hand (laughter). I didn’t know it was rabid, but it had evidently fallen out of a tree. So, I took it home to show my mom. She said, “Aaah, get it out of the house!” Then I tried to hang it in a tree, because I knew that they were supposed to hang upside down. I came back an hour later to draw a picture of “Bobbie” the bat, but it had fallen out of the tree again. My mom said that was probably a bad sign. So we put it in a shoe box.

The next day people in like radioactive suits came out with tongs to pick up the poor thing. They put it in a big metal canister and took it away. Sure enough, it was rabid, and I had to go through all these shots in the fleshy parts of the stomach area, and in my back. The antitoxin that they injected me with contained dead dried duck embryo and it would leave a lump under my skin. It was very painful. I think that stopped me from picking up dead animals for awhile.

David: Was your mother scolding you, saying things like, “Alex, enough with the dead animals already!” ?

Alex: No, I think she was more worried about my interest in monster magazines, or monsters in general.

David: You mean like Famous Monsters of Filmland?

Alex: Right, and I had a lot of nightmares about devil-dogs. There was a recurring dream of a devil-dog that would kill me in various ways. Maybe it was some kind of a shamanic beast. One of my first performance pieces had to do with a dog.

David: Do you think that your early childhood interest in monsters and death led to an interest in the occult, which later led to an interest in altered states and mystical visions?

Alex: I had a particular interest in whatever was strange. Monstrosities, fetal abnormalities, genetic malformations, became strong interests. They were like real monsters. The caprice of God, as a designer in these various genetic strains, was quite an amazing and fascinating thing–that we could have two heads, or flippers instead of feet. And it’s really miraculous that we don’t. We live our lives within normal routines. Altered states of consciousness are condensed experiences that provide crystallized insights. Like dream experiences, they run counter to normal experience and let us see our life in another context, from the vantage point of the altered state. The monster recontextualizes reality and shows you that life could be another way. A monster is an alternative being, rather than an alternative state of consciousness.

David: What was your religious upbringing like?

Alex: Every week, when I was young, my family went to Methodist church and I always respected the teachings of Jesus. But I never got hooked into a sincere spiritual search until my parents left the church. My parents left the church in a huff of disillusionment and became agnostic-atheists. That’s when God and spirituality started to interest me.

David: What age were you?

Alex: I was about twelve. The teenage existential years had started to come on heavy. I knew there was something undiscovered, but I had to get through a lot of depression before I could find it.

David: So the age of twelve is when you first started to really question how we got here?

Alex: Well, a couple years earlier, my grandmother died. I saw her get progressively yellower from jaundice, and eventually die. When I asked my father, “When is she going to get better?”, I remember him saying, that she was not. I knew what dead animals were like, but this was the first person who was close to me who died. It had a big impact.

David: In what way?

Alex: I felt life’s impermanence, that this body is temporary. Maybe it indirectly fueled the commitment to my work. I think that every artist or anyone who is trying to accomplish something before their own death has the specter of death grinning over their shoulder .

David: Meaning the sense of urgency that death gives you because you feel the constraint of the time-limit on your life’s work?

Alex: Right. You have to appreciate each day, and do what you can while you’re alive.

David: What was it like working as an embalmer in a morgue?

Alex: I worked in a morgue and a museum of anatomy. I created displays on the history of medicine and disease. I once did an exhibit on bladder stones.

David: What’s a bladder stone?

Alex: It’s like mineral deposits in the bladder.

David: Like a kidney stone?

Alex: Yeah. They used to get rather large and painful, making it difficult to pee, before the invention of ultra-sound detection. Medical science developed ways of cutting for the stone. The museum had a collection of bladder stones, kidney stones, and gall stones, and the surgical tools used to operate on them. They had collections of weird stuff, like a hairball the size of a human stomach taken from a guy who worked in a wig factory and ate hair. There was a skeleton of a guy who had such bad rickets that he pushed himself around in a big wooden bowl. We had specimens of malformations that you rarely see today. Medical science can intercede more effectively and faster now. In the museum there were jars with siamese twins of all different kinds– connected at the head, connected at the thorax, connected every which way. That was the most astonishing collection.

Then there was the morgue work. I would accept bodies when the funeral home brought them in. It was a medical school morgue, so we prepared the bodies for dissection. When a new body came in, if no one else was there, I would do a simplified Tibetan Book of the Dead ritual, calling their name, and encouraging them to go toward the light.

David: Wait, was this on your own that you did this?

Alex: It was not with the permission (laughter) of the medical school. “Oh, he’s over there reading the Bardo to the dead guy.” No, it wasn’t standard operating procedure there at the morgue, but I couldn’t with full consciousness accept these bodies as pieces of meat. Their spirit might still be hovering around the physical body.

David: You definitely felt presences around you?

Alex: Oh, I definitely felt it. Maybe it’s a projection of my fear of death. I might die today or maybe tomorrow. It’s going to happen but I don’t know when. There’s also a simultaneous repugnance and fear–terror in a way–of this awesome energy, the Mysterium Tremendum of one’s life. Life’s limitations are confronting. Basic questions of selfhood arise. Who am I? What am I? If life and mind goes on after death, where does it go? All those questions come, like a freight train, through your mind whenever you’re with dead people.

There was the work-a-day stuff that I did. I had to pump the bodies full of phenol and formalin, a kind of embalming fluid. I didn’t drain the blood before putting in the embalming fluid, like in a commercial morgue. Gallons and gallons of embalming fluid would saturate the body, and it would puff up. All kinds of nauseating substances would ooze from every orifice during that process. Then it would drain off a little bit, and you’d wrap it up. Put a little lanolin on the hands and face, wrap them like a mummy, and stick them in the freezer. Occasionally there would be a request from a professor for only particular organs, or particular appendages, like hands were needed once to train hand surgeons. I had to hacksaw off dozens of pairs of hands.

David: I don’t understand. Why did you have to do that?

Alex: Well, there was a convention of hand surgeons doing a workshop. They needed a lot of hands to study and dissect.

David: These people had donated their bodies?

Alex: Right. But the hand surgeons, for instance, didn’t need the whole body, so somebody had to go and hacksaw off the hands, or the head. Now the head–that was a more intense thing. They had a kind of chainsaw-like device and you could create kind of a sculpture bust–down the shoulders, and then across the middle. You’d have a head, which you’d stick on a tray, and take to the place. That was wild. That was too much.

David: How old were you when you were doing this?

Alex: Around twenty to twenty four.

David: How did this affect you emotionally?

Alex: It was an unforgettable experience. I felt like I probably could have declined, but then I would never have had that experience in this lifetime. It’s doubtful, except in the case of a psychotic murderer, that anyone would have that experience outside of a medical school where dismemberment is part and parcel of the daily activities. Maybe if you were a Tibetan funeral preparator doing sky-burials, you chop up the bodies.

David: Have you gotten to hold a human brain in your hand?

Alex: Oh yeah, plenty of times. To me, that’s the most amazing thing–just to hold the brain. I teach anatomy now for artists at NYU, and we go to a medical school anatomy lab. They always have brains with the spinal cord attached. All those fine threads of neurons, it’s awesome.

David: It’s incredible to hold a brain in your hands, and know that’s where the person’s whole life experience took place. Have you noticed that when you look at a dead body, and compare it to them when they were alive, it doesn’t even look like them anymore without the animating muscles?

Alex: Yeah, I’ve noticed that.

David: As though the animating force, which tenses and holds together the facial muscles, just isn’t there anymore.

Alex: Right. There’s complete relaxation and no tension at all left. If a body came in that had been dead for a few days in the Summer, there was a completely different coloration than if they came in Winter. Bodies prepared by funeral directors are obviously fixed-up to match the person you might have known.

David: So would you use a photograph to work from?

Alex: We never got into that. Although, I used to do make-up work on my own, and worked with morticians wax to create make-up effects, like Quasimodo and other monsters, but that was not part of the job description there. The medical school diener just embalms and prepares the bodies for dissection, or for simple burial afterwards.

David: How did you become involved in performance art?

Alex: That happened when I went to art school in 1970-71 at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio. I was there for two years. I started reading art magazines, and read about artists like Vito Acconci and Chris Burden, and the so-called “body artists.” There were a number of Viennese actionists, who worked in Austria. I got to meet one of those guys, a fellow named Otto Muehl. In the Sixties they did performances that were very violent and sexual. They used a swans head to enter a women, and then cut off the swans head in orgiastic displays of passion, throwing the blood around. Hermann Nitsch, one of the Viennese actionists, continues to do these kinds of performances where they slaughter lambs, and let the entrails fall all over nude figures strapped up underneath a sort of crucified lamb.

They’re very grisly, and supposedly cathartic displays of performance energy. This fellow Muehl started a place called Actions Analysis Organization. It was based on LSD use, communal living and Wilhelm Reich’s bodywork. Muehl was a cross between Charlie Manson and a Neo-Reichian bodyworker. He was a charismatic character, and was my introduction to performance work. Soon after that, in ‘72 I started working with dead animals myself. It seemed appropriate since I had worked with dead animals early on, that I should get back to examining the subject of mortality. Many artists, even well known artists today, who are working with meaning and content (rather that formal concerns) often use performance or installation art to express themselves, rather than painting. Painting that is rich in meaning and narrative content has been given short shrift during this century, since modernism.

David: Are you including people like Laurie Anderson?

Alex: She does create some content-driven work. Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Paul McCarthy, Rachel Rosenthal, Karen Finley, and Diamanda Galas, are all using very strong content in their work.

David: There was a dark quality to your early performance art pieces, 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: 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 like this have you had?

Alex: 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.

We need transcendent vision to guide us, and the vision of a common good to motivate and drive our creative efforts. That’s critical.  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 a lot. 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: There’s a scientific precision to your work–even when you’re painting spiritual energy systems, it all 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 man’s 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 entirely understand the work, they can tell that it points to mystical, idealized or clairvoyant states of consciousness–states where the mind is expanding into sacred spaces. I want to make visible the body, mind, and spirit on a two dimensional canvas. Take a multi-dimensional experience, and collapse it into a two-dimensional framework. I started painting because I was having strong visions that I wanted to represent. At first, I had no idea about spirituality. I was just showing my raw psyche.

At one time in my late teens, I was feeling miserable and depressed about the break-up of a relationship, and had not slept in a few days. I was tossing and turning, and had this vision of a two-headed person. The healthy side was trying to pull off the sick side, and the sick side was laughing, because attempting to remove the shadow was self-destructive and fruitless. The vision was about the tension of these forces within.

It was existentialist adolescent hubris, but it seemed significant enough to make a painting of it. It was a visionary self-portrait. The process of vision and working with the imagination started to interest me. I never wanted to do surrealism or fantasy art. My work had to directly relate to the nature of the self–who am I , what am I. The work gets lumped in with surrealist work because it’s not traditional representational art.

David: That’s really a good point. There’s a big difference between surrealist and visionary art, and many people confuse them.

Alex: I think their intentions are different. Athough, there were artists who were motivated by surrealist and visionary intentions. Pavel Tchelitchev, for example.

David: Visionary art would more aptly be termed as a form of realism, I think.

Alex: There were artists like Ivan Albright whose work was called magic realism.

David: Or spiritual realism.

Alex: Yeah, or metaphysical realism. I’ve struggled with words that would describe it. There’s never been an adequate term. Jean Delville was a great symbolist painter and he called his work idealist. He was an idealist in the German Romantic philosophical tradition of Schelling and Schopenhouer, the Neo-Platonic idealists. I’m not uncomfortable with the terms symbolism or idealism. My work is symbolic and projects ideal archetypes. The wounded healer has to project an image of health in order to heal, and has to fight on the side of good.

David: Who are some of the other artists who have influenced you?

Alex: There are two or three painters from this century who I relate to strongly. There’s the Belgian symbolist painter Jean Delville. His work addresses the dualisms of body and soul, spirit and matter. The second is Ernst Fuchs who is a much under-appreciated Viennese “fantastic realist” painter. The third artist is Pavel Tchelitchev, who’s most famous painting, “Hide and Seek” is in the Museum of Modern Art, and well-known to many psychedelic afficianados. It’s a magnificient piece done in 1940-41. He spent the remainder of his career, 1942-56 studying the human anatomy, the subtle anatomy and spiritual networks of energy.

My work relates strongly to Tchelitchev. After acid trips, I started having visions of glowing bodies with the acupuncture meridians and points, chakras and auras all inter-relating. I started painting these images and a friend of mine told me that Tchelitchev was doing this kind of thing forty years ago. He was starting to do translucent bodies that I think were influenced by “The Visible Man” or “Visible Woman” seen at the New York World’s Fair of 1939. Also, the use of X-rays must have influenced him to envision a translucent body. Tchelitchev sometimes painted a glow around the body, as well. He was well-versed in Pythagoreanism and alchemy and was deeply into the occult.

Whether he ever took mescaline, I don’t know. He was dead before much acid was available. He died in ‘56, and yet he was embraced by psychedelic culture. His career has had its ups and downs in the legitimate art world. His work is currently gaining momentum after years of neglect. In the early Forties, he got a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. After that, his anatomical work went out of favor because it wasn’t related to “hot” artists like Jackson Pollock. Jack the dripper was big news in Life magazine, and there was a tidal wave of abstract expressionism that wiped out the magic realists. I think the 21st Century will look back and see the significance of the symbolists–work that is content-diven, sacred art that is idiosyncratic and personal. I think Tchelitchev’s career will be reassessed, and accorded more value. At any rate I see him as a forefather to my artwork.

David: How long does it take you on average to complete a painting?

Alex: Sometimes just a few months or it can take a year or more.

David: Do you ever do several pieces simultaneously?

Alex: No, I focus on one piece at a time. Each piece absorbs me. Meanwhile, there are visions circling overhead a-mile-a-minute, wanting to land on the easel. My notebooks are filled with extensive little scribbles of potential pieces.

David: Your painting style demonstrates extensive knowledge of human anatomy. Have you ever given thought to the fact that you share the last name with the man who wrote and illustrated Gray’s Anatomy ?

Alex: I changed my name to Grey at a time when I was doing a lot of performance works about resolving and exploring polarities. It was prior to my name change that I went to the North Magnetic Pole, and I shaved half my head of hair, in alignment with the rational and intuitive hemispheres of the brain.

David: So Grey represents a merging of the light and dark.

Alex: Exactly, Grey is the middle way. I took the name not thinking about the relationship with Gray’s Anatomy. But, it was fortuitous, and who knows what energies a name will draw into itself? My project has been to revision the human anatomy and include the non-material dimensions. Medical texts don’t address the soul level. Dissecting the body cannot reveal a soul.

David: Can you talk a little about the “Sacred Mirrors” project?

Alex: The “Sacred Mirrors,” are a series of twenty one panels that examine in fine detail the human physical and metaphysical anatomy–the body, mind, and spirit. Each Sacred Mirror presents a life-sized figure directly facing the viewer, arms to the side and palms forward (the “anatomical position”). This format allows the viewer to stand before the painted figure and “mirror” the image. People have reported that by using the paintings in this way, a resonance takes place between one’s own body and the painted image, creating a sense of “seeing into” oneself. 

The last time they were exhibited all together, I had the opportunity to trip with them. I felt like I was experiencing a new kind of subtle body work. When I was standing in front of the “Psychic Energy System” my “vital essence” was pulled out through my eyes, and into the painting, like a magnet. My vitality went into this glowing body, and like electrons zipping around a hard drive, I was being reformatted by the painted image of a perfect template. My vital essence was unkinked, purified and intensified. Then this essence oozed out of the painting and back into my body. The painting acted like a tool that catalyzed the evolution of my consciousness.

The “Sacred Mirrors” were a job I was given to do. They were a gift from the future, projected into my mind stream to bring benefit to others through healing art– a life-preserver tossed back into the time stream to be yanked towards the evolutionary future.

David: The Omega Point.

Alex: Right. The Sacred Mirrors have periodically been exhibited at various museums and galleries around the world. Allyson and I are committed to making them accessible to people in the form of a chapel, a permanent public space for the Sacred Mirrors. A Chapel of the Sacred Mirrors would bring together all twenty-one paintings in a domed circular room with guardian sculptures between each piece.

I think of the Chapel surrounding the Sacred Mirror room as a pyramidal structure containing a Sacred World Globe. The Globe symbolizes the collective spiritual consciousness of the planet, the noosphere, to use de Chardin’s term. The pyramidal architecture of the Chapel will symbolically draw in and focus healing and spiritual energies on planetary and personal awareness. The Chapel will act as a catalyst or an accelerator for the evolution of consciousness by displaying visionary and sacred art which evokes higher mind states. The spiritual legacy of humanity, East and West, from indigenous shamans to the world’s major religions would be acknowledged and honored there.

I’m creating an architectural model of the Chapel and working with a software company to make a virtual Chapel on CD-ROM, or possibly a Web-site which will make the space more accessible. This is a step towards the development of an actual chapel.

We need support to create this chapel. The site has not yet been chosen. It will be a space for personal transformation, for ritual and ceremony, for gatherings and cultural events. At this critical time in human history, we need places where all spiritual paths are honored. The Chapel of the Sacred Mirrors will celebrate the co-existence of religious diversity and fulfill the desire to enter into a unitive vision of World Spirit. 

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?

Alex: I accept the near-death research and Tibetan bardo explanations. Soon after physical death, when the senses shut down, you enter into the realms of light and archetypal beings. You have the potential to realize the clear light, our deepest and truest identity, if you recognize it as the true nature of your mind and are not freaked out. If you don’t, you may contact other less appealing dimensions. No one can know, of course until they get there. Some people have had experiences which give them certainty, but consciousness is the ultimate mystery. I’d like to surrender to the process on it’s deepest level when death occurs, but I will probably fail, and be back to interview you in the next lifetime. (laughter)

David: What’s your concept of God?

Alex: My daughter said the other day, “God must think it smells down in the sewer.” I thought that was an interesting statement. She said that because God is everywhere, and God is everything, God would be in the stinky places, too. God is the infinite oneness. Oneness, but also infinite. That is the meaning of non-dual. God is love. While we were tripping we thought, “Love is the part of the all that’s all of the all.” Divine love is infinite and omnipresent, but our experience of it is partial and incomplete from day-to-day. If you have a loved one you have access to the infinitude of divine love.

Even though Buddhists would not use the word God, the non-dual nature of mind, voidness, clarity, and infinite compassion, as described in the Buddhist teachings, is not different than the experience that I call God. Ken Wilber uses the ladder metaphor. There are different rungs, the material realm, the emotional, the mental, then the psychical, and progressively more spiritual hierarchies of states of consciousness and awareness. The highest rungs of the ladder give one the highest context, wherein the entire ladder is seen. The experience of God is the highest rung, and also the entire ladder. That’s the transcendent and the immanent aspects of God. God is the beyond and also the manifest world–”the entire field of events and meanings,” as Manjushrimitra puts it. One without the other is not the full picture.

David: You’re describing God as a state of consciousness. Do you see there being any type of intelligent design in the universe.

Alex: Absolutely. Wilber says that the materialists can’t offer more than a “whoops!” theory for the universe manifesting. Whoops, it occurred by some chance. That’s an infantile orientation to the complexity and beauty of the evolutionary design of the earth and cosmos. I think we can come up with something deeper. Spirit, God, Primordial Nature of the Mind, whatever you call it, is the source and goal of it all.

David: How have your experiences with psychedelics influenced your work and your perspective on life?

Alex: When I came back from the North Magnetic Pole, I knew I was looking for something.

David: How old you were?

Alex: I was 21, and I was searching for God. I didn’t know what that was. I was an existentialist. Within twenty four hours of returning from the Pole, I was invited to a party by an acquaintance who would become my wife. She invited me along with our professor, so the professor took me there. On the way, he offered me a bottle of Kalua laced with a high dose of LSD. It was the end of school, and I decided to celebrate. I drank a good deal of it. Allyson drank the rest. That was my first LSD experience.

Tripping that night I experienced going through a spiritual rebirth canal inside of my head. I was in the dark, going towards the light, spinning in this tunnel, a kind of an opalescent living mother-of-pearl tube. All paradoxes were resolved in this tunnel–dark and light, male and female, life and death. It was a very strong archetypal experience. The next day, because it had been my first trip, I called Allyson up, to talk to her about it. I asked her out that night, and we never left each other. It’s been over twenty years.

Within twenty-four hours of announcing that I’m looking for God, an LSD experience opened me up on a spiritual, evolutionary path, and I had met my wife. It was miraculous. My prayers were answered. Allyson and I have maintained an ongoing psychedelic sacramental relationship. We have often tripped laying in bed, blindfolded or in a beautiful environment. Then, coming out of blindfolds, we write and draw.

David: You created the isolation masks that I used to see advertised in High Times.

Alex: The Mindfold.

David: That was a brilliant idea, I thought, and so simple–putting together ear plugs and eye shades. Sort of a portable isolation tank. I made my own pair actually. So you’d wear those when you were tripping?

Alex: We used it as a blank screen to project our imagination on to. I saw it as an art object, as well. We made a limited edition of twenty-five hundred, and sold them all over the world. Then we sold the business.

David: You’ve tried one of John Lilly’s isolation tanks haven’t you?

Alex: Oh yeah, isolation tanks are great. You do get a different sense with immersion.

David: Have you ever actually tried to do any work while you were tripping?

Alex: A little–the results are interesting and remind me of the trip, but it’s not my most successful work. My work takes a steady mind, eye and hand to accomplish. The psychedelic helps me to access the infinitude of the imagination, allowing me to see countless interpenetrating dimensions. William James says that no model of reality can be complete without taking these alternative dimensions of consciousness into account. Since I want to make art dealing with the nature of consciousness and spirit, I have to experience higher dimensions of consciousness.

During a trip I will have visions that are crystallizations of my life experience, or something completely surprising. You may enter a dimension that you’ve never known before, and it seems very real, more real than this phenomenal world. That “other” reality seems to be tinkering with this one, or acting like a puppet-master to this one. I want to reveal the inter-relationships between the different dimensions in my work.

David: To act as a bridge between dimensions?

Alex: Consciousness is that bridge. Making interdimensionality visible validates it for people who have had that experience. They can see a picture outside of their own heads, and say, “It was something like this. I’m not crazy.” There’s plenty of people who’ve had those experiences. Perhaps the work can be useful in that way. I’ve talked to people who use my paintings as a tool to access the dimensions that are represented. Some people trip and look at the book, or look at the art, and key into the states that are symbolized there. That is a psychedelic or entheogenic full circle. I glimpsed the visions while tripping, come back and made the work. Then people trip and access the higher state that produced the vision. The painting acts a portal to the mystical dimension. That is the real usefulness of the work, and it is the great thing about any sacred art.

David: To act as something like an access code, or a doorway to a particular dimension, reality, or vibration?

Alex: Exactly.

David: How has your wife influenced your work? You say that you met her on that night you did psychedelics together. Has she remained as powerful of an influence?

Alex: Totally. Together we are a third mind that neither one of us alone could ever be. We guide each other’s art. We did a performance together called “Life Energy” in 1978, and I made these life-sized charts of the body–one of the Eastern model of Life Energy, and the other was the Western anatomical model of the nervous system. I demarcated an area in front of the image, so that a person could stand in that zone and try to mirror the system on the chart within their own body. We led several exercises during the Life Energy performance. As we were walking away afterwards, Allyson said, “It would really be great if you did fully detailed oil paintings of these different systems that people could stand in front of.” The charts had been the most successful thing about that performance. At that moment I was doomed to doing the “Sacred Mirrors”. Allyson was really the inspiration behind it. She’s inspired me to do numerous paintings–some of my best work. She’s a great designer in her own work and I collaborate with her on her paintings, too.

David: And you’ve worked on paintings together as well.

Alex: Yes. Allyson did the “secret writing” in the halo of the “Sophia” painting. My most recent works, “Transfiguration” and “Prostration”, use Allyson’s geometric grid systems. They relate to the kaleidoscopic DMT complexities and to sacred geometries. Her own work is very strong, and I’m influenced by being around it.

David: In the preface to the book Sacred Mirrors , you say that you and your wife actually shared the same vision of the energy fountains and drains.

Alex: Right. The Universal Mind Lattice. That was an extraordinary trip that really convinced me of the reality of the transpersonal dimensions. We experienced the same transpersonal space at the same time. That space of connectedness with all beings and things through love energy seemed more real to both of us, than the phenomenal world. It changed our work. From that point on we had to make art about that vision. There was nothing more important than that.

David: How has raising a family affected your creativity?

Alex: I have a wonderful daughter. Spending time with your family takes a lot of time away from painting, but it’s my opportunity during her youth to be with her. She’s going to be our only child during this lifetime. If I don’t spend time with her now, I will have missed out. So, we take advantage of it and enjoy seeing her stages of growth. Her art development is wonderful. She teaches us and is a great teacher. You need to spend time with your teachers in order to learn new things, and these things find their way into my work. All of my life experiences influence and deepen my work. Having a family, and profound, loving relationships, gives me tremendous joy. The world needs this positive energy. I accomplish less because I spend more time with my family, but I use the experiences we’ve had to make more profound work.

David: Have your dreams inspired you? If so, how have they influenced your work?

Alex: Sure. I had a dream that I was painting the “Transfiguration” painting before I actually did it. I did DMT a few weeks later, and I was immediately thrust into the space of that painting I had dreamed of. I was experiencing what it would be like inside of the painting, and what state of being I would try to project. Having seen it in a dream, I could clarify certain elements. It became clearer, although not all questions were solved. Shaving half of my hair off was an image that came in a dream, as well. In the dream, I opened up a garbage can and saw myself with this haircut.

David: Are there any other avenues that you use to access the unconscious, and what else has inspired you?

Alex: Oh sure. Creative visualization is surprisingly effective. Also shamanic drumming can be a pathway to expanded, imaginative territories. Sometimes doing nothing at all you can receive powerful visions. Once I was waiting for the subway, tired after a day of teaching, and I saw the “World Soul” piece which I then worked on for two years. I was in no altered state and was not anticipating anything in particular. I like to keep the “door open” and be permeable to these transdimensional blow-darts of vision. I believe that I am being used by the Logos. The images are sent to me.

David: Do you feel like sometimes you’re not really doing it, like it’s just happening though you? 

Alex: No, I know that I’m physically creating the work. But the vision is being given as a gift. Other creative and receptive people are receiving other visions, but these are my gifts, and I’m supposed to manifest them.

David: Was there anything else in particular that inspired you beside psychedelics, your relationship, and dreams?

Alex: Art of different cultures. There’s shamanic art from various world cultures. Tchelitchev was not the only artist painting translucent bodies. Shamanic artists from all over the world have made X-ray art, where they see into the body and the interpenetrating energies. Some artists have a clairvoyant perception of the body. The Huichol Indians of Mexico base their culture and spiritual life on their ritual and ceremonial peyote use. Huichol artists see through the body and see energies surrounding it and show great jets of light around the bodies in their yarn paintings. There are numerous cultures with a tradition of subtle body art.

David: Like Pablo Amaringo’s work.

Alex: Ayahuasca visions. Yeah, terrific stuff. I’m inspired by psychedelic art of all kinds. Ernst Fuchs and Mati Klairwein were European painters who were inspired similarly. Thangka painting, the sacred art of the Tibetan Buddhists, has been an influence. I feel like we now have access to the spiritual traditions and visual cultures of most of the world’s great civilizations. Artists have never had that before. It’s like the seals of the Apocalypse are opening and during the Twentieth Century we get to see humanities past life review. Cave art was recently discovered in France. Art done tens of thousands of years ago, inspired by the Goddess and Shamanic magic is now available. Artists are in a unique position at the end of the Twentieth Century to access all visual traditions, and synthesize them in an evolving universal spiritual tradition.

David: What are your views on the evolution of consciousness?

Alex: It seems to me the universe is like a self-awareness machine. I think the world was created for each individual to manifest the boundless experiences of identity with the entire universe, and with the pregnant void that gives birth to the phenomenal universe. That’s the Logos. That’s the point of a universe–to increase complexity and self-awareness. The evolution of consciousness is the counter-force to the entropic laws of thermodynamics that end in stasis, heat death, and the loss of order. The evolution of consciousness appears to gain complexity, mastery, and wisdom.

Lessons are learned over a lifetime– maybe many lifetimes. And the soul grows and hopefully attains a state of spiritual awakenedness. Buddha was the “Awakened One”. To be able to access all the simultaneous parallel dimensions, and come from a ground of love and infinite compassion like the awakenedness of the Buddha, is a good goal for the evolution of consciousness. The spiritual “fruit” in many spiritual paths is compassion and wisdom.

David: So then, are you optimistic about the future evolution of humanity?

Alex: That’s a big leap. (laughter) I have some optimism about the potential for human beings to manifest Buddhic qualities of compassion, spiritual heroism, and reverance for all life. There’s always problems in this phenomenal world, but if we maintain ideal ethical views we can cause less harm. There’s hope for a future to hand our children, and their children. There is also despair over the deludedness and the catastrophic disasters that human beings have created.

I don’t like vacillating between fear and hope. The Buddhist teachings caution against entrapment in those emotions. But we’re in samsara, and subject to emotions. Ultimately, I’m optimistic because the primordial nature of mind will never change no matter what happens. Our consciousness may appear in another universe, or in another dimension, but in some form the energy will be around. Consciousness just recycles.

David: Do you think that the human species will survive the next hundred years, or do you think we’re in danger of extinction?

Alex: Yes, I think we are in danger of bringing down much of the web of life with us. We are a drunken suicidal adolescent species. Nevertheless, what better time to wake up, get over ourselves, forgive and love each other, and fix the mess we’ve created.

David: Assuming that we do survive, how do you envision the future evolution of the human race?

Alex: Self-illuminating non-dual mystics, dedicated to the repair of the water, air and soil, and nurturing the species that still remain.

David: What are you currently working on?

Alex: I’ve been working on my current painting for many months.  It is called The Great Net of Being.  Why great?  Because it is infinite in all directions. It is coming along very slowly.

Every full moon Allyson and I have been holding a prayer gathering in our home, for the proper alignment of forces to manifest the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. These gatherings were the inspiration of our friend the great shaman and geomancer, Alex Stark, Marie-Elizabeth Mundheim and John Lloyd. The prayer gatherings have grown to 200 people sometimes. Some miraculous synchronicities have occured this year and now we are at work on creating the first version of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, renovating a space in the Chelsea art district of Manhatten that will be a long-term exhibition of the Sacred Mirrors and about 20 other pieces.  We will open by the Summer of 2004.  The space in Chelsea will hopefully help us to gather the support we need to actually build 21st century sacred architecture to permanently house the Sacred Mirrors and other works. Check it out at www.alexgrey.com 

Jeff McBride

 Jeff McBride

by David Jay Brown

Jeff McBride is recognized as one of the most talented and respected stage magicians in the world, as well as a foremost innovator in contemporary magic. He was awarded the title “Magician of the Year” by Hollywood’s famed Magic Castle for his remarkable sleight-of-hand abilities, and he was voted critics’ choice as “Best Magician in Las Vegas” in the Review-Journal annual poll at Caesars Magical Empire in Las Vegas. McBride performs regularly to standing ovations at some of the world’s most spectacular theaters–including Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Radio City Music Hall in New York, and Her Majesty’s Theater in London. 

Before starting his solo career, McBride was the opening act of choice for Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and other top stars. His show “McBride-Magic!” was the featured attraction at the Monte Carlo Festival of Magic, and his show “Mask, Myth & Magic” won acclaim Off-Broadway and on national tour, as well as at arts festivals in Barcelona (for the 1992 Olympics), London, Hong Kong, China, and Bangkok. 

McBride has appeared in numerous television specials. His spectacular “Burned Alive!” escape was highlighted the ABC TV special “Champions of Magic.” He was featured on NBC’s “World’s Greatest Magic”, the PBS documentary, “The Art of Magic,” The Learning Channel’s “The Mysteries of Magic”, and the PAX series, “Masters of Illusion.” McBride also worked on the Discovery Channel’s “Mysteries of Magic”, where he served as a consultant on shamanism and ritual magic. The Fox television network even devoted a Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode to McBride’s mind-bending illusions, by having him guest star on the show as “Joran”, a role created especially for him.

McBride draws upon many traditions in his magic shows. He has traveled the world extensively, studying different magical traditions, which he incorporates into his performances. He is well-known for his use of masks, and he weaves myth, mime and dance together with comedy and theater, blending a myriad of cultural influences into his performance. His background in psychology, hermetic philosophy and alchemy, are also integrated into his acts. McBride has created a wizardly blend of multicultural entertainment spectacles that echo down the corridors of time to the shamanic origins of  performance magic. New York Times columnist Glenn Collins writes, “What Mr. McBride gives his audiences is a mesmerizing performance…a magic show that is at once a celebration of mystery and a struggle to understand powerful forces.”

In addition to his conventional magic shows, McBride also regularly leads ceremonial rituals at large outdoor gatherings, where he blends performance magic with alchemical “magick” and traditional shamanic rituals, sometimes for several consecutive days and nights. Each year, amongst the ancient redwood trees in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, he leads a five day ritual theater festival called Fire Dance, which combines magic with midnight fires, nonstop drumming, chanting, prayers and performances from many different traditions. The Fire circle festivals are now being done all over world–across the U.S., Hawaii, Amsterdam and Bali.

In addition to his work as a performer, McBride also lectures and runs workshops for such diverse groups as The Smithsonian, The Disney Institute, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Center for Symbolic Studies. McBride also founded The Mystery School, an organization of magicians who are interested in exploring “the deeper sides of the art of magic”. This unique experiential retreat for magicians was the subject of an acclaimed 1994 CBC-TV documentary hosted by Arthur Kent. McBride is also the cofounder of the WorldMagicsTM Festivals–multi-cultural celebrations of the environment, or “enviro-magic”–and with Eugene Burger he teaches regular sessions of “McBride’s Master Class” at his home studio in Las Vegas, as well as semiannual retreats for the further exploration of the magical arts. 

McBride coauthored the book Mystery School: An Adventure into the Deeper Meaning of Magic. Although the book is written primarily for practicing magicians, I think that it would be of interest to anyone intrigued by alchemy, mysticism, and the transformation of consciousness.  His videotaped series teaching “The Art of Card Manipulation” is among the best selling magic teaching videos of all time. To find out more about McBride’s work his web site is: www.mcbridemagic.com

I met Jeff at a large pagan gathering in upstate New York called the Starwood Festival, where he was performing and I was lecturing. Before returning to California, I had lunch at he airport with him, writer R.U. Sirius and his fiancé graphic artist Eve Berni. When the checks arrived at the end of our meal, I quickly snatched up the four leather pouches that hid our checks, and without looking inside them, held them out like I was fanning a deck of cards. I asked everyone to pick a pouch, any pouch. Everyone took a pouch, and when each was opened–miraculously–we all had our own bill. “How did you do that?” Jeff asked. I just smiled.

Jeff currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he performs regularly with his wife Abbi Spinner. Earlier this year, McBride previewed his new theatrical show “The Forbidden Secret of Magic” with Abbi and Eugene Burger at Magicopolis magic theatre in Los Angeles, and presented his new grand illusion spectacular “Jeff McBride-Abracadazzle!” to standing ovations at the Claridge in Atlantic City. I interviewed Jeff on September 15, 2002, and again on February 18, 2004. Jeff speaks slowly and precisely. He puts a lot of thought into his words. Jeff has a strong sense of intuition, and a strange synchronicity seemed to guide our conversations. It was as each of his answers seemed to anticipate my next question. Among the many subjects touched upon in this interview, we discussed his background as a magician, the relationship between shamanism and stage magic, and how the placebo effect influences healing.

 

David: What were you like as a child?

Jeff: I was very hyperactive, always looking for a place to store my energy. I was into masks, horror movies, and drumming. I had a lot of energy that I needed to find a creative outlet for. I initially found it through drumming and martial arts. Then I eventually discovered dance and performance magic. These became ways for me to channel all of this energy. I’m still very blessed with this energy, and I found a way to channel the energy at a very early age. 

David: How did you become interested in stage magic?

Jeff: I grew up in upstate New York, and I was very isolated from other kids. There were no magicians in the area. I found a magic book next to the music book that I was studying in school, and that opened up a whole new world for me. I was taking books out from the library on music, and there was a book on magic next to them. I had never really seen magic performed anywhere, but I started reading about it.

David: How old were you at the time?

Jeff: Eight years old. I think every kid, when they’re about seven, eight years old is looking for sense of personal power, something to make them different or stand out. And I was the only magician, and that felt really good to me. There was nobody they could compare me to, as bad as I was.

David: How have your travels influenced your stage performance?

Jeff: My performance is drawn from the roots of many different world theater disciplines. When I was in Japan I studied Kabuki theater. When I was in Europe I studied classical mime at Comedia delle Arte. Wherever I go, I try to pick up some of the influence of the culture–especially by meeting magicians in the many different places that I travel, finding out the way people experience magic differently in the world, and by the way the performers create their magic and rituals.

David: Are there other people who have been integrating mime, dance, comedy, and theater into their magic performance, or is this combination pretty unique to you?

Jeff: I think the blend that I have is quite unique. However, comedy and magic–that’s been done since the very

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Simon Posford

Shpongle & Psychedelics:
An Interview with Simon Posford

By David Jay Brown

Simon Posford (a.k.a. Hallucinogen) is a British musician and producer, specializing in psychedelic electronic music, spanning many genres from psychedelic trance (psytrance), to rock, to electronica. 

Posford’s first studio album, Twisted, was released in 1995 under the artist name “Hallucinogen.” Twisted is considered one of the most influential albums in the genre of psytrance, and Posford’s connection with psychedelics was evident from the title of the very first track–“LSD,” which, to this day, remains the defining sound of a form of electronic music that originated during the late 1980s in Goa, India called “Goa trance.” 

In 1996 Posford and Australian musician Raja Ram created one of the most popular electronica music projects of all time–Shpongle. Arguably, not since The Grateful Dead has a brand of popular music been so lovingly associated with psychedelics as Shpongle has. Psychedelics have played a huge role in the creation, performance, and experience of Shpongle’s music, which is extremely popular among members of the psychedelic community.

Posford is generally responsible for coordinating the synthesizers, studio work, and live instrumentation, while Raja contributes broad musical concepts and flute arrangements. Shpongle’s unique style combines Eastern ethnic instruments, flute riffs and vocals, with contemporary Western synthesizer-based electronic music, hyperdimensional alien space acoustics, and sound clips from television shows and spoken words. Truly genre-defying, Shpongle contains elements of Jazz, Classical, Dub and Glitch, among others.

Shpongle performs live with different musicians, dancers and other performers, while Posford masterfully controls an electronic sound board, alchemically mixing and remixing the music, engineering, tweaking, and orchestrating the highly textured, multilayered music that emerges. Shpongle’s studio albums include: Are You Shpongled? (1998), Tales of the Inexpressible (2001), Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost (2005), and Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland (2009). Posford also frequently tours as Hallucinogen.

I interviewed Simon on July 26, 2011. Since Simon’s music has served as the soundtrack for numerous personal psychedelic experiences, this was a special interview for me. It was great fun to–as Simon put it–“intellectualize the abstract” and “muse over the ineffable” together. There’s a delightful eloquence to the way that Simon expresses himself, and a vibrant sense of creativity continually comes through his words. We spoke about how his psychedelic journeys have effected his creativity and his experience with music. 

David: What inspired your interest in music?

Simon: When I was just growing up there was always music around my house. My parents were very young. My mom was 19 and my dad was 21 when they had me, so there was always music on the stereo, and it obviously caught my ear. I have fond memories of the speakers booming late into the night, in spite of the fact they were playing the likes of Donna Summer, Queen, Elton John, and E.L.O. My grandfather was a composer in the Forties. He wrote for musicals featuring stars of that era such as Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn, but I never knew him, so I don’t know if there’s any genetic link, or even if there’s any validity to that idea. I would say that my interest was probably more just the result being constantly surrounded by music as I was growing up.

David: How did you become involved with creating Shpongle?

Simon: That was when I got together with Raja Ram in 1996. We went to the Glastonbury Festival, which is a huge festival in the U.K. In those days, they got up to around 300,000 people going, because they had a hard time keeping people outside the gates from sneaking in for free. Now it’s more regimented. They’ve got two double fences, and it’s really hard to get in without a ticket, so there’s only around 170,000 people going now. The festival takes place on a huge farm in the rolling hills of Avalon, and right at the top of site they have built a large stone circle, which normally hosts a variety of drummers, druids and lost souls trying to escape the general mayhem and seek some sort of refuge.

I remember clearly, Raj and I were sitting there, watching this Celtic harp player, and I think that we’d both taken some psychedelic substance. I’m not sure what it was, probably acid. We were listening to this beautiful music emanating from this faery goddess and her wooden harp – we were just fascinated by her. We became obsessed with her pulchritude and grace, falling in love with her, lured like Odysseus to the Sirens’ song. She was so exquisitely beautiful – we never even saw her face, we were sat behind her. But she sat so upright, and this music was divine. Raja and I had made only trance music together up to this point, but during that performance we thought it would be really nice to try to capture that particular moment. It wouldn’t have to be dancey, but just something that reproduced the energy of the stone circle, and tribal beauty of the bonfires, the smoke mingling with the mist rolling in through the valley and the honeyed tones of our Celtic muse.

David: What do you think makes Shpongle’s music unique?

Simon: That’s a tricky one for me to answer, because I’m obviously so involved in it. But I would say that what makes anyone’s music unique is that it comes from deep within the soul of the writers. The KLF wrote in their inspirational book, “The Manual”, that two artists could each make a track using only a single kick drum, the same sound, at the same tempo, yet undoubtedly one would STILL be better than the other. You could listen to both tracks and you would surely prefer one over the other. Maybe because no matter what you do, or whatever you write, the musician’s character and soul shines through, and some people you resonate with, and some people you don’t.

David: What inspired the name “Shpongle”?

Simon: The name “Shpongle” came from my partner Raj. One day he had taken some acid, and… (Laughter heard in the background.) My girlfriend is just laughing. (Explaining to girlfriend.) This is for a psychedelic site; it’s for MAPS. I guess all of these drug references are okay? My girlfriend is just laughing at me.

Girlfriend: Cause I’m on acid now!

Simon: She’s on acid now, driving the car. (laughter) – not really, don’t worry. Anyway, Raj was tripping one day, and he said, “Oh Si, I’m feeling really shpongled.” This word was a mixture of a lot of other words that we were using at the time–like “spangled,” “stoned,” “monged,” and “mashed”–and all of these came out as one word: “shpongled.” So I said, that’s a great word, maybe we should use that as a band name or track name–as it captured the essence of the message we were trying to get across, without a tired history of associations and expectations that existing words are weighed down by.

David: That’s so appropriate too, since your music blends so many different styles together. In general, with Shpongle, how would you describe your creative process?

Simon: Raj will turn up, sometimes with a load of samples or recordings. One time he went to Brazil and recorded some stuff there. Otherwise, he’ll record stuff off of TV shows, some spoken words, or bamboo forests creaking in the wind…something like that. So that might spawn an idea for a track. 

Raj is a very visual person, and he’s a fabulous painter, so he might come up with a visual image that, in time, I’ll translate into music. Over the years he’s come up with some inspiring imagery, such as a lake shimmering in the sky. Our most recent one was about CERN, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and about the idea of particles colliding at high velocities, neutrinos protons and neutrons smashing into each other, creating black holes explosions and new universes. Stuff like that.

So we’ll have a visual image. Then, when I can finally get him to shut up, Raj will sit on the sofa and do a thousand drawings into his notebook, while I’ll sit at the computer and get about translating our images into sound. I generally do the programming, playing and production because Raj can’t work the computer or any of the equipment, but he’s the inspiration and the muse, and will play flute or jabber strange vocals into the mic (being the cunning linguist he is). We start with just a blank canvas, an empty computer screen, and just add more and more sounds–until it’s time to go home, I’m either sick of having him in my house, or he’s sick of sitting on my sofa, listening to me torture him with various obnoxious instruments. Then we stop, and later we mix it. Then we give it the acid test. He’ll take some LSD and put the headphones on when I’m ready to mix. Then I’ll play it to him at high volume, and–judging by the state of his eyeballs and his face afterwards–I’ll know whether we’ve got a good one or not. (laughter)

David: I love it! This leads right into my next question, which is– how have

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Mati Klarwein

A Thousand Windows

I don’t take anything when I’m painting. When I take psychedelics I get very horny, and I start going out to nightclubs and cruising.

with Mati Klarwein

Andy Warhol said that Mati Klarwein was his “favorite painter,” and some of Mati’s admirers have included Jimi Hendrix, Salvador Dali, Jackie Kennedy, Brigitte Bardot, and Miles Davis. Yet he told me that he was “the most famous unknown painter in the world.” This is because almost everyone has seen the widely reproduced, visionary piece that he painted in 1962 and was used in 1970 for the cover of Santana’s album Abraxas, or his painting “A Grain of Sand” that the Chambers Brothers used for an album cover, yet few people know who painted them. Using a technique he learned from his mentor Ernst Fuchs, Mati’s work is brightly colored, often full of dense intricate imagery, shamanically juxtaposed together. There is a rapturous blissful quality to his paintings.

Even his “ordinary” landscapes look psychedelic in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on– until a friend pointed out to me that the hallucinogenic quality was created by the dazzling amount of detail in the painting that normally wouldn’t be visible from the distance depicted. Timothy Leary told Mati that he didn’t need psychedelics.”I painted psychedelically before I took psychedelics,” Mati told me, “It’s like what Dali said– I don’t take drugs, I am drugs.” His latest book A Thousand Windows was recently released by Max Publishing. Mati lives in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. This interview took place on March 11, 1992 while he was visiting Santa Monica, California. Present at the interview was acclaimed computer graphic wizard Brummbaer. Mati and Brummbaer are old friends, and there was a festive spirit in the air.

David: What was it that originally inspired you to become an artist?

Mati: It was by elimination. I’ve been painting and drawing since I was a child. I became an artist because I couldn’t become anything else. I was living in Israel as a child, and then I moved to France at the age of seventeen. Because I wasn’t French, I had to continue with school and study if I wanted to stay in the country. I wanted to become a movie director, so I tried enlisting in a movie directing school, but they wouldn’t accept me because I didn’t have a high school diploma, as I had stopped going to public school at the age of fourteen to go to art school in Jerusalem. And that’s how I became an artist. (laughter) I also didn’t want to have a job where you work from nine to five, because I don’t like to get up at 8:00 in the morning. (laughter) I like to have the option of getting up or sleeping when I want.

David: Who were the major influences in your artistic development?

Mati: Well, it started off with the Renaissance, mainly because my father was into modern art and abstract art.

David: Where did you grow up?

Mati: I grew up in Israel. My father was an architect there; he built the Israeli Parliament. He was influenced by the German Bauhaus and all that. So we had nothing but abstract paintings on the wall, and Bauhaus magazines around. Because for me abstract art was old hat, I became attracted to older work. I got into the Renaissance. I went to Italy, Spain, Belgium, Holland, and France, and saw all the old masters’ paintings in Europe. Then I met Ernst Fuchs, and started to paint. I mean, I was always painting, but I was doing a lot of drawing. He taught me the technique. Fuchs is the most psychedelic painter of all, except Dali and Bosch, of course.

David: What are the basic messages that you’re trying to communicate with your work?

Mati: There are no messages.

David: You don’t see art as a medium for communication?

Mati: For communicating images, yes. I mean, I don’t know if I would have painted on a desert island. I paint for others.

David: Right, so where does the inspiration to communicate originate?

Mati: Well, I like to look at paintings, and I like to paint paintings that I haven’t seen, or that I’d like to see, so I paint them. That’s as far as it goes. And if there are any elements in the paintings which look like messages, that could be misleading, because I paint a message like you paint an apple. Anybody can interpret their own message in the painting. That’s the message. I give clues or material for interpretation. Critics have said that I don’t leave anything in my work for the imagination of the viewer because my technique is so tight. But what I leave for the viewer is the interpretation. And if I ever have the opportunity to make movies, I would do films like this, where you don’t know what’s going on, but afterwards when you think about it, you make up your own story. I actually did a movie once, but I wasn’t happy with it. I’m planning to do another one, as soon as I get twenty million dollars.

David: Have your dreams had an influence on your work?

Mati: No, never. If they did then I would be painting some guy running up and missing a train all the time. (laughter) Flying in dreams is about the only thing that comes close– to my aerial view paintings or “inscapes”, which start off as abstractions, really.

David: How have psychedelics influenced your work?

Mati: They haven’t. It was more the spirit of the times. I think it all goes together. I painted psychedelically before I took psychedelics. When Tim Leary first saw my work he said, “You don’t need psychedelics.” And that was before I took them.

David: How do you account for the fact that people who do psychedelics are so attracted to your work?

Mati: Because it’s like what Dali says, “I don’t take drugs. I am drugs.”

David: How do you feel about being classified as a psychedelic painter?

Mati: I think it’s subjective. Anybody can classify me as they wish. In the fifties I was classified as an illustrator, even though my work consisted of paintings. And in the sixties my work was classified as psychedelic. So I took psychedelics to find out what it was all about. I found out I couldn’t paint on them. I’ll tell you about a funny episode. Jean Houston and Robert Masters put together a book called Psychedelic Art in the sixties, and they came to me. They did an interview with me, like we’re doing now, to include me in their book. And they asked me, “What kind of psychedelics do you take when you’re painting?” And I said, “I don’t take anything when I’m painting. When I take psychedelics I get very horny, and I start going out to nightclubs and cruising.” (laughter)

So they said, “Well, we can’t put you in the book.” I freaked out, because I wasn’t in any book yet (laughter), and I said, “But I get my ideas when I’m high.” And they said, “Alright, we’ll put you in the book.” Next they asked me for the names of other psychedelic painters, and I gave them a whole list, including Fuchs. I called them all up right away, and I told them, “Tell them that you’re taking psychedelics!” And they all got in the book. (laughter)

David: What are some of the frontiers that you see in the realm of two-dimensional painting, compared to something like computer graphic art?

Mati: Two-dimensional painting? Meaning what? This is two-dimensional? (Mati holds up one of his paintings.)

David: Working on a flat surface.

Mati: This creates an illusion of three dimensions. I like to play with perspectives. I don’t like to make them obvious, like with vanishing points. That’s why my paintings are always on flat surfaces– because I like to create a tension between the flatness of the surface and the illusion of perspective. So if you look at this flat surface you see an abstract painting. But if you keep looking at it, then a reality comes out, and that’s how I work these paintings. I start them off as an abstract design, and then I create a story, something like life on the mountain or whatever. Then I see to it that there’s always a texture. And that’s the problem with a computer screen– there’s always the flatness of the glass. Therefore in order for me to forget the glass in computer art, there has to be an illusion of three dimensions and reality, even more so than with a painting. This is because with a painting you have a surface of thick textures to deal with. Painting is like cooking, and texture is very important in cooking. You have flat things, you have grainy things, and all this is very important.

David: How has living in Spain influenced your work?

Mati: Living by the Mediterranean has influenced me greatly. I grew up on the Mediterranean, and there’s a familiar feeling to the surroundings. I suppose one always returns to a place that’s similar to where one grew up, or something that reminds you of it. That’s why I feel at home here in Santa Monica– because it looks like Israel with its palm trees and modern buildings, and I feel at home. And I like Spanish music. For me, it’s very important to live in a country where I like the music. I couldn’t live in a country where I don’t like the music, like Austria or Mexico.

David: So does music play a role in inspiring your work?

Mati: Very much so, yes. I don’t know how, but it does. I mean, I can’t live without it. I listen to music all the time while I paint.

David: What kind of music do you listen to?

Mati: Every kind of music that I like. I play chamber music and classical music. I like Bach. I don’t like symphony music– I think that’s sort of commercial art really. I like ethnic music very much– dance music, rap music, juju, mazi, nigerian, senegal, and zaire music.

David: You paint to rap music?

Mati: Yeah, especially when I feel tired. It wakes me up.

David: Does it make painting more of a kinesthetic experience?

Mati: Yeah, I stroke my brush to the beat, and it keeps me going. It keeps the blood flowing around and circulating. Because if you sit and you paint, you don’t get exercise. Rap keeps your adrenaline flowing.

David: What are you excited about these days, and what future directions do you see with your art?

Mati: Well, I do all kinds of art. Now I’m doing three exhibitions of these improved paintings. These are paintings done by other people that I buy in flea markets and things like that for about five or ten dollars, which I then paint into and “improve”.

David: What an interesting idea.

Mati: Yeah, it’s more conceptual than my other work. I can do one of these in two days. That I can deal with in regard to the galleries, because when any of paintings gets sold in galleries, they take fifty percent. If I work six months on a painting, then they take three of my months away in five minutes of their work. I have my own collector for my other kind of work. But these I can do in two or three days. So it fits into the fast-paced modern market, where they can be created in massive quantities like everything else. So I can work in several galleries at the same time, and turn out a lot of them. Some day I’ll make a book about them.

Brummbaer I think what I’m going to do is, I’m going to digitize your paintings, and improve them. (laughter)

Mati: And I’ll tell my attorney about it the next time I see him. (laughter)

Brummbaer You’re going to sue me?

Mati: Hell yeah, I’ll sue you. That’s how I make my money.

David: What’s the title of the new book?

Mati: A Thousand Windows. The text, written by yours truly, is in Spanish and English, and is available by mail order for $45 from Max Publishing, C/ Archiduque Luis Salvador, 9 – Deia, Mallorca 07179 Spain. You can call 34 (9) 71 – 63 92 81– or –63 93 93 for more information.

Robert Williams

Visual Addiction

What it boils down to is we’re manipulated by a priestly elite of cultural directors in the art world, that’s telling us what is and isn’t art.

with Robert Williams

Robert Williams’ paintings are so wildly psychedelic that Timothy Leary had several of his paintings hanging in his living room. Williams told me that his work was “tremendously” influenced by psychedelics, and it certainly shows. Prior to his psychedelic transformation Williams was hot rod illustrator who worked with Ed Big Daddy “Ratfink” Roth. He became well known for the contributions that he made to Zap and other underground comics during the late sixties, and his books Zombie Mystery Paintings, Visual Addiction, and Twisted Libido have all become cult classics.

Although Williams is a architect of grotesque and disturbing nightmare visions, and a deliberately sleazy, low-life flavor permeates his work, there is cartoony cuteness about it, and a good deal of hallucinogenic humor giggles through. So intricately detailed is Williams’ work that one often can not grasp what they are looking at upon first glance. One usually has to stare at it for awhile before the complex imagery begins to emerge– then it’s almost hard to believe what one is seeing. Over the past few years his work has received a great deal of recognition from the mainstream art world, including a showing at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. I conducted this interview with Robert Williams at his home in North Hollywood, California.

 

David: What was it that originally inspired you to start drawing and painting?

Robert: I just had a natural propensity to express myself graphically. When I was a little kid I would scribble, and things like that. I’m left-handed, and I think that has a great deal to do with it.

David: Why is that?

Robert: Because I use the other side of my brain. I’m driven to fiddle. I remember when I was extremely young– like three or four– my parents would sit me down on a big piece of butcher paper with crayons. I remember drawing a human skeleton, bone by bone, gigantic in red crayon. This was supposed to be Red Skeleton.

David: So you think that because you are left-handed, and therefore use the right side of your brain more, you see with a perspective that most people don’t have?

Robert: There’s an awful lot of people claiming an elitism by being left-handed, and I wouldn’t want to do that. But I did have a propensity for drawing, and I think being left-handed had something to do with it. I’m not the only underground artist that’s left-handed. There are an unbelievable amount of artists that are left-handed. There’s also a disproportionate amount of people that are in prison and insane asylums that are left-handed.

David: Is that right? That would be an interesting subject to do a study on.

Robert: Yes, a lot of people have. All they’ve come up with is– a lot more left-handed people are involved in graphic arts, and are in insane asylums and prisons (laughter ). A lot more commit suicide, and I think left-handed people tend to die a little earlier too.

David: Did you know that also in families where schizophrenia runs, there are also much higher percentages of gifted artists and other creative individuals? Apparently, the gene that encodes for schizophrenia expresses itself as high levels of creativity in those who aren’t afflicted with the disorder.

Robert: There’s a very thin line between a genius and a maniac.

David: What do you think separates the two?

Robert: I don’t know. Robert Crumb is a very brilliant person, and he’s got a brother that’s a flat maniac, an absolute imbecile, a genius imbecile.

David: It appears that the same genes can go either way. What were some of the major influences in your life that affected the development of your unique style of visual expression?

Robert: Comic books, movies, and things like that. Being able to render things that have an adventurous air to them, that affected me as a child. Automobile racing, airplane and aircraft warfare, things that affect a little kid. War comics, and EC comic books. Are you familiar with EC comics?

David: Oh sure. Tales from the Crypt, Weird Science Fantasy, Mad.

Robert: That’s before your time. I bought them at the newsstand when I was young.

David: My dad had a whole box of them, and he used to let me pick one when I did something for him.

Robert: He’s got originals huh? Is that right? Oh, you were very fortunate. I bought those when they came out on the stands in the early Fifties. That had a great effect on me, as did Disney. Are you familiar with Carl Barks?

David: He did the Donald Duck comics.

Robert: Yeah, and CC Beck who did Captain Marvel. There’s a whole slew of bizarre comic books that always helped my fantasy. Classic Comics were big with me. Do you remember Classics ?

David: Sure, that’s how I discovered Frankenstien, The Invisible Man, and Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They were great. So comic books were a big influence. Did you have any formal art training?

Robert: Well, I always excelled in art class, and then when I got into college I did real well. Then I went to art school at Chouinards for a small period of time.

David: If you could sum up some of the basic messages that you’re trying to communicate with your work, what would they be?

Robert: I’m a product of my situation. I’m trapped in a matrix of circumstances, like all the rest of us are. What I obviously represent is this artist that does representational artwork that’s trying to force his way into fine arts. When I went to art school in the Sixties, the predominating art of that decade was abstract expressionism, which was, to me, a very limited thing. To a lot of people it was a free form of revolution, but to me it was like a very confining thing. You were limited to working with a small pallet of earth colors and maybe blue. Draftsmanship and craftsmanship was really discouraged. When I entered art school my head was full of EC images, Salvador Dali, and other things that put a stop to you right away in art school. My peer group pressured me, referring to me as an illustrator. This happened not only to me, but to a lot of the artists in Zap Comix.

David: Are you saying that being called an illustrator was a put down?

Robert: Yeah, it’s very derogatory to refer to someone as an illustrator. I’m facing the same problems that Fredick Remington, James Montgomery Flag, and other real capable artists who were categorized as illustrators faced. For maybe fifty years the established art world has been in a very loose form of abstraction. In the last ten or fifteen years it’s just been ridiculous. It’s formed itself over into situations like minimalism and conceptualism, and it’s got further and further away from a graphic language. It’s like an absolute revolt against anything to go with a graphic language.

So in my generation, and two or three generations before me, people who were technically capable stayed out of fine art. They went into illustration, movie posters, and this whole variety of other sub-arts. I represent a percentage of people who are like the waves coming back on the shore, the chickens coming back to roost. This is a valid language. What’s happening is comic books are demanding their position in the art world, and cartoon imagery is the art of the Twentieth Century. Just like in the future rock-n-roll music will be the music of the Twentieth Century, cartoons will be the art of the Twentieth Century. This is coming to be realized, and that’s what I tend to see myself as representing.

David: There is something about cartoon imagery that particularly appeals to both children and people who do psychedelics.

Robert: It’s a language.

David: How do you differentiate then between what is cartoon art and what is fine art?

Robert: The difference between “low-brow” and “high-brow” art is that the later is real snobby. To be snobby you have to make it very stoic and boring. In other words, it’s got to be profoundly bland– like holding your nose against a brick wall and looking at it for an hour. You’re just looking at a fucking brick wall, and you can walk down eight paces and see the same brick wall with a little different texture. What it boils down to is we’re manipulated by a priestly elite of cultural directors in the art world, that’s telling us what is and isn’t art.

This would have probably held up into the next century, except for the fact that the economy collapsed. So these incredible pieces of artwork that these people have made– like two railroad ties chained together, named “Untitled #14″, that were going for a quarter of a million dollars– can’t even get pennies on the dollar. They can’t give some of this shit away that they paid a quarter of a million dollars for. This is what’s happening. New York is almost completely collapsed on the art market. They’re approaching losing half of their galleries now, the big ones. Okay, so I come to New York with thirty oil paintings for a sold out show. Do you understand what kind of an effect this would have on the art community in New York? Do you comprehend that?

David: No, I’m not quite sure what you are getting at.

Robert: The very stanch and conservative and entrenched art world has collapsed, financially on its ass. It’s on its knees, waiting for the storm to blow by, so it can try to crawl back up. It’s lost half it’s galleries. So, I come in there, and sell out a show of thirty oil paintings, before the doors even open. The opening night there’s 2000 people in there. The police had barricades on the street. I had a lot of very important gallery people from around SoHo at my opening, telling me, “you’re only one of ten people in all of New York that’s selling.” One of ten, out of 100,000 people that call themselves fine artists, in the art capital of this planet. But I’m doing ugly cartoons with naked ladies with big titties. The feminists were throwing rocks at me. (laughter ) I’m doing everything wrong, but here I am with a sold out show, and standing room only crowds, continually coming in. The first Saturday there was a thousand people in attendance, and the show was held over.

David: And this isn’t because somebody with a row of fancy prestigious degrees after their name is praising it. People just look at it and really enjoy it.

Robert: That’s right. Because it’s a basic language of things that you’re interested in. But it’s not because I am so brilliant that I create it, it’s just that I am a symptom of the situation. I came up with the rest of my underground buddies, reading underground comics, Hot Rod magazine, surfing, and all this stuff that people are really interested in. We’ve cooked it like soup, brewed it into an essence, and made art out of the things you want to fucking see– not what’s intellectually proper.

David: Is there a particular age group that your artwork seems to especially appeal to?

Robert: Yeah, from thirty down is who I appeal to.

David: How did you get into the underground comic scene?

Robert: I used to be art director for Ed Big Daddy Roth, and that was very much an underground think tank down in Maywood. Roth was this very important seminal character in the underground. During 1959-1961 Roth was doing monster T-shirts. He would go to car shows, set up an airbrush, and just paint shirts for people. They caught on really big. So he started doing decals, and then selling these shirts through the mail. It became an institution in the early Sixties. He used very low-brow subject matter. There’s a lot of beer cans, open wounds, warts, monsters with drool coming out, and popping eyeballs, like Basil Woverton. Now Basil Woverton was an influence on Ed Roth and me too. Have you heard of the poster artists refered to as the Big Five? Stanley Mouse, Rick Giffin, Victor Moscoso, Alton Kelly, and Wes Wilson, who did the very first psychedelic poster. Mouse is one of the better ones, on par nearly with Rick. He was a competitor. He started out doing hot rod T-shirts, as a competitor with Roth. But, there’s always been a West coast underground that’s been like a brotherhood.

David: How have psychedelics influenced your work?

Robert: They influenced it tremendously.

David: How so? What was your work like prior to and then after?

Robert: My work before psychedelics was kind of like a Wallace Wood style.

David: The guy who did those old science fiction stories in the EC comics?

Robert: Yeah, he was big influence on me too. It was kind of like a street element, hot-rod Wallace Wood effect I had in my work. Maybe a little science fiction fantasy. But when psychedelics came along, it opened up the world of color and shape– an emphasis was put on things that were really not paid attention to before. The predominant thing about psychedelics is harsh contrast, working one color against another. That had been done by the German Expressionists, but it wasn’t done like this. The German Expressionists like to get one color against another color to make it ugly– real dark green against harsh pink, for example– and it would be this real obtrusive thing. But psychedelic art wasn’t like that, it was colors at their maximum. It’s like 100% yellow against 100% red.

David: That stark contrast which is similar to what you see when you’re tripping.

Robert: Yeah, it’s sort of like putting green up against a red-orange, so where they touched each other, your eye would vibrate. Then Op-Art came along, which was a product of psychedelic art. That had like a two or three year hiatus, and then fell out. When I was working for Roth I had to render a lot of automobile stuff. He always hired a lot of artists that were technical illustrators, to do really slick automotive renderings. There was a fellow there named Ed Newton, who could do the best chrome in the world. The smooth chrome would just make your mouth water, but his imagination wouldn’t let him take it any further than car or industrial surfaces. He showed me the formulas for working chrome.

David: I seem to recall a piece that you did as a center spread in Zap, with all these really highly polished chrome characters.

Robert: Yeah. So, being psychedelic, man, I just saw all the possibilities to that shit on water, air, women– everything. So that chrome center-spread that you’re talking about was my first attempt to make everything chrome in the picture. In fact, that’s a reproduction of it on a mirror up there.

David: Oh yeah, that’s it.

Robert: A fellow from England sent that to me. That’s the “Rosetta Stone” of Chrome there. It tells you how to handle any shape. (laughter) So, I’m talking about 67, 68. So I started doing this, and it got out in the car magazines, and before long, advertising agencies started picking up on this. I started having advertising agencies calling me. J. Walter Thompson called me, but I couldn’t get along with them, and I didn’t want to be bosed by them. Inside three or four years, the entire advertising thing– all over the United States, Europe, and the world– started having chrome lettering. The chrome lettering you see today started with me. So I netted exactly nothing out of that. There was a number of artists that made pretty good livings off of doing chrome.

David: But why is that? You didn’t try to market it?

Robert: Well, I’m not a commercial artist, see.

David: Not like one of those… illustrators.

Robert: Yeah. When I got into it, and I got really deep into it. I started figuring, well this is a stylization, and I’ve got a language going with a whole new form of visual surface control. And if I get deeper into this, I’m going to find something even better. I started getting more abstract, and getting deeper into working with this.

David: I’m not sure what you mean by “getting deeper into this.” You mean you elaborated on it more?

Robert: Yeah. Instead of making it look like chrome, I started changing the colors on it, trying to alter the language– so it doesn’t read properly as chrome, yet the language is there. It’s psychedelic as hell. It’s obvious that the guy who that did this has taken some drugs. (laughter )

David: Is there a deliberate attempt to shock people with your work?

Robert: Well, you know I hear this all the time. “Are you just like shocking people there? So now you have this open wound and this naked lady?” That’s kind of a cold way to phrase it. The uglier way to phrase it to say I’m exploiting subject matter. But what it is is, if you do a cartoon or you do a picture, and you want attention, and you’re trying to gain an audience, you have so much to compete against. You’ve got television, movies, music, you got so many diversities and diversions that you have to compete against, that a picture has got to have so much energy in it. One way to get the energy is to have emotional tricks.

In other words, not only is the picture composed of a composition of color and shape, but there is emotional composition in it. Like you might have a dying baby next to a dog turd. These things are just like really disturbing situations, and they’re not things to win your favor– they’re things to hold you. And while you’re sitting there being upset, but yet attracted, the rest of the picture is taking effect on you too. So yes, the stuff is just contrived to be shocking, but it’s done in a language of it’s own. It’s demanding your attention. It’s trying to addict you to it, but it’s not necessarily trying to win your approval. What it’s trying to do is to get you to go to the next painting.

David: So in other words, you’re just trying to make it so fascinating, that people can’t help but be interested and drawn into it.

Robert: That’s right.

David: You said that you’ve had to compete with other mediums for people’s attention. Have you experimented with other mediums for your own expression, such as animation or computers?

Robert: I’ve done story boards, and one thing or another like that. I’ve had some awful good offers, but, you know, I’m a painter, and if I really can’t get off on these other things. But I’ve been offered some really good situations.

David: Have you tried doing any work on a computer?

Robert: No, I haven’t tried that. But I’ve seen my work that someone else has digitized on a computer. The guys in he band Butt Hole Surfers took some of my work and did this.

David: You said that you had some good offers– to do what?

Robert: To do all kinds stuff for television– like movies, both animated and live-action. They want me to do a series on HBO.

David: And you don’t want to do it?

Robert: It’s not that I don’t want to do it. It’s how much are they going to do for me, and how much time am I going to absorb in doing this? I’m really in a safe position now that I’ve worked thirty years to get to. Things are really flowing smooth for me. I’ve accomplished an awful lot. And if I just set that aside and start fucking around with something that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, I’ll start ending up under the dictates of someone else after awhile.

David: There seems to be a co-mingling of sex and death in your work. What’s the association between the two for you?

Robert: I think a lot of what you’re seeing is melodramatic. A lot of this stuff is hokum.

David: The recurring motif of corpses making love to beautiful women.

Robert: You see, if I was to pass myself off as fine arts, I would tell you that this all has religious significance. (laughter ) This is so deep, I can’t explain it to you. If you don’t understand it, you’ll never understand it. You know what I’m saying? But I can’t say that, because all that it is, is just melodramatic hokum.

David: But you do see an association between sex and death?

Robert: Of course I see that.

David: What’s the association that you see then? I’m really curious about that.

Robert: Well, I see exactly what you see. There’s– fucking’s fun, and you’re going to die. (laughter ) You’re driven by your libido, but yet death’s waiting for you.

David: There’s the fear of death, the promise of sex, and those two forces drive much of life.

Robert: No. The thing that overdominates the fear of death and the want of sex is the ego that wants to be gratified. The strutting of the rooster. It’s not getting the pussy– it’s being able to get the pussy.

David: Are you aware that sex and death occurred simultaneously in the evolutionarily process? Billions of years ago, in the primordial soup, they arrived at the exact same moment. Before death, all organisms were asexual and cloned themselves into immortality. Mortality hit when sexual reproduction started. I think that’s were the sex-death association began.

Robert: I think you’re simplifying the situation there.

David: You think it’s more complex than that? I especially see the motif in psychedelic artwork. You and Giger do it quite a bit.

Robert: That’s just melodramatic hocum, things that go bump in the night– things that get your interest.

David: To grab people’s fascination.

Robert: Right, those are devices.

David: What do you think happens to human consciousness after death?

Robert: It’s over pal.

David: You don’t think that there is any continuation of consciousness?

Robert: Hey, what can I tell you? How do you want it? (laughter ) You go up to the sky and you live up there with angels, where you spend eternity not being able to use foul language (laughter ). You call that heaven? You live forever among these very stoic people with beards, and you can’t fuck or say shit or anything. Would you like to spend eternity like that? Or would you rather be with the devil?

David: If I could have my preference, I wouldn’t want something in the Christian framework at all, thank you.

Robert: Well, would you want to be you today, and in your next life a armadillo? (laughter )

David: I’d be interested in trying on a new body. What would you like?

Robert: I’m going with this one ticket. This is it.

David: Don’t want another shot at it?

Robert: Well, I want another shot at it, but I’m not going to sit here and dream it up. I’m realistic.

David: Really? And I thought you were surrealistic all this time.

Robert: Have you ever looked into the eyes of a skull and think this guy’s somewhere else now?

David: No, but when I was studying neuroscience, I held a human brain in my hands before dissecting it, and tried to imagine where the person’s spirit was. I marveled at how a whole person’s life all took place in this little three pound handful of grey meat. It was an extraordinary experience.

Robert: That’s right. Three pounds of Jello.

David: It’s just a grey blob.

Robert: Better enjoy it while you can pal. This is it.

David: Live for the moment philosophy?

Robert: Well, you know I deal in abstraction and fantasy, but I know what reality is. I’ve been in jail before. I’ve been in fights. I’ve had my life threatened. I’ve been in hospitals a bunch of times. I’ve seen people die. I’ve had a lot of people die before me.

David: You’ve had a lot of really intense life experiences, and this is reflected in your work.

Robert: I’m just an old guy in tract home over in the Valley. My house looks just like everyone else’s house.

David: Yeah, you know, I was really surprised at that. (laughter ) I think I was expecting a polished chrome house, with a giant nude woman on the roof wrapped in a huge taco shell. Why did you choose to live here?

Robert: I got the house at a good price years ago. I used to live over in Hollywood, right in the eye of the vortex, man– taking drugs, and lots of parties in the Sixties. I was glad to get the hell out of there.

David: So what are you working on these days?

Robert: Well, I’m starting my next book– Views from a Twisted Libido.

David: Is there a theme to the new series?

Robert: I’m getting a little more psychological material. That might interest you. Did you read my Zombie Mystery Paintings ?

David: Yup, you bet, savored it from cover to cover.

Robert: You should have enjoyed that.

David: I loved it. I thought it was brilliant.

Robert: Every painting was looked at in three directions.

David: Unless one reads the three titles and descriptions, they’ll miss a lot of it. Zombie Mytery Paintings is one of my favorite books.

Robert: Those were really rough paintings– a lot of gratuitous sex and violence. The reason they were so rough was because I had to compete with punk rock artists in LA and After Hours clubs in the early Eighties. So, the original idea I had for presenting this material was that I was going to have two psychiatrists interview me, and give their opinion on each painting. What I was going to do was this. In the first paragraph I would state the painting verbatim the way you look at it. Then the second paragraph would be from the very liberal gestalt psychiatrist. And then my third paragraph would be a behaviorist psychiatrist, like from the marine core, a very pragmatic idiot finder. So, I got in touch with a bunch of psychiatrists, and I had them go through a couple of pictures and give me their take on it. But everyone I talked to kept justifying everything. They just wouldn’t cut me down. I couldn’t get anyone to attack me. So I just wrote the whole thing myself.

David: You wanted them to say something like “this is obviously the product of a disturbed and diseased mind. As you can see there are several varieties of psychopathology evident here.”

Robert: Yeah (laughter ), yeah, right. Someone ought to take me and put me in the presence of my mother and have me describe this thing of how I treat women. (laughter )

Posters, prints, and books by Williams can be ordered through: L, Imagerie, 15030 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, California 91403, (818) 995-8488. (Full color catalog available for $4.)

Brummbaer

Cyber-Dancer

…we have to be a little more careful so we don’t miss the real uncanny coincidences, and drown in a pool of mediocre coincidences that everybody throws at you day and night.

with Brummbaer

Brummbaer was one of the primary computer animators responsible for the mind-bending graphics in the Tristar motion picture Johnny Mnemonic (written by William Gibson, and co-starring my cousin Dina Meyer). He also created a breathtaking opener for SIGGRAPH’s 1995 Electronic Theater, and has long been a pioneer in the world of digital animation, where he has achieved legendary status with his unmistakable hallucinogenic style. His fine art and underground magazineGermania brought him fame in Europe during the Sixties, and he orchestrated light shows for such musicians as Frank Zappa and Tangerine Dream. Brummbaer found his most expressive medium when he discovered the computer. Here Brummbaer became a fully ordained wizard.

Described by Timothy Leary as a “cyber-dancer,” and “one of the first masters” of digital media, he stylishly blends the mathematical precision achievable on a computer with sensuous organic mind-scapes. His animated alien worlds are composed of Escheresquely organized, interlocking tubular networks, and spinning hyperdimensional polymorphic objects, encoded with cryptic esoteric messages from alternatively-ordered universes. Ever modest with regard to the magic that he spins, Brummbaer says that his philosophy of creativity stems from his notion that an artist is but a humble window washer. His computer screen, he claims, is simply a window that allows him to see through into other worlds, and all he does is polish the screen so that we can see through to the other side. I interviewed him at his studio in Venice, California on December 15, 1992.

David What was it that originally inspired you to become an artist?

Brummbaer I don’t think anybody knows that.

David What does being an artist mean to you?

Brummbaer Practically speaking, I think it has been the role of the artist throughout history to create in order to remind people what life should be about. Because people tend to forget everything! Situations get so terribly bad on this planet that people start living in hell and then think that is all there is.

David When did you decide that you wanted to do that?

Brummbaer I can’t really answer you. I’m not trying to be evasive. Let me tell you about the time when I was fifteen and the first performances called “Happenings’ were taking place.

David This was equivalent to a Rave?

Brummbaer No, to ‘Performance Art’. Somebody would get on stage and stand on his head, or pour milk from one glass into another, then another. There was a wonderful performance artist named Nam June Paik. He was a little Korean musician who would stand in this auditorium next to a grand piano having one finger up in the air, and very, very slowly — the whole Happening took about five minutes — his finger went down towards the keyboard: getting closer, closer. The tension grew, and then the finger just passes the keyboard by half an inch and keeps going down, further down to the floor, and finally when the finger almost reaches the floor his forehead unexpectedly hits the keys with a loud musical bang. His forehead made a beautiful sound on the piano. It is such a wonderful metaphor for the difference between our intentions and what weíre really doing. We called this art and it freaked people out. Happenings were dangerous. You could be run out of town. Of course, when I was fifteen or so, I found people really interesting that didn’t take shit from anybody. They also forced you to understand that to use oil paint, a brush and canvas, did not necessarily make art. They showed me that any material is acceptable. Because you are using an old established medium it showed– just like the ready-made by Duchamps and other people– that any material is aloud. So, if you find something and put two things together, this can be art. Everything you do has an effect on people and this is what you want. It doesn’t have to be oil paint. When you realize the whole world is a slice of art then you understand we must get rid of the shortcomings in this work of art. This is when I took a frame and climbed through it. This gesture –of walking through the frame– symbolized that I was now entering a world that is art, and everything I do to it is art. That was probably when I decided to be an artist.

David Reflecting on your experience doing pavement paintings and laser light shows with musicians, it seems that this was an expression of your philosophy of “perishable art “– art which doesn’t endure and exists only for the moment, then vanishes like fireworks. How do you incorporate this philosophy of perishables into your art?

Brummbaer We have the terrible habit of hanging on to things we like, attaching ourselves, and then putting them in a museum. The side-effect is that people who go to a museum are usually psychologically armed to the neck before they even get in there. So nothing is going to happen –except maybe boy meets girl– if they are smart and lucky.

David This seems to be tying in to what you said before. You think the power of art lies in being able to transform life into a creative act, like the example you gave of walking through the picture frame into a world that is art. You believe that artistic expression should be something that we do as a lifestyle rather than something that you put in a box, a glass cage, or hang on a dusty wall in a museum.

Brummbaer Particularly when the artists are dead and the message has arrived years ago. But I’m not against museums.. I pretty much lived in the National Gallery in London for month. I would sleep in St. James Park and just hang out in the gallery like it was some huge living room I got all for myself.

David Do you think there is something to the idea of needing to absorb and integrate art from the past before you can do something with it that is truly unique and appropriate for this particular time in history? Do you think it is important for artists to get a good sense of what has come before them or is it better to not be influenced?

Brummbaer How blank can you be in this world? This seems like a desirable state which may be quite impossible to get to.

David I don’t mean to speak in absolutes.

Brummbaer I understand. First of all, I don’t think anyone should deprive themselves of the artistic pleasure generated by the hundreds of thousands of artists who have created beautiful objects, music or whatever. Why should you deprive yourself of all this? It’s wonderful. It’s just like flowers in the garden, a sunset, or a bird flying by. If you miss all this you might as well be blind, deaf or dead.

David Who are some of the artists who influenced you?

Brummbaer Let me give you the names of some of the artists who you might not have even heard of. (Laughs) Burne Hogarth. (Not the English Burne Hogarth who did drawings and copper etchings in the 18th century.) I’m referring to the Burne Hogarth who did the Tarzan comics. He did the most wonderful Art Nouveau type of Tarzan adventures. My other big influence would be Carl Barks– the ARTIST who did Donald Duck. Many Disney-artists did Donald Duck but he was the true creative genius behind the Ducksburg cosmos. Lately he is being rediscovered and honored by his fans.

David I’m not surprised to hear that you were influenced a lot by comic art. Tell me something about Germania.

Brummbaer That was the German underground magazine that cost me a lot of money to put together (laughs) but was great fun.

David What years did you publish it?

Brummbaer 1969, I think, through 1971. I don’t know. In the beginning we wrote a lot of it ourselves or had people translate stuff, but rather quickly we were pretty much just editing stuff that people sent us. We received some very weird stories. One of the major political activities I was involved with between the sixties and seventies had to do with the homeless, by occupying houses. We occupied the first house in Germany. Not knowing what I was doing, I was already occupying houses in ’64 and ’65 in London– and went to jail for it. When we did it in Germany I not only managed to stay out of jail, but in fact managed to occupy a house along with students and families, who would live there for many years. It was really intense because we didn’t know if the police might come the next morning and beat the shit out of us, after which we’d all end up in jail. After we had been in there for a week we found Molotov cocktails on the roof some militant bozo of our group had secretly prepared up there. (Laughs) It was really dangerous. We had all the doors barricaded. We had a great strategy with me doing a comic strip overnight, explaining why we occupied the house and consequently, we won great public support. All these houses were standing empty, while in the meantime, families of seven lived in two rooms somewhere under horrible conditions, while all this space was available. The same goes for the United States. There are so many empty houses and buildings. It is not necessary for one person in this country to be homeless. We don’t need more houses or more products. We need a system of more equal distribution.

David Buckminster Fuller talked about how there is really no scarcity of resources on the planet, just unequal distribution.

Brummbaer Right! Our final success, two years later, was that we had 140 houses occupied all over Germany. It changes the environment of the city when you walk around afterwards.

David Why do you think our culture is so sex-negative?

Brummbaer. Eros– including sex– is, of course, the most powerful force in life. Food, cover, and physical integrity come first, but most decisions above those are made by your dick, right? Every Fascist government in the world has known this very well, and drives the suppression of sexuality. The denial of anything but the standardized form of reproduction is shunned and persecuted with the result that people who have such a limited access to their sex now have to live in constant denial. On the other hand, sexual repression creates very aggressive young people and perfect soldiers. Wilhelm Reich is the scientist who I credit for discovering this relationship.

David Sexual repression leads to a more aggressive warrior-like mentality.

Brummbaer Doesn’t it? The emotional economics of how a structure like this works is very clear. You are frustrated and you are going to let it out somewhere.

David So, you see Fascist governments like Iran, Iraq, and the United States trying to suppress sexuality so as to better control people. In contrast, in your art there is a sensuous kind of eroticism which seems central to all of your work.

Brummbaer Look at what kind of strange world we are living in where the female breast, the giver of life, is censored. Of course, the tit is the most important FIRST. It is deeply imprinted in our hardware to go for that tit. Nevertheless, something that is so positive and life-giving is not allowed to be shown on public TV or in public anywhere. Then, of course, the pussy where we all come from, the origin of everybody’s life– now that’s totally illegal. If you show PUSSY, you’re in real trouble. It is like we are ashamed to be associated with the lower parts of our body, like humans actually are nothing but strange turds, excreted from a disgusting orifice. On the other hand, it is fine if every teenager sees 180,000 murders on TV by the time they are 18. Aliens watching our TV would have to come to the conclusion that humans inhabit a death culture totally based on annihilation, murder, pain, and torture, because the sexy stuff on tv you hardly see. And then what you DO see is mostly in good taste, kind of out of focus.

David So you think that there is actually a kind of a reverse polarity. When a culture stresses violence, death and aggression there is a repression of sexuality. And vice-versa, in a culture which allows for unbridled, unrestrained sensuous sexuality, then there is less aggressive violence.

Brummbaer I saw an interesting film about child soldiers in Nicaragua where the trainer had six year old little kids running around with these big machine guns playing soldiers. He said that, first of all, you have to understand these kids probably saw their parents killed right in front of them. They’re orphans this guy took on and he probably showed them a way to survive. He also mentioned that they are usually great soldiers until they reach puberty. The moment they start getting interested in the opposite sex the war gets second rating, because suddenly they want to live. They have something to loose. It is also something everyone can verify for themselves. If you get laid you feel really great the next day. You’re Prince Charming to everybody. You are having a ball, and you are feeling good. You are not likely to go around and beat up some gays.

David Right. So you think all the violence is an expression of our suppressed sexuality?

Brummbaer No, not all, but I look at the appearance that it takes. It’s not a coincidence that they are all big, phallic machines. We all like to play with big dicks, right? (Laughs) Think of rockets, cannons, and machine guns. David What role have psychedelics played in influencing your art work?

Brummbaer A profoundly trivial influence. You close your eyes when you’re tripping and you wish everybody could see what you’re seeing. (Laughs) You wish there was a way to get it out of your mind, objectify it and make it visible to other people. Ever since computers came around we are getting closer to being able to reproduce these psychedelic visions.

David How did you get interested in computers as a medium?

Brummbaer Because of what I just said– the ability to recreate something I want to share. And another reason is the fact that we don’t need to create more things because we have to slowly accept that we have created enough garbage on this planet– more products than anybody needs. This planet is crowded with artifacts and that has some major psychological drawbacks. The difference between an artificial environment and a natural environment is that the natural environment is independent of you. And grossly indifferent. If you go out to the desert or the forest everything there is already happening, and it basically doesn’t give a fuck if you are there or not– it doesn’t make a damn difference. The stones don’t care if you feel good, bad, or whatever. In an artificial environment every object that is made represents the frame of mind of the person who made it. You are constantly being fed back somebody’s idea from somewhere in time. Architecture, being one concept, where only 100 years ago they still made these big flats with six or seven rooms for large families. These days we are just building little units for the nuclear family, and are so creating architectural skeletons that will stay around much longer than we will. We are constantly being fed back all these silly ideas that somebody, somewhere in time thought of. This makes us all pretty crazy and makes people freak out when a bug suddenly crawls around, or a spider sits on you. People have this fear of nature because it moves independently.

David How do you distinguish between what is natural and artificial?

Brummbaer This would be a major philosophical discussion, way beyond the scope of an interview. I’ll just say, for the moment, that artificial is man-made, and natural is how it was before man got to play around with it.

David You said in the past that you don’t like being described as a psychedelic artist. Can you explain why and what you mean by that?

Brummbaer The word psychedelic was created in the sixties and, in itself, is one of the most a popularly misspelled misunderstandings. Even though we can only describe something as psychedelic since the sixties, art has been psychedelic long before that. I say all art is psychedelic.

David How do you define psychedelic in that context?

Brummbaer The explanation is expanding your soul or mind, and that is what art has always been about. But when people say psychedelic, what they really mean is, hey, you’re an old hippie. And who likes to hear that?

David You see it as a much more ancient tradition.

Brummbaer Labeling is so convenient and quite unavoidable, so one still tries to get around being labeled. Because labeling something is also like putting it in a museum, castrating it, and taking its power away.

David You have a metaphor that you use to describe your creative relationship with the computer– the computer being like a philosopher’s stone, and the software being like a magic carpet. Could you explain what you mean by this?

Brummbaer We were talking about this before. Living in a man-made world with tons of products, and everything being artificial. Going into a gallery and taking someone else’s pictures down before I can put mine up feels so invasive and aggressive to me. How many more paintings do we need on this planet? Are there any walls left? The shops are still full. There has to be a certain ratio, and so the computer allows you to create whole worlds that all fit on to a tiny piece of magnetic tape. This allows me to be as creative as I want without creating any more product that fills up any more space and storage. When I was working for TV and started creating virtual sets in the computer, it was so obvious to me that instead of painting huge decorations, having trucks come with stagehands, and looking for storage space, the whole effort was just to fill a little TV-screen. So the idea was to create it on this TV-screen right away, to send it through the phone to the station, and have them display it. This seems so much more wonderful for the environment, and also very practical. You get a lot more flexibility, and the computer can be constantly upgraded and changed. Obviously, I would think the philosophers stone is silicone because it is the thinking machine. How this all works, and how some of these machines have the capacity to learn is of great mystery to me. I just know it works. Our understanding of computers is about as deep as the understanding of ourselves, and somehow close to how the brain works. The magic carpet, of course, is like software, because a carpet is like a string of commands. Even the word string is in there (laughs). To sit on a magic carpet and fly away is what software should do to you.

David You need a computer to run the software and a philosopher’s stone to run the magic carpet. (laughs)

Brummbaer We shouldn’t over-stress the metaphor, but strangely enough, why shouldnít the stone of wisdom be silicone? Again, when you play with a computer, and you get into the symmetry of design, suddenly you create something that is very similar to carpets and other ancient spiritual forms.

David What kind of effect do think computers are going to have on the evolution of the consciousness in the future? How is it going to effect people and where do you see it heading?

Brummbaer I can tell you where I want it to go. Whatever we do on a computer has the element of simulation in it. We are always simulating something in miniature, just like any model. Computer models allow us to integrate incredibly complex situations, run them through the computer, and in a very playful way come up with alternatives that, just to do them in real life, might take up a couple of generations. We already see this in the development of cars where every car looks the same these days because they are all designed on the computer. Certain parameters are being fed in and it comes up with certain results. 50 years ago everything had to be built and run for years before somebody realized it was a stupid idea, and then the next generation would change it. We are in the midst of a quantum leap of experimenting. The same thing goes for art. When you are sitting at the computer you have an undo button. You can try anything you want. You can try things that are just so weird, stupid and off-the-wall you would never do on a canvas.

David So it gives you more freedom to experiment?

Brummbaer Right. So you arrive earlier. You don’t have to draw a hundred pictures from scratch because you can go back to the last saved version and go right from there.

David You referred to what you do on the computer as simply window washing. That is, you see the screen as being a window into another world and you said what you are humbly doing is simply washing the screens so everybody else can see into a world that is already there. Can you explain what you mean by this?

Brummbaer Well, just like the Sufis say, the music is there all the time– it just takes a discriminating brain to black out the rest and take out the little piece that you later hear on somebody’s record. So, everything is there all the time. It is just the humble artist who, with 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, has to do the job. And it is a dirty job. (scratches)

David So you don’t see yourself as creating or fabricating these worlds– you’re saying that you only allow people to see only what is already there.

Brummbaer I’m reporting.

David What about the tantric implications of the mouse and the joy stick– which you’ve said corresponds to the yoni and the lingam, respectively?

Brummbaer Well, that’s a joke. What I am afraid of is that I see a lot of nerdy high priests who like to take over and love to keep the screen in MS-DOS. In fact, they have to be fluent in all kinds of weird languages to tell a computer what to do, and they are the only ones who speak that language. They are the only ones who can do it, and they are going to try to stick to the power they have, and basically, make life very miserable for everybody else who wants to play with this wonderful instrument. So the Pentagon, the FBI, and the IRS all have the greatest computers. If it were not for Steven Jobs and Wozniak we would just have had big brother mainframes. So, to avoid that the whole idea, and make it look like fun– there is poetry, sensuality, and there are emotions. So the lingam, and the joystick, and the yoni, and the mouse is just a an attempt to shatter the seriousness of these high priest guys.

David What current projects are you working on these days?

Brummbaer I’d rather not talk about these things. The only privacy that you can to allow yourself as an artist is not to deal with unfinished things in public because they are very tender when they are young. (laughs)

David John Lilly told me something very similar once.

Brummbaer It’s absolutely true. There is nothing worse than when you are sitting there with your work– you’re struggling and somebody comes in and says something totally stupid, or they love it, for all the wrong reasons.

David Something in an embryonic stage is best not influenced because, what later on is only like a little pin prick, in the early stages, can destroy whatever it is that you are working on.

Brummbaer Right.

David How about dreams? Do your dreams influence your art?

Brummbaer Uh, I don’t dream.

David Is that right?

Brummbaer Well, sometimes. I don’t know if I just don’t bother remembering but, well, let’s face it, your every day dream isn’t particularly interesting, usually. Every once in awhile one has a dream that is of importance, and usually it has a little tag on it that says “remember when you are awake,” and you do remember. When I was young I got into writing down my dreams every morning, giving it all this significance, thinking of Sigmund Freud, and trying to figure out what it all means. I went through all kinds of rituals like Gestalt Therapy, learning these little tricks how to investigate your own mind without necessarily needing the experts. I did that for quite some time and had all kinds of insights, but after awhile I just realized that dreams of importance you remember, not only the next morning, but for the rest of your life. You can close your eyes and you are right there if you want to. Those dreams have an influence on your whole life, no doubt. So, if you want to see inspiration for my art, then psychedelics were much more important than dreams.

David Do you see a relationship between dreams and psychedelics?

Brummbaer The problem here is that the word dream is such an undefined notion. We can say what it is not. We are obviously not awake, that it is not real. It happens somewhere in the night, the kind of rhythms when it takes place. We don’t know what it is except some kind of convoluted mess of thoughts, memories and feelings thrown together without any particular context. Right? So, my assumption, that I find all kinds of scientists coming to, has been this: Most of all the sensory input, that we perceive during a day, by the very nature of a complex life, has to go unnoticed. A lot of things happen below the threshold of consciousness. We are busy avoiding traffic when somebody in the car says something to us that just kind of disappears somewhere. So all that collects in the brain in some kind of short-term memory bank. Now, what happens at night is that the memory bank has to be cleaned out because we don’t have infinite space in our brain to remember every thing that ever happened. So there is some kind of a house cleaning which happens at night. Realities that came in during the day that agree with us are being sorted away and erased. Other realities that our view of the world doesn’t agree with can turn into some nightmarish kind of state in your dream. The sequence doesn’t have to necessarily make sense in this world, because when the garbage goes out, it is being thrown together, like in the real world. I experience the ketamine-experience as very similar to dreaming and, in fact, there was a time when I took a lot of ketamine, and slept incredibly little during the whole binge.

David Because you existed in a kind of dream state.

Brummbaer Yeah, because you are constantly flushing, and sleep deprivation is something different from dream deprivation. You can do fairly long without sleep, but after three days without dreaming you start to hallucinate; there is no more space. You just put the wrong things together. With acid I think it is all a little different because it has a different scope of effects.

David Dreams and psychedelics may have the similar effect of bringing unconscious material up and out of our psyches so that the use of psychedelics may temporarily replace dreaming. Also, they tend to stimulate the nervous system in a way, that makes it quite difficult to sleep.

Brummbaer That’s true. If I took ketamine for two weeks in a row I realized that I could really do with about three hours sleep and I would be fine. I’d be kind of tired but I wouldn’t be depressed or confused.

David Like you would be if you were sleeping, but not dreaming, which, as you say, is not quite the same thing. Right? So there’s a cheap way to get high. Don’t dream for a couple of days.

Brummbaer Yeah, it depends. It could also be a cheap way to get down. (Laughs)

David Right, you start hallucinating madly though. The walls start crawling with little critters moving inside them, and things like that.

Brummbaer I have seen some interesting reactions in people. It was pretty amazing to see somebody after the third day of sleep deprivation, or dream deprivation. In this one case, someone suddenly get the idea to break a chair apart– without anger, rather methodical, like somebody gave him the order to make firewood out of this chair. He was busy for five minutes breaking this thing into splinters. It was impressive. But humans are a weird people. We have the strange phenomenon of hypnosis. Put somebody under hypnosis, and give him a post-hypnotic suggestion that, when he snaps out of it, he will cross the room and close the door and he shall forget you told him so. So people come out of hypnosis and close the door. You ask them why they did it, and they will have some very sincere explanation: it is too cold, or there’s a draft, you know– anything. When you tell them it was a post-hypnotic suggestion they are likely to kill you.

David People will create rationalizations for their own behaviors that they don’t understand. People who have the corpus collosum severed in their brain– which connects the left and right hemispheres of the cortex– often find themselves in the position of having their verbal left hemisphere explaining the behaviors of their right hemisphere in completely fictitious, but apparently sincere, ways.

Brummbaer You don’t have to have your corpus collosum severed, you just find yourself somewhere, and you have no idea how you got there.Then a year later you find out that your “dick” told you to go there (Laughs loud). No reason whatsoever. The Romans had these fairy-tales about how the body parts work together, how the organs were talking to each other, and how certain parts would go on strike because they weren’t treated well by the other parts. I think it is a very workable hypothesis.

David Makes sense to me. I’m a multiplicity of personalities.

Brummbaer Remember Dr. Strangelove, who couldn’t control his arm? We are all like that. If our feet made the decisions where we go, the hands made the decisions what we do, the dick made the decision who we fuck, we’d all be in fine shape. Or is it the other way around? My girlfriend asked me some time ago: “Do you think it’s more important to follow your heart or your mind?” I had a smart moment and I said: “For the things that concern the matters of the heart you should follow your heart, but when things concern the mind you should follow your mind. So, you want to take the test for your driver’s license with your mind, and you don’t want to fall in love with somebody with your brain entirely. It’s amazing how the body parts have their own intelligence. For the fun of it I had a bicycle lock in Germany that would open with the correct digit combination. When we had a long winter– it’s like six months– the bicycle would be in the cellar locked up. Every spring came the moment when I would get the bicycle out and then have to open the lock. (Laughs) I didn’t remember the combination, and I never knew the number. But I would sit down, get onto my hands and have my hands open it. I’d watch my hands and it would always work. I would just sit there. And, of course, partially you’re scared shitless. Because your intuition is at stake here.

David I know someone with multiple-personality disorder who can write a coherent letter with one hand, while composing an intricate drawing with the other– simultaneously. This demonstrates just how independently different parts of ourselves can be.

Brummbaer Yup. Because we have this mechanical idea of a character/personality/ego that is in command. I think the truth is we have a lot of structured sparks flying around in our brain, and all different parts of us work in combination, or against each other. (laughs)

David Sometimes it’s like a democracy, other times it’s more like a dictatorship, with everything in-between.

Brummbaer Let me say something in regard to what you were saying in your last talk about coincidence control. I am bored to tears by this coincidence nonsense. First of all, the people who are constantly looking for these coincidences, like miracles, drive me nuts because there are plenty of miracles around. They are in plain sight at all times. You just have to recognize them and understand what an incredible miracle your little finger is. How against all odds… how the hell it came into existence in the first place, (laughs) and what it all does? You know, the world is full of miracles and strange and wonderful things. The fact that people are so blind and ignorant, and do not see or acknowledge this, is beyond me. They get addicted to these blatant type of miracles that come dressed as the Virgin Mary, or a flying saucer, or some other supernatural event. Talking about coincidences– there is some very interesting research on identical twins. Twins that are separated at birth, and are checked out forty years later, will find that they both wear the same clothes, have the strangely similar marriages, names. Certain things, that are admittedly very uncanny, happen when two people who were separated at birth meet many years later. They both wear a blue suit, and a red tie, for example. They both live in a little house with a picket fence. They both have been married twice. The first wife was Sarah and the second one’s was Sarah, etc., all these coincidences — add up to a list, and are pretty mind-blowing. How does this happen? Is our genetic make-up so strong that it permeates our whole life and the pattern so inescapably defined? Because then we can kind of say “well, forget it, whatever is going to happen is going to happen, anyway.” Right? But if you look at these events a little closer you suddenly realize that there are enough people on the planet to create a mathematical necessity for a certain amount of total unlikely events. You would have to check all the twins, not just the ones with the coincidences.

David Are you getting to the point that coincidences are just a matter of chance?

Brummbaer No, they are in fact cigars. Sometimes a cigar is just a coincidence. What I’m trying to say is when you look a little closer, a lot of events we think are so extraordinary and unaccounted for, become as easily explainable, as lightning in the 20th century. Now look, these two twins meeting, they are like 40 years old and male. They have the same hair color, probably the same build, as far as it genetically goes. Now, what choice do they have in a suit? Gray or blue I would think. If we go with this example here, you suddenly realize, well, if he puts on a suit it has to be gray or blue, it is like 50/50, you have a chance of a hit that is 50/50. Now say, if you were to meet your twin brother and you’re wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt of which there were only 20 ever made, and your twin brother has the same one on, now we are talking about serious coincidence.

David But, Brummbaer, you must have been confronted by synchronicities and coincidences that have blown your mind.

Brummbaer Plenty. And they survived every scrutiny of a doubt because this is the whole problem. The whole problem with the New Age is that people so willingly embrace every coo-coo idea with an absence of critical questions.

David What you are talking about is a symptom of not only the New Age but of the masses of general– few people appear to question things. It is a symptom of a much larger problem.

Brummbaer This is true. Nevertheless, the masses don’t pose as seekers like the New Age prophets. Anyway, we have to learn to be a little more careful so we don’t miss the real uncanny events, and drown in a pool of mediocre coincidences everybody throws at us day and night.

Alex Grey

Reflections on a Sacred Mirror

“We need transcendent vision to guide us, and the vision of a common good to motivate and drive our creative efforts.”

with Alex Grey

Alex Grey is a visual artist with such shamanic power that merely looking at one of his paintings can trigger a mystical state of consciousness. His paintings– which enjoy wide popularity among the psychedelic community– capture semi-transparent people, revealing their complete physical and metaphysical anatomies in exquisite, mind-boggling detail, often while engaging in activities that make the most use of this unique and amazing technique.

For example, in a piece entitled “Copulating”, a couple makes love in a fiery ball of passion– exposing their nervous systems, skeletal structures, and blood-vascular configuration– as their bodies explode with electrical activity, kundalinic, psychic, and other metaphysical energies. People often have to look at each painting for awhile before they can make sense out of the details, as there is so much complexity in each piece. The most common response after one looks at an Alex Grey painting for the first time is stunned silence, then a slow “oh, my god…

Alex’s artistic career displays the archetypal shamanic journey between realms– from the underworld to the heavens. He began his career as a performance artist, doing live pieces that often involved dark ritualistic elements. Although his later work with painting became much more positive, rapturous, and even ecstatic, his early art demonstrates that he wasn’t afraid to explore the dark side of his psyche.

Alex’s work is currently being exhibited in galleries throughout the world, and a number of his paintings can be found on posters, greeting cards, and book covers (including my own Voices from the Edge). Many of his paintings have been collected into a single volume– Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey (Inner Traditions, 1990)– and a second volume is due to be released soon.

Alex currently lives in New York City. I interviewed him while he was visiting San Francisco on March 15, 1995, at the beautiful Victorian bed and breakfast where he was staying. He has a mid-western accent, and his voice reminded me of Terence McKenna’s. I found him to be very focused, and clear of mind. He came across as a deeply spiritual person, with a strong commitment to integrating his work with his own personal evolution. We talked about the inspiration for his art, the relationship between mysticism and creativity, and explored some of the outer-bounds of inter-dimensional travel.

–DJB

 

David: What were you like as a child?

Alex: The first memories I have are of lying in bed and seeing textures. First, I would see a pure field, white light, like bliss – ecstatic space. Then I remember a narley snaggle-branched, brownish, ugly dark force moving into that space from the periphery of my perception, coming in clumps, and then taking over. This dynamic, ugly sharp texture would terrify me, and it seemed to consume me. I guess it was the primordial chaos. Then little islands of purity would crop up. The pools would clear away and I’d have a white light ocean again. I was around two years old. Very strange.

David: So your earliest memories are tactile, not really visual?

Alex: Well, they were internally-based visions of texture, like yin-yang energies, the constant flux of repose and motion, or darkness and light.

David: Your unique brain’s interpretation of the universal energies.

Alex: As I got a little older, I became interested in dead animals. I started a small pet cemetery in the back yard, and buried numerous animals back there.

David: Were you dissecting any of them?

Alex: I didn’t really do much dissection. I wasn’t so interested in that. It was just being aware of dead animals, and seeing them close up.

David: Were you fascinated by the differences between a living and a dead animal?

Alex: Yes, absolutely. They were so still. One day some kid said, “Oh, look there’s a dead bird.” When I picked it up, I found out it wasn’t a dead bird. It was a rabid bat, and it bit me on the hand (laughter). I didn’t know it was rabid, but it had evidently fallen out of a tree. So, I took it home to show my mom. She said, “Aaah, get it out of the house!” Then I tried to hang it in a tree, because I knew that they were supposed to hang upside down. I came back an hour later to draw a picture of “Bobbie” the bat, but it had fallen out of the tree again. My mom said that was probably a bad sign. So we put it in a shoe box.

The next day people in like radioactive suits came out with tongs to pick up the poor thing. They put it in a big metal canister and took it away. Sure enough, it was rabid, and I had to go through all these shots in the fleshy parts of the stomach area, and in my back. The antitoxin that they injected me with contained dead dried duck embryo and it would leave a lump under my skin. It was very painful. I think that stopped me from picking up dead animals for awhile.

David: Was your mother scolding you, saying things like, “Alex, enough with the dead animals already!” ?

Alex: No, I think she was more worried about my interest in monster magazines, or monsters in general.

David: You mean like Famous Monsters of Filmland ?

Alex: Right, and I had a lot of nightmares about devil-dogs. There was a recurring dream of a devil-dog that would kill me in various ways. Maybe it was some kind of a shamanic beast. One of my first performance pieces had to do with a dog.

David: Do you think that your early childhood interest in monsters and death led to an interest in the occult, which later led to an interest in altered states and mystical visions?

Alex: I had a particular interest in whatever was strange. Monstrosities, fetal abnormalities, genetic malformations, became strong interests. They were like real monsters. The caprice of God, as a designer in these various genetic strains, was quite an amazing and fascinating thing– that we could have two heads, or flippers instead of feet. And it’s really miraculous that we don’t.

We live our lives within normal routines. Altered states of consciousness are condensed experiences that provide crystallized insights. Like dream experiences, they run counter to normal experience and let us see our life in another context, from the vantage point of the altered state. The monster recontextualizes reality and shows you that life could be another way. A monster is an alternative being, rather than an alternative state of consciousness.

David: What was your religious upbringing like?

Alex: Every week, when I was young, my family went to Methodist church and I always respected the teachings of Jesus. But I never got hooked into a sincere spiritual search until my parents left the church. My parents left the church in a huff of disillusionment and became agnostic-atheists. That’s when God and spirituality started to interest me.

David: What age were you?

Alex: I was about twelve. The teenage existential years had started to come on heavy. I knew there was something undiscovered, but I had to get through a lot of depression before I could find it.

David:

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