This interview was originally produced as a podcast episode. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
LL: Hello amazing visionaries. This is Lorna Liana, host of EntheoNation and I’m here with two of my favorite visionary artist in the world, Alex and Allyson Grey, who both have a distinct style that I am thrilled to understand in a greater depth. Now the mystic paintings of Alex Grey articulate realms of psychedelic visionary consciousness, revealing interwoven energies of body and soul, love and spirit, illuminating the anatomical core of each being.
Allyson Grey MFA is a painter, social sculptor and as Alex’s creative collaborator, life partner and studio mate since art school in 1975 and she has an incredible way of channeling secret writings that I am so intrigued to learn more about. So I’ve had the pleasure of attending numerous events where I witnessed both Allyson and Alex live painting to some of my favorite musicians like Shpongle on the Mayan Riviera during my birthday, the Winter Solstice of 2012 and Emancipator during Bicycle Day in 2015.
So I’m so excited to hear more about your work and how visionary states have influenced your path as spiritual beings and as artists. So thank you so much for joining us today, Allyson and Alex.
AG2: Thanks for having us.
AG1: And thanks for asking us.
LL: Yeah, so I’d love to hear more about your background and how you came to create the art that you do today. Who would like to take that first?
AG2: We’ve been together for 41 years sharing a studio, so that’s longer than our life apart. That’s almost twice as long than our life apart. We grew up in different places. Alex grew up in Columbus, Ohio. I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and we met in art school in 1974 in a class that was called Conceptual Mixed Media and so Alex and I met on the level of conceptual mix media and what does that mean? That means that it starts with an idea.
Art is an idea and mix media means it can be made of anything and for us, art is life. So we are both painters as well. We’ve always been painters, we grew up as artists. Alex was a very successful high school artist and so was I and then we went to art school. That’s what happens when you are successful. You meet up with all the other successful artist from your youth.
So we’ve travelled on a path where we have three bodies of work. We have Alex’s paintings and sculpture, we have my paintings and sculpture, and we have our social sculpture which is a CoSM, the Art is Life Church that’s within the Hudson Valley where we’re building a temple, is our mission.
LL: Wow, so you’re building a temple together?
AG2: Oh we’re building a temple with the community globally. We’re building a temple with everyone who’s helped us with that current Kickstarter campaign going on, all the people that have donated and bought this from CoSM and all of our work goes directly into building an enduring temple to uplift a global community. We’ve been everywhere. We’ve been to — where have we been?
AG1: Yeah, everywhere.
AG2: Sao Paulo.
AG1: Yeah, Mexico.
AG2: Santiago, Mexico City, we saw you outside Tulum, right?
LL: Wow, so that’s so interesting. So I can’t wait to dive into this co-created vision that you are manifesting. I’d like to also get a little bit of an understanding of your individual works of art. So Allyson, can you tell me how have the visionary states influenced your art? Because when I see the secret writings that come through, it seems like it’s really coming from a whole other place altogether. So I would love to understand what that is.
AG2: It is true. My work is comprised of three basic elements; chaos, order, and secret writing. And chaos, order, and secret writing is in a centralized world view that came to me through successive LSD and probably some psilocybin experiences but primarily LSD experiences from the time I was 20. I was tripping when I was 17, but when I was 20 I had a spiritual awakening in my LSD trip where I saw secret writing washing overall surfaces and ribboning through the air as light.
So here we were bracketed and all things defined by symbols. They were just infinite symbols that were sacred but unpronounceable and ineffable. That was my experience that sent me to engagement with xenolinguistics as my friend, Diana Slattery would say. These psychedelics and language that came to me. So in any case I made my art about that for my thesis and I continued to make art with secret writing but chaos and order, chaos is order plus entropy.
Order in my art represents this interconnectedness of all beings and things that Mandelic Fountain and drain of energy that we all are and we interconnect with everything and then there’s chaos, which is order plus entropy, which means everything is beautifully falling apart. All the spectrums, and color, particles and waves ,they are all breaking up beautifully in our material world. So that’s the material world.
There’s a spiritual world of light and bliss and then there’s a secret writing. It’s the way we communicate, what thoughts we have that become things. All the thoughts that become created, that’s where our creativity, creative expression is. So as an artist, I’m a symbol maker. So chaos, order, and secret writing came to me as my conceptual and universal world view that I have been committed to and will always be committed to making art about. We’ve always felt that we were making our art the same thing, have we not my darling?
AG1: Absolutely. Well as Allyson was pointing out, each artist has a creative language, a kind of secret language through which they’re communicating something that can’t be communicated by words alone and so the subject of light and the unpronounceable mystery of things are elements that are woven into my art work absolutely. I think that I come at it from an iconic, more Christianized, if you would religious perspective. Allyson from a more Jewish and iconic tradition. There’s kind of an edict about trying to represent God in the flesh in a way.
AG2: Edict against.
AG1: Against it and…
AG2: And [inaudible].
AG: Yeah but these are, really I think God to my mind is I think everything that exists and so God embodies and is never limited by any embodiment and so I have no illusions about the limitation of God to an embodiment. I’m just saying that God also manifests through embodiment and that’s the more iconic and that’s the more figurative tradition that I am attempting to use really as symbol systems to speak of the unspeakable.
To portray the un-portrayable, which is the light that runs through us. The consciousness that we can’t see that we’re animated by and listening through but have no symbol to really represent consciousness itself is a tremendous mystery. It’s the ultimate mystery. It’s what the evolutionary life force of creativity that’s moving through each one of us as us. We feel that force of life that is breathing through us but there’s only one of us here ultimately.
And that is the one God self that is networked through all beings and so if we are an ingot of this kind of incandescent creative force, sparking into the material and leaving the impression of consciousness, leaving the slime like a slug leaves across a rock but instead it’s consciousness leaving the slime of paint or a sculpture or something that these are the traces of human consciousness that weave us back into distant history.
Art is the ultimate religion because it contains all religions, all religions used creative expression or else we would never know about them, and so they always will and even people who have no interest in religion at all are expressing themselves through creative action. They can’t do anything else. That’s human nature, and so if your religious orientation were about something so innate to humanity like creativity.
Creativity is pure contact with creative spirit in each one of our lives and if we’re doing something creative that’s from our soul, we feel good about it. That this is something good, personally. It’s something I need to do, I was born to do. That’s the feeling that creative people have when they’re really activating that creative principle in themselves and so I felt in touch with a visionary reality and then my mission as an artist really came online.
But my focus prior to that was the subject of mortality and the nature of the self. So all of these elements, I feel like, go together very well and they are a very philosophical orientation to making art. It’s not a popular position. I would say it was just what I was driven to and I think I was driven to it because I was a visionary artist in my prior life time and I believe I am continuing on a similar orientation to visionary reality.
Just being one of the spokes at least for the visionary realm and saying we need to connect back with this superior, ideal realm that the philosophers built Western civilization on and is only been demonized because of the anti-sacramental attitude of the Judeo Christian takeover of religion and so what’s happening now with the reintroduction of psychedelics and sorry, I don’t think you’re going to put that genie back in the bottle.
The hallucinogenie is out and has left the building and is wide across the world and so it’s the entheo nation transcends all nations and incorporates and infiltrates and is the underground mycelial web work of all nations. So I think that humanity is waking up. It’s a treacherous and exciting time to be alive and I think that the arts can have an impact and these shows and everything can have an impact on just empowering people to say, “We’re a tribe, we’re a community that transcends nations and the family of light and love is connecting through creative expression.”
AG2: This is why I say that it’s a global community we’re building, the temple. Because Alex and I had the vision simultaneously on our first MDMA experience on 1985 that we were going to build a temple, that’s how that started. We had already been together since 1975 but 10 years later, we had our first MDMA experience lying on our bed and we envisioned that it was our duty as artists and it was the greatest challenge that a spiritual artist can have would be to build a temple that they would leave for the community of the future.
So we didn’t know how we were going to go about that but that was our quest and then in 1996, the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors became a non-profit organization and then in 2008, the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM became a church, an inter-faith, radically welcoming inter-faith church. So this is a creation that we initiated but would not be happening if it weren’t for many, many, many artists and creative people.
AG1: Thousands of creative people from around the world.
AG2: Yeah, because this is a creative center where we’re talking for you from is in Wappinger, New York, 65 miles from New York City and there’s a really widespread driving community, easy access community to the center where we do a lot of music, dance, art, in a spiritual setting for one thing. It’s absolutely gorgeous here. It’s 40 wooded acres, it’s so beautiful and we have a big guest house and like that. So anyway, that’s where we’re at.
LL: So people can go and visit your center and participate in workshops and retreats?
AG2: That’s right and we have held full moon ceremonies for over 13 and a half years. 164 consecutive and unbroken chain of full moon ceremonies and then we have our equinox and solstices and our church. So we have certain formats and people come and make art together, or they dance, or they make music, or listen to music.
LL: Wow, I would love to come visit some time, that’s sounds amazing and I think it’s so beautiful that this initial vision emerged so many years ago. So back in, was it 1985 when you had the shared MDMA vision to create a temple together, was what is behind you, did you see that or did that emerge overtime?
AG2: This is the second temple.
AG1: Yeah. See we had an initial vision of the sacred mirrors in a round room. There was only one on my desk, you know?
AG2: All right, I’ll go get it. I’ll be right back.
AG1: Yeah and for me, we always saw it in a round room and we had a sense of multiple shapes that would be involved but we always kept wondering, “Well what is the thing going to look like on the outside?” We just didn’t know and then on Allyson’s birthday back on 2007, I had a vision of this temple.
AG2: Here’s the doorway over here.
LL: That reminds me of the stupa at Boudhanath in Nepal.
AG1: Yes, it’s very, very much like a stupa but one of the things that distinguishes it is you can kind of see an outline, here’s a nose and then here’s the lips and then here’s the chin. Now, I don’t know whether you could align it.
AG2: You have to hold it at a certain angle.
AG1: Whether I could line it up and you can see this elements, but what it has is basically two profiles that are connected that the forehead. They’re leaning into toward each other but they are also the shape of this and you can see this by the different heads that have a similar temple shape between them.
LL: Yes, wow. Fascinating.
AG1: So each one of those heads has a temple shape between it and then they have another littler temple shape between that. So it’s like a fractal piece of architecture made by beings within beings and ultimately, the nature field becomes the outer being of this lotus like form. It’s in honor of the divine feminine and it’s the womb that we’ll place the sacred mirrors in and Allyson’s work. If we’re able to be successful with Entheon, will move our works out of Entheon and move them into this ultimate Chapel of Sacred Mirrors that will be in our meadow in a field, but that’s many years in the future, maybe a decade from now even.
AG2: Well, what we had when we moved to this place was six buildings and a barn. So we have been restoring each building one at a time because it was very compromised, all the buildings and this structure is being built around an 1882 carriage house. We’re basically repurpose it and transform it in the carriage house into a visionary sanctuary.
So anyway, when you come and visit us you’ll go in and you’ll see how it wraps itself around the old carriage house and we built into it. It’s three stories on one side and two on the other. It’s on a hill. So but anyway, it was an existing building and it was more in keeping with our community to repurpose an existing building than to start building a brand new building.
So we’re going to repurpose all the buildings on the property first, make them habitable and really useful to the community. This being building number four. We have done three other buildings with the rest. One of them is a three story Victorian guest house where you can come and stay my Lorna. Come and visit us.
LL: I can’t wait.
AG2: Come and stay here. That’s what we wanted. We wanted to have a guest house. You say the Judeo Christian, I think it’s the Abrahamic traditions and Abraham, the first Jew who also was the father of Islam, was the father of Ishmael as well as Isaac but anyway, he had a lodge. He had a place where you could stop and stay like a guesthouse. People would come there and he would talk about his God contact.
LL: So this temple, I’m a little bit confused about the different names. So there’s Entheon, there’s CoSM, there’s the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.
AG2: The CoSM is the short anagram for Chapel of Sacred Cirrors. It stands for Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM. So Chapel of Sacred Mirrors — CoSM — and Entheon is the name of this structure here. It’s the visionary art sanctuary. So it’s like if you were to name your museum or your temple, it’s Entheon. Alex came up with the name Entheon which means…
AG1: A place to discover the creator within.
LL: You know it’s interesting, whenever I tried to describe what it’s like to journey into the visionary state through the plant medicine that I work most closely with, Ayahuasca, I basically direct people to your art work Alex and say, “Okay, well if somebody were to wonder into my mind an Ayahuasca ceremony and take a digital photo of what I see, it would most likely look like that.”
So I am curious to know, for both of you, when you work with these visionary medicines, do you feel like the different medicines have a different effect on your art and that they’re communicating to you as different beings and what is that like for you? So Alex, I sometimes think that I look at your art, I’m like, “That’s LSD and that’s mescaline and that’s definitely Ayahuasca,” but I could be wrong.
AG1: You’re probably right.
AG2: Alex says that about everybody else’s art too.
AG1: Yeah and as soon as [Nena Thurman] saw the Bardo Being for instance she said, “Tryptamines!” you know? So the DMT was like a kind of steam coming off of that piece but that was through the Ayahuasca experiences that there was a lady who wanted me to paint her portrait and I have never done Ayahuasca before, I think it was 2000 or something, we were talking about this and I’ve been smoking DMT there for a while.
And so the lady said, “No, you’ve got to do the Ayahuasca because it really healed me actually. I went to Peru in a wheelchair and walked home. I walked back.” So she regained elements of her nervous system through the healing power of Ayahuasca and said, “You have to experience it.” So that did lead to a whole new experience of artwork and that directly was Net of Being which came out as a tool record album of 2006.
LL: Is that the one with the eyes? The cosmic eyes?
AG1: It’s the beings that are all interconnected. Their heads are connected with each other and they’re made out of a web of fire and ice basically and a little galactic window inside of themselves but they’re all seamlessly welded together in an infinite network but it’s an XYZ infinite network of this god heads. I experience that as a space.
AG2: This is Godself.
AG1: Yeah, this is called Godself. It’s on the cover of Net of Being but it basically has that kind of element and it shows the recession of them in space. So that was really the DMT experience that led me to that palace of the infinite god heads and it felt like that each one of us was like a node in this kind of infinite network of consciousness. It was another way to start to imagine a networked self.
LL: And so with your art Allyson, the secret writing that comes through do you have a sense of where that’s coming from? Is it coming from a particular star system or a particular dimension or do you ever see the beings that communicate that with you?
AG2: Okay, I have experienced beings, yes in DMT and Ayahuasca. Yeah, I think that was primarily where I experienced beings and I do tend to have a takeaway from all of the psychedelic experiences that I have. I try to come back with something, practical knowledge that I can use in my life.
I think often it leads to creativity. I could say that maybe a year and a half ago, we were tripping on LSD, I heard that I should get out of my keyboard and start practicing piano again after 50 years so I did. I hadn’t practices since I was 12 and I have been practicing for a year and a half. So I do think it leads to creativity but I don’t really see it as directly a result in my art as Alex does.
When it comes to creativity, Alex writes about this in his book, Mission of Art. For me, it’s a little bit different the way I come up with my next images. It’s like images come by Alex constantly and he’s always writing them down and notating. There’s maybe 12 new drawings a day sometimes and ideas in writing.
To me, I like to let the river flow because I am working and focusing on the piece that I am working on right now. So I try not to think too much about what is going to be next. I do think a little bit. As I get close to the end of a really dedicated piece, I just finished a piece that took me three years and then now I am doing pieces that are smaller so that I can do some sketches and things like that.
But the work evolves one out of the other and I wait for my ready time when I am ready to think about my next piece, go to the river, pick out whatever sound may be coming down, if it’s nice and juicy and then I do that. We all have our different ways right? Processes.
AG1: Yeah. It’s different for every artist and that’s why the things that I find so fascinating and one of the other reasons why I think it’s a good thing to bring spirituality and creativity together, because one of the things that we are most resistant to in religion is dogmatism and a closed knowledge systems. Like, “This is all the truth we have and nothing else outside of it is truth.”
With artists, they want to continue to expand their body of work and evolve. Always they’re evolving their consciousness and their body of art. So likewise, we’re always expanding in our knowledge like science is always growing. “Oh, we used to believe this, now we understand we were flawed in our knowledge and we have since come to believe this, it’s always evolving and so coming into a greater understanding. I think that the religions are the future or serious ones of today would incorporate all of science.
That all of science would be part of that religious attitude because it said, “This is the way God has manifesting in our world, as micro and as macro as we can understand it. This is the magnificent expressing itself and we’re able to see this much of it,” and now, through the miracle of visionary artists, we’re able to now also see — ‘cause I’m only one of many visionary artists that are pointing to and really trying to articulate the inner worlds of the Ayahuasca state or the state of these other psychedelics and they join a worldwide artistic tradition of attempting to portray these dimensions.
AG2: I think that in many ways, it’s our inner quest to make something beautiful out of religion where religion has been so maligned and damaged by evil acts and sins and unkindness and transgression, but that’s not what religion is and we don’t want the fundamentalists to have the only use of that word. It’s not fair that they get to use the word religion where we have this wonderful community gathering together in favor of tolerance, difference, love, acceptance, acceptance of all paths and the divine including sacrament. So what brings people to…
AG1: Gender balance.
AG2: Gender balance, absolutely. That’s why we want to be portrayed together not because we always work together, because we work separately too. But because we want to be a stand. You know the visionary artists are — there’s a system friendly competition, I suppose, to be good, to be better. but there’s an incredible amount of collaboration going on with muralling and a lot of visionary artists are really being a model for cooperation, upwardly spiralling together.
LL: So what is your vision for Entheon and the visionary community? Where do you see this going?
AG1: Well, first we’re going basically according to the visions that are guiding us. We find it astonishing that we have gotten this far, really. For two independent artist that just wanted to make art in their studio and then got these visions that, “No, it’s a temple.” “What? You want us to build a temple? Oh my god, how do you do that? We don’t know.”
But look, now, today in a world of social networking where our tribe is basically transcontinental and in living rooms and studios around the world, people can contact us. Those of the tribe who care can be in contact and if they want to, they can become part of an art project with us. If they connect with the art work, if it means — if it relates to their sacred dimensions maybe they’d like to help create a place where representations of those sacred dimensions can be honored and can be shown with the respect in a museum like setting not just at a festival.
AG2: Not just temporary.
AG1: Not just temporary, on the playa for a minute but bring it to a respectful place where we can look at this visions and think about, “What is this? What is this mural that is really sending us messages of hope and messages of unity?” In a world that’s divided, I think of the visionary artists as the small voice of conscience and consciousness in the media flow. Maybe that sounds highfalutin or something, but at least that’s the aspiration. A lot of the artists aim for being as clear as they can to the mysteries that they’ve experienced.
LL: So we’re about at the end of this interview segment and I just want to make sure that our listeners have a chance to know how to connect with you and to participate in the co-creation of Entheon because we have such an awesome international tribe and I’m sure there’s lots of people that would love to get involved. So how can they connect?
AG2: Here’s the easy way, until June 1st, you can go to buildentheon.com to find out about our Kickstart and join into our Kickstarter. Buildentheon.com will remain there and we’ll always give you updates on how the build is going. It’s amazing to see the inside so if you log onto buildentheon.com, you can see some pictures of what’s going on right now at Entheon because we are in the process of building. We need $300,000 to finish the interior and open the exhibition.
Now, you can contact Alex and I and find out about CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors here in Hudson Valley at Cosm.org because CoSM stands for the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Here we are, we have tons of events. Alex and I are so accessible. If you’d like to study with us, we’re teaching a wonderful class this summer.
It’s our 27th summer of teaching the five day visionary art intensive and most of the artist we know, we met through that class. We’ve just met so many great artists there. So come join us, you can find us, it’s at Omega Institute and you can find out about our five day visionary art intensive at Eomega.org.
LL: Now do you have to be an experienced artist to participate in this or can you be a total beginner?
AG2: Artists at any level of ability and experience, that’s what we want at this five day visionary intensive, which really focuses on how do we attract images? How do we get them? How do we keep them in there and how do we get them out? We come up with all different kinds of methods that some are good for some people and others that are for others. So that you can have a range of ways of finding the way to get those images out in the world through your own sacred symbols. Your own personal sacred symbols.
LL: Wonderful. Well I would love to be able to do that one day. So I’ve got to look at my timeline but it’s so good to…
AG2: Come join us.
LL: …know, that you guys are doing this.
AG: There’s already a signup for 2017 but it’s in July and there’s still room. So if anybody is out there who would love to join us in July for five glorious delicious days at Omega, we’ve been doing that every year ‘cause it’s so much fun.
LL: Wonderful, thank you so much and you have a beautiful rest of your day. Bye!