Grey was born Alex Velzy in Columbus, Ohio on November 29, 1953, the middle child of a middle-class couple. His father was a graphic designer and encouraged his son's drawing ability. Young Alex would collect insects and dead animals from the suburban neighborhood and bury them in the back yard. The themes of death and transcendence weave throughout his artworks, from the earliest drawings to later performances, paintings and sculpture. He 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. Grey then attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for one year, to study with the conceptual artist, Jay Jaroslav.
At the Boston Museum School he met his wife, the artist Allyson Rymland Grey. During this period he had a series of entheogenically induced mystical experiences that transformed his agnostic existentialism to a radical transcendentalism. The couple would trip together on LSD. Alex 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. Alex's anatomical training prepared him for painting the Sacred Mirrors (explained below) and for doing medical illustration. When doctors saw his Sacred Mirrors, they asked him to do illustration work. 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 Allyson at The Open Center in New York City; Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado; the California Institute of Integral Studies and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.
In 1972 Grey began a series of art actions that bear resemblance to rites of passage, in that they present stages of a developing psyche. The approximately 50 performance rites, conducted over the past 30 years, move through transformations from an egocentric to more sociocentric and increasingly worldcentric and theocentric identity. The most recent performance was "WorldSpirit", a spoken word and musical collaboration with Kenji Williams which was released in 2004 as a DVD.
Grey's unique series of 21 life-sized paintings, the Sacred Mirrors (to be on display at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in Wappinger, New York), takes the viewer on a journey toward their own divine nature by examining, in detail, the body, mind, and spirit. The Sacred Mirrors present the physical and subtle anatomy of an individual in the context of cosmic, biological and technological evolution. Begun in 1979, the series took ten years to complete. During this time Grey developed his depictions of the human body that "x-ray" the multiple layers of reality, and reveal the interplay of anatomical and spiritual forces. After painting the Sacred Mirrors, he applied this multidimensional perspective to such archetypal human experiences as praying, meditation, kissing, copulating, pregnancy, birth, nursing and dying. More recent work explores the subject of consciousness from the perspective of "universal beings" whose bodies are grids of fire, eyes and infinite galactic swirls.
Holland Cotter, art critic for the New York Times wrote in 2002, "Alex Grey's art, with its New Age symbolism and medical-illustration finesse, might be described as psychedelic realism, a kind of clinical approach to cosmic consciousness. In it, the human figure is rendered transparently with X-ray or CAT-scan eyes, the way Aldous Huxley saw a leaf when he was on mescaline. Every bone, organ and vein is detailed in refulgent color; objects and space are knitted together in dense, decorative linear webs." Grey's paintings have been featured in venues as diverse as the album art of Tool, The String Cheese Incident, Meshuggah, the Beastie Boys and Nirvana, Newsweek magazine, the Discovery Channel, Rave flyers and sheets of blotter acid. His work has been exhibited worldwide, including Feature Inc., Tibet House, Stux Gallery, P.S. 1, The Outsider Art Fair and the New Museum in NYC, the Grand Palais in Paris, the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil.
Grey has been a keynote speaker at conferences worldwide including Tokyo, Amsterdam, Basel, Barcelona and Manaus. The international psychedelic community has embraced Grey as an important "mapmaker" and spokesman for the visionary realm. In his compendium of psychedelic culture, Psychedelia (2012), Patrick Lundborg speaks of Grey's position: "First of all, Visionary Art would not be the active, promising field it is today without the appearance of Alex Grey on the scene. Born 1953, Alex Grey is the leading psychedelic artist of today, and also one of the foremost proponents of Visionary Art as a style. Via interviews, his own writings and the CoSM art journal, Grey has contributed to a historical perspective on the school..."
A large installation called Heart Net by Alex and his wife was displayed at Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum in 1998-99. A mid-career retrospective of Grey's works was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego in 1999. The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, a long-term exhibition of 50 works of transformative art by Grey opened in the Fall of 2004 in New York City and relocated to its present Hudson Valley location in 2009.
The large format art book, Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey published by Inner Traditions in 1990, is still in print and has been translated into five languages and sold over 150 thousand copies. This book of paintings takes the viewer on a graphic journey through the physical, and spiritual anatomy of the self. From anatomically correct rendering of the body systems, Grey moves to the spiritual/energetic systems with such images as Universal Mind Lattice, envisioning the sacred and esoteric symbolism of the body and the forces that define its living field of energy. Includes essays on the significance of Grey's work by Ken Wilber, the eminent transpersonal psychologist, and by the noted New York art critic, Carlo McCormick. Grey's philosophical text, The Mission of Art, published by Shambhala in 1998, traces the evolution of human consciousness through art history, explores the role of an artist's intention and conscience, and reflects on the creative process as a spiritual path.
Transfigurations is Alex's second large-format monograph from Inner Traditions, containing over 300 color and black and white images of his work. Transfigurations explores Grey's well known portrayals of light bodies, performance works, relationship with his wife, Allyson Grey, and their quest to build a Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Sounds True has released The Visionary Artist, a CD of Grey's reflections on art as a spiritual practice. Grey co-edited the book, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (Chronicle Books, 2002, reprinted by Synergetic Press, 2015).
In 2004 Grey published his collected works in Visions, a limited-edition boxed set which contains a portfolio of new works along with his Sacred Mirrors and Transfigurations. Net of Being, released by Inner Traditions in 2012, explores how Alex Grey’s visionary art is evolving the cultural body through icons of interconnectedness and a new symbology of the Networked Self. Net of Being contains spectacular photos of Grey’s collaboration with the cult band Tool plus his worldwide live-painting performances, and offers Grey’s reflections on how art evolves consciousness.
He lives in New York City and Wappinger, NY, with his wife, painter Allyson Grey. Their daughter, actress Zena Grey, lives in Los Angeles.
In ARTmind (2004) Grey explores the healing potential of sacred art. CoSM the movie, was released in 2006 and features Grey giving a tour of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors exhibition on display (2004-2009) in New York City. Grey appeared in the 2006 film Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within, a documentary about rediscovering an enchanted cosmos in the modern world. He also appeared in the film DMT: The Spirit Molecule, in which he talked about the importance of the substance DMT in the past and present world, as well as describing some of his personal experiences with the substance and how it influenced his painting.
Grey’s paintings can be described as a blend of sacred, visionary art and postmodern art. He is best known for his paintings of glowing anatomical human bodies, images that “x-ray” the multiple layers of reality. His art is a complex integration of body, mind, and spirit. The Sacred Mirrors, a life-sized series of 21 paintings, took 10 years to complete, and examines in detail the physical and metaphysical anatomy of the individual. "The inner body is meticulously rendered - not just anatomically precise but crystalline in its clarity". Many of his paintings include detailed representations of the skeleton, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and lymphatic system. Grey applies this multidimensional perspective to paint the universal human experience. His figures are shown in positions such as praying, meditating, kissing, copulating, pregnancy, birth and death. His work incorporates many religious symbols, including auras, chakras, and icons with geometric shapes and tessellations in natural, industrial, and multicultural situations. Grey’s paintings are permeated with an intense and subtle light that is rare in art history. “It is the light that is sublime in Grey’s oeuvre - which is the most important innovation in religious light since the Baroque - and that makes the mundane beings in them seem sublime, in every realistic detail of their exquisite being”. His highly detailed paintings are spiritual and scientific in equal measure, revealing his psychedelic, spiritual and super-natural view of the human race.
Grey has also made his own contribution to the philosophy of art in his book The Mission of Art (1998). Therein, he promotes the possibility of the mystical potential of art: he argues that the process of artistic creation can (and should) play a role in the enlightenment of the artist. For him, the process of artistic creation holds the potential of transcending the limitations of the mind and more fully expressing the divine spirit. He also believes that art can induce within the viewer an elevated state wherein spiritual states of being are attained.
In an interview with Ken Wilber for Integral Naked, Grey described an experience of shared visionary mystical experience between himself and his wife, which led him to believe in spirituality and spiritual practice.
Grey's artwork has often been used by music groups on their album covers.An album of David Byrne remixes called Visible Man featured Grey's artwork.
Michael Hedges's album Torched features one of Grey's Holy Fire paintings on the cover.
The liner notes for the Nirvana album In Utero included a reproduction of Grey's painting Muscle System (Pregnant Woman) among a series of photographs of the band.
The cover of The String Cheese Incident's album Untying the Not features Grey's work Cosmic Elf, commissioned specifically for the album.
Hip-hop group the Beastie Boys featured Grey's Gaia painting as well as his Vision Crystal image inside the booklet of their album Ill Communication.
Swedish experimental metal band Meshuggah featured Grey's artwork on their Selfcaged EP.
The progressive metal band Tool has featured Grey's artwork as album artwork for their album Lateralus. He also executed the stage design for Tool for the associated tour that included massive reproductions of the album artwork as well as provide the artwork for the 2006 Tool album 10,000 Days and the computer-generated graphics for the video of the single "Vicarious". Tool also used a few paintings from Alex on their 2007 tour of Europe, Asia, and North America.
In 2004 a live multimedia performance was recorded as a DVD titled Worldspirit - featuring the animated artwork and live spoken word of Alex Grey, coupled with the project direction and live music of Kenji Williams.
The alleged mystical properties of Grey's artwork are discussed in Stuart Davis' 2006 DVD Between the Music.
DJ/Producer Bassnectar has used Alex Grey's artwork for multiple album covers.
In 2008 and 2009, the tribal/psychedelic rock band TELESMA performed Winter Solstice concerts at which Alex and Allyson Grey appeared on stage and painted new original pieces. A DVD of their first collaborative Winter Solstice concert with TELESMA called Hearing Vision's LIVE was released in June 2010. On December 18, 2010, Alex and Allyson Grey again "live painted" new original pieces with TELESMA during the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) Full Moon Solstice Celebration.
Grey's artwork has been featured on the cover of Sub Rosa, Newsweek, High Times, Shaman's Drum, Shambhala Sun, Juxtapoz, Vision, Gnosis and The Healing Power of Neurofeedback: The Revolutionary LENS Technique for Restoring Optimal Brain Function.
The Discovery Channel included Grey in a feature on art and creativity in altered states.
The Viking Youth Power Hour interviewed Alex and Allyson Grey about the role of sacred art, the holy shenanigans of Burning Man, and the development of his process.
Grey's work and his Chapel of Sacred Mirrors gallery in New York City are featured in a 2006 DVD release CoSM The Movie, directed by Nick Krasnic.
Grey talks about his personal philosophy in the 2009 film Cognition Factor.
In Variable Star, a science fiction novel written by Spider Robinson based on a story outline by Robert A. Heinlein, Robinson devotes several pages to his protagonist's discovery of Grey's Sacred Mirrors and Progress of the Soul series, and to using them to enhance meditation.Transfigurations
Visions, 2003, a 2,000-copy limited edition collection of Grey's two hardcover books and a set of prints, all in an illustrated wooden case which folds out into an 'altar'
1990 - Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey (Alex Grey) (Inner Traditions - Bear & Company) ISBN 0-89281-314-8
1998 - The Mission of Art (Alex Grey) (Shambhala Publications Inc.) ISBN 978-1570623967
2001 - Transfigurations (Alex Grey) (Inner Traditions - Bear & Company) ISBN 0-89281-851-4
2001 - The Mission of Art (Alex Grey) paperback edition of (Shambhala Publications Inc.) ISBN 1-57062-545-X
2006 - True Visions (Erik Davis and Pablo Echaurren) (Betty Books) ISBN 88-902372-0-1
2007 - Metamorphosis: 50 Contemporary Surreal, Fantastic and Visionary Artists (beinArt) ISBN 978-0-9803231-0-8
2007 - CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (Alex Grey & Allyson Grey) (CoSM Press) ISBN 978-160402-121-9
2008 - Art Psalms (Alex Grey) (North Atlantic Books) ISBN 978-1-55643-756-4
2012 - Net of Being (Alex Grey & Allyson Grey) (Inner Traditions - Bear & Company) ISBN 978-1594773846