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In an interview for the television program, New Realities, Grey talked about his inspiration and what he hopes to achieve as an artist:
Alan Steinfeld of New Realities: What goes on for you when you are creating these forms? Are you aware of the energy bodies when you are painting? What is it that you are feeling?
Alex Grey: The question has always been about self-discovery. What am I and what is this? It is a constant mystery and hopefully that will relate to other people as well. A long the way I plugged into what I would call visionary worlds, which have been part and parcel of art since the beginning; since the shamans painted on the cave walls tens of thousand of years ago. All the different cultures with all the multi-headed beings were all plugging into these visionary inner worlds. I think it is the same as the Platonic archetypes. Blake called it the “the divine imagination”. So to me art becomes an emblem; a passionate encapsulation and convincing proof that these inner realities exist. You don’t have to argue for one ideology over another. Art in general argues for the reality of the inner worlds. That is what we need to resurrect in the 21st century; the value of the inner worlds.
The subjective is what brings meaning and purpose to our lives. And this is what has been devalued in the materialist, modernist [world]. It is what [Ken] Wilbur calls “the flatland that doesn’t see depth or height or meaning or purpose, but only describes the surfaces of things”.
AS: You can feel these depths in your paintings. It’s the power of art and it’s resonance in our bodies.
AG: For me that is one of the most important things about art. It can key you into the template of spirit that is within you that maybe has been obscured in one way or another. Schopenhauer talked about the aesthetic experience as one that draws you out of your constricted ego sense and for a moment you are released. You’re just a pure subject looking at this object.
All the wisdom traditions that talk about art talk about this. When you see something beautiful or remarkable, it takes your breath away for a moment and you go (he grasps). In that moment of aesthetic release there is kind of an ego death. It is kind of a mini mystical experience.
In that relaxation you become one, if you trust the art enough to release yourself into that. To me it is another form of contemplation. It is very powerful. It is adjunct to anyone’s spiritual practice. The Hindus use the yantras and various meditation focusing devices; the Tibetan Buddhist use the Thangka paintings to visualize and align themselves with the inner worlds.
This function of art has always been powerful [but] in our society art has become more of a fashionable bauble or a seasonal investment that you can maybe get rich from. But I still think that the sacred aspect of art is its most worthy and important function.
AS: A common imagery in many of your paintings is the cosmic grid. Many of your figures are depicted against that kind of background of the web of eternal life. What does this grid mean to you and where did you get the idea of using that in your painting?
AG: It comes from seeing the grid work in meditation and on psychedelic voyages and it seems to be related to one’s perceptions and projections. Theologue is a recounting, an experience of witnessing a grid work that was emanating from my own awareness. I was a node in the sourcing of the web and felt so expansive I was beyond my sourcing it. I could both see it and it projecting from my awareness.
AS: Were you both projecting it and immersed in it, like the life force?
AG: Since we are all projecting it, it is a part of all of us. It is an aspect of our being. Yet it is a bit different than our notion of Prana, which is just energy. The grid is amore coherent and structured thing. As an artist I see the grid as rational and tied to that aspect of our perception. Prana is sectioning things out of what our structuring mind does. It is essentially conceptual. The mind out wisdom is what the Buddhist call, Manjushri. He has a flaming sword that cuts through all BS. He is the Buddha of transcendental wisdom. It is a highly disciplined and a highly organized state of discrimination.
The grid is not a manifestation of the conceptual mind, but of transcendental wisdom mind. Instead of seeing things in terms of logic and effect, there is a way it is analogical.
AS: I would think the grid is more analytical.
AG: I see it as greater than an analytical and conceptual mode. That is identified with this web that is weaving the world. There are different qualities that underlie the manifested world. Chi is different than conscious. In the highly developed structure of the Buddhist mind, the grid that the Buddha sits in, is the jewel net of Indra. The foundation is beyond grid and the nothingness that is that. There are realms in the realm of manifestation.
AS: Do you feel it’s the role of the artist to create new myths, new symbols?
AG: This is what [Joseph] Campbell said, that we’re in a kind of secular reality and our job is to re-sacralize [make sacred] our everyday life. It is one of the reasons that I have chosen the human body as my main focal point; to try and suggest the interweavings [of] spiritual and soul-like energies that are not specifically one religion over another. We are all here in our bodies right now! So we can relate to that and we can relate to the spiritual light that is beyond dogmas.
AS: That is what I feel is so important about your art. In particular it is that you see the mundane aspect of being here in our bodies and present it a multidimensional experience. Your paintings remind us that at each moment there is an incredible infusion of energies. So in a way you are creating a sacred picture of life.
AG: That is the whole point of the sacred Mirrors series. To reflect on one’s self, one’s surroundings, one’s friends, ones community and everything. The whole universe is sacred. The more we can tap into that holy eternal now, the more love and justice and all the ideals of the ”true, the good and beautiful” we can bring into our lives.
AS: Thank you Alex for your pure inspiration in helping so many of us conceptualize the realm of new realities.