What do the Beastie Boys, the Discovery Channel and drug dealers selling sheets of acid have in common? Tricky, no? How about the band Tool, tattoo artists and rave promoters? Not getting any easier, is it? The common denominator in all of these is the art of Alex Grey (check out the cover of Tool's Lateralus-that's Grey's flaming eye).
“My work does tend to run the gamut from the Museum of Modern Art, which owns one of my drawings, to the dealer on the street,” says Grey. “My work has also been purloined mercilessly by rave promoters and tattoo artists. There must be a hundred flaming eye tattoos.”
It seems incongruous that the Museum of Modern Art would want to display anything by a guy who's designed banners for the String Cheese Incident, let alone a guy whose art has been reproduced on blotter paper impregnated with LSD. But for Grey-whose art is about the interconnectedness of everything-it makes sense.
Outside of ravers and Tool fans, Grey is best known for his paintings of iridescent anatomical human bodies-images he describes as x-rays of the multiple layers of reality that reveal the intricate ties between the body, mind and soul. Grey's series of life-sized paintings, the Sacred Mirrors, are meant to aid the viewer in tapping into their divine nature by examining the body/mind/soul connection, he says.
The Sacred Mirrors are just part of the work Grey will present during a slide show and lecture at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla on Feb. 25, hosted by Sushi Performance & Visual Art.
“This will be an overview of my works from the very beginning,” says Grey. “My mom kept a drawing of a skeleton I did when I was 5 years old and I'm still drawing skeletons 45 years later.”
As a boy, Grey collected dead animals from his suburban Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood and buried them in the backyard. It was here that his interest in life, death and transcendence began, but it wasn't until he shared his first LSD trip with his future wife, artist Allyson Rymland Grey, that he eschewed existentialism for what he calls “radical transcendentalism.”
“In that one moment my whole life changed,” says Grey. “I was in this spiral tunnel that went from black to gray to white, and so I decided I'd change my name to Grey because that's what brought two opposites together. That's what I felt I was to do as my life's work, bring dichotomies together, bring spirit to matter, bring male and female together.”
After his post-LSD journey, Grey's artistic motivations were forever changed. He began studying anatomy and working at Harvard Medical School preparing cadavers for dissection. As he studied, he incorporated what he learned about physiology into his art. And the art world responded.
Now his work is loved by metalheads, body-art enthusiasts and drug dealers. His paintings have been shown the New Museum in New York City, the Grand Palais in Paris and the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil. He's also spoken and presented his performance art in Tokyo, Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York.
It's a grand connection of cultural brows.
“It don't think that there's much resistance to my work [in high-art circles] because of its popularity,” he says. “There's a kind of fusion between highbrow and lowbrow and middlebrow that surrounds my art. Because it's not art for art's sake, because it's about something, all types of people are going to react to it.” B
Sushi Performance and Visual Art presents Transfigurations, a slide-show and talk by Alex Grey at the Neurosciences Institute (10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive, La Jolla), 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 25. $5-$10. 619-235-8466.