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Visionary, or Psychedelic, art does not stop in the physical plane, but attempts to show a world beyond the three dimensions. The genre was pioneered by such artists as Hieronymus Bosch of Holland, whose mid-fifteenth century paintings were rich with the grotesque and the fantastic, and William Blake, who painted and wrote poems in eighteenth century England. Rising in popularity with the new age movement, Visionary art can now be seen in a great variety of media, from paintings to postcards to t-shirts.

The seven-day Burning Man Festival, beginning on the last Monday of August, is held in the vast desert of Nevada. Since it is a fusion of the Visionary art movement and the rave scene, the event is considered to be the biggest of the year by many Visionary art admirers. In 1986, a man living in San Francisco burned a life-sized doll in effigy as a way of forgetting his troubles with his ex-girlfriend. This act of burning a life-size doll caught the eye of many artists. Afterwards, this ritual grew in popularity until it developed into an established event amongst youth interested in new age culture and amongst artists. Now, the event draws about 40,000 people from around the world and is seen as a revival of the hippie movement of the seventies.

Alex Grey can claim great support and popularity amongst those who attend the Burning Man Festival. In his work, Grey applies intricate, complicated composition with skillful technique to express the connections between man, the universe, and the spiritual world. His activities as an artist are not limited to painting, also including such diverse forms as sculpture, installation art, and performance art.

His audience tonight gathered in the narrow gallery entrance. Of the nearly 200 people, nearly half had come from all corners of the United States, especially the West Coast. Others heralded from as far away as Brazil, Germany, Australia, and Japan. Alex Grey made his appearance amongst them. With his beautiful, delicate air, it was hard to imagine where he kept the energy to create his powerful artworks hidden.

With Grey at the lead, the audience headed to the back of the usually calm and serene gallery. As they entered, it was immediately buried in the overwhelming enthusiasm of the crowd. Like the Mandala of Tibetan Buddhism, a distinctive feature of Grey's work is the deep symbolism hidden within the colorful detail. This tour would provide a perfect opportunity to learn about these buried riddles and symbols from the man himself.

Because of the influence of his graphic designer father, Grey was awakened to art early. But, he was equally unable to suppress his deep interest in life and death; drawing pictures of the dead bodies of bugs and small animals he collected in the backyard as a young boy. He was generally acknowledged as an excellent painter. However, as an impressionable youth against the backdrop of the rise of the hippie movement, pop culture, and minimalism in 1970's America, he fell naturally into conceptual and performance art.

After that, his life had changed, and his current style was formed. At a party on his last day at the Boston Museum School, he met Allyson, the woman who would become the love of his life. At this time, he also had his first experience with LSD, which led to a metamorphosis in his worldview and outlook on life.

Alex Grey told the audience during the talk that, on his first trip, he had a vision of a spiral of light and darkness. This vision inspired his next work, which used black and white to symbolize light and darkness, with a grey area in the center that connected the two extremes. For the artist, the color grey exists to act as an intermediary bridging the gap between the polarities of the world, such as light and dark, materialism and spirituality, man and woman, life and death, the self and one's surroundings, and the earth and the cosmos. In the world of Grey's art, it is the responsibility of people to bear this role. On the basis of this visual trip, Grey changed his name from "Alex Velzy" to "Alex Grey," and began to use LSD regularly.

Grey openly uses drugs to create his art, explaining that it is one way of reaching a visionary state. He explains that Visionary art expresses the realm of the imagination, and that it provides a lens for peeking into the multi-dimensional world. He uses drugs of his own will to fulfill his appointed task of being a missionary between the cosmos and the spiritual world on one side and the real world on the other. He has a warning for those who would follow his path of drug use. He warns that drugs are illegal, and gives the example of one of his friends who is still serving a 20-year sentence for drug abuse. When young people ask him about drugs he responds seriously and philosophically by asking what the task was that they were given.

Grey's works leave a strong impression with their vivid colors, surrealistic ideas, and symbolism. These paintings of a multi-dimensional world are able to capture concepts and sensations that we are usually unable to visualize. This visualized reality was obtained through his use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD. In many of his works, the ideologies and messages from his search for universal truth are expressed in detail. These details come from the visions and symbols of religions and philosophies like Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, Kabbalah, and Sufism, about which he has studied in his quest for truth.

In Grey's multi-dimensional works, man and his body usually play a central role. During his nearly five years working at the Anatomy Department of Harvard University, he studied anatomy, parapsychology and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism. After this, he began to do anatomical illustration work. The bodies that Grey draws show not only the bones, muscles, and nerves, but also the pressure points and vital lines used in Oriental medicine.

Grey explained to us, with a twinkle in his eye that our bodies are temples and that we live in wonderful, miraculous temples. The people he draws mediate between various dimensions like the cosmos, the inner self, and different realities using the Shamanistic method of transfiguration. Humans have an important meaning in the worldview of his artwork.

Grey feels deep misgivings about modern art. He says that art is meant to reflect the inner self and he worries that if contemporary art continues along its current path, it is in danger of becoming meaningless and irrelevant. He wants to plant the universal truths he reveals in his artwork into the consciousness of the people. In the future, he has plans to build a base for his art and ideological activities in the suburbs of New York, and to hold a new exhibition in the fall of 2007.

Based on his work and his history, one would naturally imagine Grey to be eccentric. However, while he is full of passion, he is not aggressive, and is actually a very intelligent and thoughtful person. I was deeply impressed when, after speaking for two hours in the hot gallery, he still took the time to reply politely to the requests of those who wanted to speak with him directly.


Text by Reimi Takeuchi & Sai Morikawa, Photo by Ryu Kodama
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