Alex Grey was born in Columbus, Ohio on November 29, 1953, the middle child of a gentle 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 (73-74). Grey then attended the Boston Museum School 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 which transformed his agnostic existentialism to a radical transcendentalism. The Grey 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.
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 Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.
In 1972 Grey began a series of art actions which bear resemblance to rites of passage, in that they present stages of a developing psyche. The approximately fifty performance rites, conducted over the last twenty five years, move through transformations from an egocentric to a more sociocentric and increasingly worldcentric and theocentric identity.
Grey's unique series of 21 life-sized paintings, the Sacred Mirrors, take 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 a period of ten years to complete. It was during this period that he 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, dying, kissing, copulating, pregnancy, birth and nursing.
Renowned healers Olga Worral and Rosalyn Bruyere have expressed appreciation for the skillful portrayal of clairvoyant vision in his paintings of translucent glowing bodies. Grey's paintings have been featured in venues as diverse as the album art of TOOL, the Beastie Boys and Nirvana; Newsweek magazine; the Discovery Channel; rave flyers; and sheets of blotter acid. His work has been exhibited worldwide, including in Feature Inc., Tibet House, Stux Gallery, The Outsider Art Fair, the New Museum in NYC, the Grand Palais in Paris, and the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil. Alex has been a keynote speaker at conferences all over the world, including Tokyo, Amsterdam, Basel, Barcelona and Manaus.
A large installation called Heart Net by Alex and his wife, Allyson, 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.
Alex lives in New York City with his wife, the painter, Allyson Grey and their daughter, the actress, Zena Grey.
Alex Grey's written work and audio recordings include:
Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey
This large format art book has been translated into five languages and has sold over seventy-five thousand copies, unusual for an art book. Includes a foreword by Ken Wilber.
The Mission of Art
This inspirational book traces the evolution of human consciousness through art history, exploring the role of an artist's intention and conscience, and reflecting on the creative process as a spiritual path. Foreword by Ken Wilber.
His most recent book, released in the fall of 2022, is Alex's second large format monograph containing over 300 color and black & white images of his work.
Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
Co-edited with Allan Hunt Badiner, Zig Zag Zen engages authors, artists, priests, and scientists with the always controversial topic of psychedelics and spirituality. Opinions fall on all sides.
The Visionary Artist
Sounds True has released an audiotape of Grey's reflections on art as a spiritual practice.