View Full Version : Alex Grey's Sacred Mirrors
10-10-2003, 06:49 PM
Has anyone seen these paintings and felt as if it
was almost a photograph of psychedelic space??
I saw them last fall at Tibet House here in NYC,
and standing if front of them, I thought to myself,
Wow- That's what I've seen!!! It was really incredible.
It just occured to me now and I thought I would see if anyone else has had this experience withany of
I have become appreciative of 'psychedelic art'
and find it fascinating to see the influence in so
many works of art, whether chemically induced
or not....Even old masters like El Greco, Da Vinci,
Chagall, Van Gogh, etc. have this element to their
work which is spiritual, and just beyond the
vision of everyday living, and it seems like a real
opportunity for us to see through eyes
in another world.....
[ October 10, 2003, 07:55 PM: Message edited by: Rob P ]
10-11-2003, 08:57 AM
This is the same guy who did the cover art for DMT: The Spirit Molecule (http://www.rickstrassman.com/dmt/index.html).
Hi Rob P,
"Wow - That's what I've seen!!! It was really incredible."
That was my reaction to Alexgrey, too.
Or rather the first painting of his I saw on a leaflet for MAPS (Multidisiplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies - maps.org).
After his pictures soon-cronisticly popped up on a couple of book-covers ("DMT - the spirit molecule", & "Cannabis Spirituality") I realized the first "chakra-meridian-flesh-bone" skull painting I'd seen wasn't a one-off. So I searched some.
I'm now the very pleased owner of Grey's two great books "Sacred mirrors" & "Transformations". They detail & capture in magnificent colour-plates the fleeting visual impressions psychedelics bestow on us, and ingeniously - not to mention beautifully - superimpose them on the courser, stabler material layers - bone, muscles, blood-vessels, nerves etc. - of the human body.
Grey's painting have so far (for approx. a year and a half) served me as important tools - charts & maps - to the structures & details of the inner world, meaning INSIDE the feeling of self. These structures can easily (with the aid of e.g. Grey's pictorial maps) be acertained in meditation. With Grey's visualized depictions in "mind", travelling along the meridians/channels/tubes of the feeling of self becomes very much easier & more comfortable. Not to mention more enjoyable. These channels in the mind, or feeling-of-self, are strenghtened and expanded with use. Self-development in action & joy! What a landscape in there (here)! Getting to know those territories better has, I feel, made me at calmer, wiser & more focused person. Meditation with Grey's charts in mind (i.e. attention) is a fabulous way of making use of insights & inklings hard won through tripping. It makes the joys of tripping accessible with only the mind's own psychedelics (endorphins, anandamide, serotonin, dmt & probably a host more neurotransmittors).
Try it out. The breath, used sitting quietly, is the energy pulling the "metro-train" of attention along the "tube-lines" (the main-line is the oval of the govenor-conception-meridian up the spine and down the front) in the body - with "stops" of different qualities (ticklings, tinglings, pressures, pulsations, coloured mists etc. - synesthetical sensory-impressions) at the "stations" of the chakras/psychic centers.
Breathe slowly, calmly, eyes closed, and notice all the details - similarities, nuances & differences - along each cycle of breath. (The details of this landscape are completely personal, linked to your provenance, but the structuring is general.) Notice how what you feel & experience differ or stay the same from the previous round(s). Meanwhile keep the main part of your attention's efforts on simply breathing evenly. (When you slip off and digress, gently use the attention you notice that with to move your main attention back to following the feelings/sensations along the breath-cycle. Notice what you do in your self, or receive as outside input, that may correlate with changes in the different places along the breath-round. Stay with the most pleasant feelings. Expand them in passing on each subsequent round. Simply enjoy the ride, and the constant novelty, as well as the reassuring sameness, of each breath.
That's meditation. With Grey's psychic maps, those landscapes become so much easier to get into. And out of. One becomes more flexible, from knowing better where one is at any time, in the landscape of sensations, feelings, moods & impressions that make up the generalization we call our self - the "me"-feeling.
Alex Grey has really captured these impressions of structures in the mind-body well. What tools he's given us in these sacred mirrors! I find, with his books, I can finally point to the images there and say: "That's what I mean," when conversing with friends, experienced travellers or not. Between trippers Grey's paintings are excellent for sharing experiences, confirming what we clumsily try to express in words, and too easily end up dismissing as inexpressible.
Grey has proved to us all that although psychedelic experiences are cumbersome to describe in words (precise language for them being scantly developed), inexpressible they are not. Painting with photographic meticulousness & anatomic expertise, he is simply doing wonders. Literally (or, rather, pictorially).
Pls pass on the word & pictures of the tools Grey thus has developed. Way to go.
10-13-2003, 02:55 AM
"Has anyone seen these paintings and felt as if it
was almost a photograph of psychedelic space??"
I think many people identify quite easily with his work, in the 'psychedelic' sense, as it is filled with symbols and techniques often found in the works of ancient spiritual artists and geometers. However, the new works he has been producing, in my opinion, are much more faithful renderings as they are beginning to deviate from the (to use Ull's term) "chakra-meridian-flesh-bone" formula that dominates the better part of his body of work. I feel like he's reaching out a bit further in order to grasp the particulars (the actual forms, and their translation in 2D) of what he is seeing, rather than using the usual gamut of techniques he's adopted over the years to just get a sense of the overall happening. I always thought he produced great work, but it seems now he's setting off in new directions, and getting even closer to touching the thought-forms we are all experiencing. Keep your eye on this new stuff
10-13-2003, 07:34 PM
Thank you for those pictures crown.I've not been keeping up with Alex Greys work.He is one of my favorite "psychedelic" or "surrealistic" artists along with Mati Klarwein and Salvador Dali.Those new paintings you posted instantly create a certain feeling.I personally wouldn't have to be on any substance to register the feeling each create.It is like a hollow feeling that also feels fullfilling.Kind of floaty and warm.Love the bottom one.There is the 3 dimensional head center.The skulls witch surround it.Are they in front or behind?Looks like both.The fetuses or newborns inter mixed in the skulls.I think,if I'm not mistaken,or if it was intentional or not,two serpents.Their heads made of the eyes in the skulls and all the stripes trails of their wild antics before reaching that moment in time.Cool!Peace!!!
10-14-2003, 04:47 AM
I dig Alex Grey's work, but sometimes find it a bit literal for my taste.
I recently wrote an essay for an art magazine (Parkett) on the artist Fred Tomaselli, who is a friend of Grey's. His recent work has also evolved, and I find it a bit more evocative or somehow aesthetically more to my taste. You might want to check out his work as well. I will post my essay next time I am on my other computer. I look at his work in the context of Rudolf Steiner's ideas.
10-14-2003, 05:59 AM
Yes, Tomaselli is another who's work has evolved into something quite masterful. I was never too impressed with the early pill 'pinwheels' and such, but recent work like 'us and them' and the pic below (untitled) are incredible.
Not to mention, the man is extremely funny, and some of his work even reflects his awesome sense of humor.
10-14-2003, 08:26 AM
Below is my essay on Tomaselli that was published by Parkett.
Fred Tomaselli’s paintings are saturated with cosmic space. The figures in many of his works stand amidst swirling blackness, the antique night of the solitary Romantic or Medieval melancholic. Engulfed by cosmic space, the collaged heroes and heroines in works like Expecting to Fly (2002) enjoy or endure their own implosion or atomization, as if every fragment of themselves simultaneously subdivides and seeks to flee from the collapsing entity trying to hold the structure together. In other works, like Before and After Echo, Wow, and Flutter (2001), there are no figures but only patterns or criss-crossing loops suggesting electromagnetic fields, the rephrasing of matter as informational bits, energy, or vibrating wave-forms. These patterns remind me of the entoptic imagery I sometimes encounter when I awaken into a hypnagogic state to find swarms of sparks like fireworks swirling across the velvety night skies of my eyes-closed view screen. They also call to mind the "Zero Point Field," the startling discovery of contemporary physics that "empty" space is actually a crackling quantum sea containing vast amounts of energy.
Tomaselli is known for pressing pills and the leaves of psycho-active plants into the surfaces of his paintings. This humorously literal use of drugs reminds us that drugs – and the ferociously time-and-paradigm-smashing trips they sometimes engender – are really just symbols of that encounter with the Other that is the suppressed base of human existence. Tomaselli’s work seduces us toward the edge of that nonhuman Otherness whose realms have always been explored by occultists and shamans and clairvoyants. It is the terrain that Rainer Maria Rilke indicated in "The Duino Elegies," when he wrote, "Beauty is nothing / but the beginning of terror … and we are so awed because it serenely disdains / to annihilate us."
But what is this Otherness that beckons and terrifies us while it serenely disdains to finish the job? How can we hope to define or even think about it? How can we allow its presence into the "rational" constructs of the contemporary world without collapsing these constructs? Part of the answer lies in art, which can shine like a flashlight beam, exposing ever-more of the glittering mica and towering stalagmites inside the vast, dark, unexplored cave of the self and the soul. Art can be the necessary prelude, the allusive introduction to the places where a future science, inconceivable to us now, will someday follow.
I am writing this in the wake of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, as the embittered nations of a ruined world seem to be pushing toward multiple Armageddons – nuclear, chemical, ecological, social. Is it possible that the violent contradictions of the present time have less to do with globalization, technology, greed, and racial enmity than with the titanic pressures building up as the old conceptual model collapses while a new one self-assembles? "If quantum theory were applied to biology on a larger scale, we would be viewed more as a complex network of energy fields in some sort of dynamic interplay with our chemical cellular systems," writes Lynn McTaggert in The Field, one journalistic effort to describe this new, nascent paradigm. "The world would exist as a matrix of indivisible interrelation."
While only one cataclysm among many, the fall of Columbia seems particularly poignant because the space program symbolized our faith in the power of materialist science and technology. Coming at this time, when the once-glittering promises of modern civilization have lost their luster, the accident represents a bitter betrayal of that faith. Outer space seems to have slammed the door on our attempts to woo it through the metal machines and phallic rockets we are so proud of. I suspect we will only get off the planet by going deeper into the earth, which means, alchemically, deeper into the mysteries of the inner realms of consciousness.
Psychedelic drugs are one means of encountering the shocking Otherness that lurks within the interior of the earth and the self, and Tomaselli acknowledges their influence on his work. They are, as writer Ralph Metzner put it, "Gnostic catalysts." What follows the personal apocalypse of the psychedelic trip is the necessary restructuring of the Ego and, possibly, the uneasy awareness that the world is woven together by invisible forces and supersensible beings with different agendas from our own. No longer dismissible as superstitious residue, myth reveals itself as living reality.
After my own psychedelic apocalypse, I turned to the Western esoteric tradition for answers – or at least better questions – and eventually I found the works of the Austrian clairvoyant Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy. An esoteric Christian, Steiner parses the Biblical devil into opposing forces striving to divert human development: Lucifer, the "light-bringer," who draws us up toward imagination, fantasy, and pride; and Ahriman, the dark earth spirit of the Zoroastrian faith, who pulls us down into the mineral world, materiality, material technology, and death. This modern age represents the temporary ascendance of Ahriman, who wants to make the world into a machine. Lucifer, a dangerous but necessary spur to human evolution, dominated during the epoch of pre-historical civilizations, and we now need to seek his influence again to counteract the Ahrimanic impulse of our age.
For Steiner, reincarnation is a fact. Not only human beings, but the earth itself reincarnates – this is currently the fourth incarnation of the earth. In fact, humanity exists in order to transform this greater being, the earth (though we are doing a poor job of it at this time), and we keep coming back until we have completed the job. Each incarnation of the earth represents an evolutionary step for humanity. We developed rational cognition and empiricism in the last centuries – which required temporarily cutting ourselves off from "supersensible" perception – so that we could cognize our way back into the lost spiritual realms as equals. "Just as there would be no life in the usual sense of the word if there was no death, there can be no real knowledge of the visible world without insight into the supersensible realm," he wrote in An Outline of Esoteric Science. "All knowledge of the visible must immerse itself in the invisible again and again in order to be able to evolve."
In Imaginary Landscapes, William Irwin Thompson characterizes "the Steinerian vision" as "one that looks at the human as so completely embedded in the animal, vegetal, and mineral evolution of the solar system that it becomes nonsense to separate a fictive "matter" from mind, and a mere three dimensions from ten … All of the seemingly mystical perceptions of Steiner have a biological relevance that fits a new kind of science, and a new kind of culture." The impulse of works such as Tomaselli’s Untitled (Expulsion) (2000) pushes beyond surrealism or Post-modernism into a new realm that integrates science and mysticism. The Void expulses taxonomies of insects and flowers, while Adam and Eve are revealed as anatomical specimens.
In the new paradigm, mind and matter are not separate; therefore articulation and understanding must be seen as actual forces that directly impact the physical world. For Steiner and other occultists, the physical world is a kind of symbolic alphabet or mirror of the spiritual realms. It is the art piece of the "higher hierarchies," representing levels of conscious and spiritual development far beyond our current state. Through our intellectual intuition and creative efforts, we can learn to read the world as an occult script. Steiner writes, "If you succeed in bringing about the metamorphosis of intellectualism into artistic perception, and are able to develop this artistic approach into an instrument of perception, you will find in the outer macrocosm the phenomena that exists in the human being." Tomaselli works intuitively in this arena. Paintings such as Breathing Head (2002) suggest processes of transfiguration or transformation from the physical world into astral realms beyond our perceptual frame.
The clairvoyant Steiner described the relationships between macrocosm and microcosm with extraordinary – some would say absurd – precision. In his book Harmony of the Creative Word, he showed how different animals relate to larger spiritual processes. He characterized the cow, for instance, as the "animal of spiritual digestion." Through its constant grazing, the cow spiritualizes earthly matter, reversing the destructive processes of human existence, which constantly removes spiritual substance from the earth. According to Steiner, if the cow was not performing its function of spiritual digestion, the earth would soon become so hard and unyielding that we would be unable to walk upon it.
Steiner connects the creatures of the air to different aspects of our mental processes. Birds represent thought. We have our thoughts as the birds have their plumage: "Our thoughts flow from the brain in the same way as the feathers stream out from the eagle," he writes. "The thoughts given to human beings are the astral aspect of the development of feathers.. … A feather holds something tremendous: it holds the secret of how thoughts are formed." Butterflies, delicate beings of the "light ether," are connected to the process of memory: "It is memory-thoughts which live in the butterfly." We create interior wombs for our memories, just as the caterpillar weaves its cocoon. And bats, for Steiner, are linked to dreams. In the same delicate, unreal way that bats flit through the twilight, dreams flit through the mind: "The earth is surrounded by fluttering butterflies – they are cosmic memory; by the kingdom of the birds – this is cosmic thinking; and by the bats – they are cosmic dream, cosmic dreaming. The flying dreams of the cosmos actually rush through space as bats. And as dreams love the twilight, so, too, does the cosmos love the twilight and send the bat through space."
For Steiner, such correspondences are not just poetic or metaphoric; they are part of a higher order of perception that can be substantiated through inner work and esoteric development – what he called "spiritual science." To make room for a thinker like Steiner, we need to reevaluate our basic understanding of myth, "to move from a postmodernist sensibility in which myth is regarded as an absolute and authoritarian system of discourse to a planetary culture in which myth is regarded as isomorphic, but not identical, to scientific narratives," according to William Irwin Thompson.
Tomaselli’s paintings are like fables synthesizing contemporary concerns with the body and the deconstructed self with Gnostic concepts or mythic archetypes that he neither ironicizes or trivializes. The figures in works such as TKTK stand upon the earth like flayed saints, both terrified of and yearning for contact with that ineffable and infinite "Otherness" that our deluded culture desperately seeks to deny. His work points to the shocking but necessary moment when we recognize our current Ahrimanic civilization as a fragment of cosmic history and seek to escape the amnesiac underworld in which we lie entombed.
10-14-2003, 09:08 AM
Hi Crown- That Tomaselli painting is amazing!
I saw some of his work along with artwork by
Philip Taaffe and Harry Smith last fall here in NYC,
and all of their work is really incredible in person
because of the three-dimensional aspects...
The same is true of Alex Grey's art. But even
on the computer this stuff jumps out and into
10-14-2003, 04:48 PM
Thanks for the essay.
You have definitely opened my eyes
to Steiner's thoughts....
I recently read a great biography of Steiner's
life by Henry Barnes. It was my introduction
to his life and works, and now I am getting
into 'What Is Anthroposophy?',
and it is a collection of three talks by Steiner.
You are speaking on Steiner
at the Open Centre aren't you??
I hope to see you there!
[ October 14, 2003, 05:50 PM: Message edited by: Rob P ]
I feel the same way about Alex's work, it does seem like a mirror. I haven't seen any of his originals in person, but I bought his book, Transfigurations. Everyone I know with any experience with psychedelics is utterly transfixed when I show them the book. They can't tear thier eyes away from it, or if they've heard of him before they get really excited when I mention I have the book. People who havn't tried psychedelics find it either moderately/mildly interesting or else they appreciate the technical skill without really grasping the beauty and honesty of each work.
Martina Hoffman is quite an interesting artist as well, yes, she's Albert Hoffman's daughter if I remember correctly. Her website is www.martinahoffmann.com (http://www.martinahoffmann.com)
Luna - high,
Sorry to disappoint you - Martina Hoffmann is not Albert Hofmann's daughter. Although he & his wife's (Anita, 91) family-clan now count some 22 people in all! The Man turns 98 next January 11th - Hail to the real Chief!
But tnx 4 posting Martina Hoffmann's website - after a quick look I agree she's good & psychedelic. (Others go look 2 - a thrill to trippy minds & internet-sore eyes!). Interesting also how she, as do Alex Grey, "is continuously trying to broaden her understanding of how the universal energy moves in, through and around us" through painting.
The Alex Grey-book I erroneously referred to as "Transformations" is really "Transfigurations" as u correctly named it. GREAT book. My friends have shown the same reactions, with the same split between trippers excited/non-trippers interested. I believe Grey's work may in fact serve as a kind of privat, half-secret "litmus-test" to see whether a person is "in the know" or not - the recognition-factor from psychedelic experiences being that strong.
Although that's a slightly different matter, let's hope the sad era & state of affairs where people have to cover up their psychedelic knowledge (as I implicitly referred 2 above) for fear of persecution & prosecution, will soon - and in dignity - reach an end. Alex Grey's & Daniel P.'s books are important contributions towards that end. I strongly salute that work. The hypocrisy of the split in the public mind the hiding of psychedelic insight creates, facilitates political manipulations which now play increasing havoc with our ecology, and has tainted any ecological understanding with "criminal" knowledge derived from psychedelics. I agree strongly with Daniel P. that shamanic knowledge is "a universal phenomenon" available to all, "integral to the human relationship with the planet" (BOTH p. 229). We are all outgrowths on this planet - working on this planet's growth. We're advanced plants, in the long & big perspective. So the (other)plants may remind us, through our close interacting with them, of sensibilities we've denied & forgotten, and now strongly need to revive and reapply. (I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but even choirs need boosts to sing strong. - I come here 2 b boosted myself. So tnx, folks!)
Btw Daniel, did u meet with Salvia Divinorum yet? It would be very interesting to hear what she could tell u.
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