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The Mystical Healing Art of Alex Grey:
Healing Arts Directory: Most artists paint what they see with their eyes. When did you start seeing things beyond the surface? When did you start painting things that way?
Alex Grey: I did a portrait of a skeleton when I was five. The skeleton probably was not right in front of me when I drew it. I’ve learned to paint what I see, to render, to draw, but the images have always come from my inner vision.
HAD: Your classic painting Gaia depicts the polarity between nature and human influence. One is very fertile and alive. The part depicting urban and human mis-influence is decaying and unappealing. Would you say overall that you are optimistic or pessimistic about human survival? And what causes you to be either?
Alex: It’s easy to question the survivability of our sometimes self-destructive species. Billions of years of evolution and divine intelligence have brought us to this point, and my faith comes from the miraculous capacity that humanity has to manifest its highest possibility.
HAD: What is your definition of healing?
Alex: “Life is suffering” is Buddha’s first Noble Truth. Suffering is living not in the present, living with desire. This is the second Noble Truth. Healing is liberation from suffering. We are beings that suffer from the dialectic between good and evil, spirit and matter, all polarities. Polarities are a form of struggle that our mind creates to understand the world. Transcending dualism through spiritual practice leads to the ultimate form of healing which is enlightenment.
We are all dying and we are all healing. The cells of the body are constantly decaying and regenerating. White blood cells continually fight disease and the body tends to heal. Focusing on an ideal state can facilitate healing. Sacred iconography can be healing because an open-hearted viewer can align themselves with spiritual energy transmitted through the icon. By reflecting a divine template, enlightened masters embody the highest potential for health to which a human can aspire, liberation from duality and delusion, and compassion for all sentient beings.
How can a person integrate the most dimensions of being and awareness?
HAD: When did you first associate art and healing?
Alex: As a young man, I was unwell in my mind and art brought me through that experience and continues to heal me in many ways. Like many artists, I feel more alive and fulfilled when I’m creating. Otto Rank’s theory of psychology rested on neurotics being unfulfilled artists. Blocked creativity can lead to dis-ease.
HAD: You sometimes attend “wellness” events. Tell me about your participation in those.
Alex: In late April, Allyson and I will be speaking at the Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida on the subject of Art as a Healing Force, a subject I have addressed before. I will also speak at the Wellness Festival in Sun Valley, Idaho in late May. [Ed. Note: these are all past events] The issue of using entheogenic substances, its uses and abuses, and the matter of communicating with children about drugs are also wellness issues that Allyson and I have spoken about at conferences and at Burning Man. [See alexgrey.com and cosm.org for information about these events and others.]
HAD: One of your most recent projects is the establishment of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. What is it?
Alex: The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is a spiritual cultural center in New York that houses fifty works of art by Alex Grey. It is a sanctuary for seeing ourselves and each other as reflections of the divine.
HAD: What is the Chapel’s role in healing.
Alex: The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is a womb for the gestation of the awakening human spirit. That is its mission. The Sacred Mirrors were conceived as a tool for healing the body, mind and spirit. Visualizing healthy anatomical systems can assist the physical body to be healed. By seeing oneself in others, compassion can heal the mind. Reflecting on the interconnectedness of all beings and things and experiencing the embodiment of sacred archetypes can catalyze spiritual wholeness.
HAD: Is the CoSM as you envisioned it? What [if anything] surprised you when it was finished and people started visiting it?
Alex: The current location [Manhattan] of CoSM is temporary. The permanent Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is yet to be built and is in the stage of planning, fund raising, site selection, and design. We are honored that people continue to come to the Chapel. The entire project is a wonder and a surprise as it unfolds. Allyson and I are continually inspired by the evolution of our creative community. [Ed. Note: since the time of this interview, the CoSM has been finalized at its new location in Wappingers Falls, NY]
HAD: Tell me about your family growing up, your parents, your siblings? Did they always ‘get you’ or did it take a while?
Alex: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio where my family still lives. My parents have been married for 57 years and love my brother, my sister and I very much. They worried about my transgressive artwork and this caused some problems when I was younger. They are proud of my success as an artist now. I don’t think anyone in my family would say that they understand my work but we all get along quite well anyway.
HAD: Who are some great [non-artist] influences in your life?
Alex: Ken Wilber doesn’t consider himself an artist and is a great influence. As is His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
HAD: What events or things are on your list of influences?
Alex: Monster Movies and magazines, pyrotechnics, my encounter with Otto Muehl and the Viennese Actionists, LSD and meeting my wife, fire walking with Tony Robbins, skydiving, Landmark Education…
HAD: You acknowledge the sacred use of entheogenic substances [psychedelics] — Are they still part of your art experience?
HAD: There is a difference between “legalizing” and “decriminalizing” natural substances. With legalizing, there seems to be a history of civil governments taking control/regulation of the commercialization process, often to ill effect. We are beginning to see some of that in the medical marijuana issue.
Alex: Like in the case of the UDV Church in the United States, I believe that entheogen use is a religious rights issue. The legal battle to permit the use of ayahuasca in sacred ceremony represents a model that I support. I also support the medical marijuana model in California and other places. All forms of drug policy reform that move toward cognitive liberty are positive.
[Editor’s Note: A case that reached the United States Supreme Court docket is Gonzales v. Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao de Vegetal (UDV). The UDV Church utilizes ayahoasca, a hallucinogenic tea, in its sacramental ceremonies. An American branch is located in Santa Fe, N.M. No one doubts the sincerity of the church’s religious beliefs or the central role that ayahoasca plays in its religious rites. Ayahoasca use is akin to the role of peyote in Native American rituals. The federal government has recognized peyote’s religious use by creating a limited exemption from federal drug laws. The government has refused, however, to grant the UDV church a similar exemption that would allow for the importation of ayahoasca from Brazil. The American Civil Liberties Union joined a broad range of religious groups in supporting the church’s right to use ayahoasca under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In an important decision on 21 February 2006 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that usage of the ayahuasca tea as part of UDV religious ceremonies cannot be prosecuted by the federal government, in accordance with RFRA. www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/04-1084.htm]
HAD: My own take has been that once a person, and then a society, realizes that perception is alterable from the inside out, if you will – once a person fully knows that – the need for continued use of a drug or substance no longer exists. Once the door is opened, you don’t have to keep on opening it, sort of. What do you think of that idea?
Alex: Fine for you, perhaps. I like to keep the door cracked open a bit.
HAD: Historically, the Church or religions, along with heads of state have been artists’ sponsors. Who are the great sponsors of our time?
Alex: If you are talking about art supporters on the order of the Medici’s, you’d have to look at the Dia empire [Editor: Dia Art Foundation in New York] or the Sachi’s. There have been many generous collectors who have helped us to create the Chapel. We are still looking for a “Medici” to fund Third Millennium sacred space — a home for the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors collection.
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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.
Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.