Three years after closing the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) in New York and relocating their activities two hours north of the city, Alex and Allyson Grey are embarking on their most ambitious project to date. Entheon will be a permanent exhibition space for their work and that of other visionary artists. Reality Sandwich’s Ken Jordan invited Alex and Allyson to discuss Entheon, which you can support through CoSM’s Kickstarter campaign.
What was the original vision for the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors?
Alex Grey: In 1985 we had our first Ecstasy journey, when it was still called MDMA. Allyson and I had a simultaneous vision, a calling to create a sacred space for the Sacred Mirrors series of artworks. A collector, Marshall Frankel proposed a purchase of the Sacred Mirrors, my series of twenty-one artworks in sculpted fames, each over ten feet high. He offered more money than we had ever been offered before. Marshall, while undergoing therapy, received MDMA as a prescription and gave us two pills. On our private journey, lying on our bed, Allyson and I, without discussion envisioned walking into and around a circular chapel with the Sacred Mirrors installed. We both returned from this journey with a sense of gravity, realizing that the Sacred Mirrors should not be sold at all. This mission to create the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors became the journey of our life together.
Allyson Grey: Alex and I have shared a studio and a life for 39 years and have shared three powerful “landmark” openings through sacraments. In 1976, in the first spiritual awakening, we took LSD and experienced the Universal Mind Lattice, the interconnected energy grid “behind the veil” of the material world. My depiction of that experience is best shown through my painting, Jewel Net of Indra, describing an interconnected field of spectral light. The first simultaneous vision on LSD brought us to a unified spiritual life. The second vision on MDMA gave our life a path. The third simultaneous guidance happened only a few years ago on ayahuasca when the DMT angels told us that we had to first build Entheon, a sanctuary of visionary art, a transformation of an 1882 carriage house existing on the CoSM site.
Alex: It was on our last ayahuasca journey in Brazil. We both returned with the conviction that before we built the final Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, we had to build Entheon which would first host the CoSM collection of paintings and sculpture. Entheon will be built around the 1882 brick carriage house which has plenty of space. Spirits told us, Take care of what you are given before creating new structures.
Allyson: Entheon will be a visionary art experience and will also house MicroCoSM Gallery, exhibiting emerging and established visionary artists like at CoSM NYC. Our life’s mission is to build the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in the meadow and move the Sacred Mirrors and Progress of the Soul series into that Chapel permanently.
Which sacred spaces, temple-like environments, have had a particularly striking impact on you?
Alex: The temples of Egypt scorched my spirit and soul. Being artists, not Pharaohs, we offer everything WE have toward manifesting Entheon at CoSM. Some seekers who experience mystic states feel compelled to create altars and sacred sites. Now at time of soul denying media culture, there is an underground spiritual resurgence based on actual contact with the divine through sacraments. The arts may be the still small voice of conscience. The mission of CoSM is to join with other “altar makers” in leaving a trace of the interconnectedness we have experienced on the creative path.
Allyson: Chartres Cathedral, just outside of Paris, was planned by philosophers and mystics and built by an army of artists and artisans, all studying the principles of sacred geometry, art and architecture developed by Moslems in the Middle East. Consorting with other religions was not encouraged the European Christian world a thousand years ago. While the Pope was sending troops of devoted followers to kill the infidels, the mystery school of Chartre studied design principles that informed the creation of the first cathedral of a a cathedral movement throughout Europe. These peaceful, loving, creative people of Chartre had a spiritual mission to build a sanctuary to honor and house a sacred relic: the garment that Mary wore when she gave birth to Jesus. The relic became a context for finding and building a sacred site. Some objects hold a special attraction.
What did you learn from operating a creative spiritual center, CoSM, for five years in New York City?
Alex: We were gratified that visitors continually increased over the five years. Tens of thousands experienced that “sketch” toward a chapel of the future. The “Planetary Love Tribe” had a place to gather in the “Big Apple” that affirmed and validated a unified worldview. Thats why the Evolver Spores are so awesome, and why Reality Sandwich does such a service in our world. The virtual platforms and actual centers we create can mirror a new spiritual understanding of cognitive liberty. A sacred space with creativity at the service of wisdom and compassion as the lynch pin connects us to all sacred traditions.
Alex Stark, a Peruvian/Swiss shaman and Yale architect gave wise counsel: Gather community around this mission if you intend to build a chapel.” About fifteen friends joined with us for the first three Full Moon Ceremonies in 2003. After the fourth ceremony, on Easter morning, a landlord and owner of the club Spirit: New York, Robbie Wooton, who had seen my art at Tibet House, offered us part of his building to create an installation of the first Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in Chelsea, the art and club district of New York City. Now, CoSM has held a ten-year unbroken chain of Full Moon ceremonies welcoming thousands of people to an uplifting program of wisdom, music, dance, and poetry. drumming. It is truly the growing community that is building this chapel.
Allyson: Chapel of Sacred Mirrors became a non-profit in 1996. Eli Morgan organized our first two fundraising celebrations in NYC, 2001. In the mid-80’s we were part of a church in the East Village called The Church of the Little Green Man. It was a performance art church held on Sunday, often at King Tut’s Wah-wah Hut. Church of the Little Green Man was initiated by artist/minister Mike Osterhout and art critic, Carlo McCormick as a sort of punk rock church. Mike led the church band called “Purple Jesus.” Alex did the band’s first album cover. After our opening on MDMA and after becoming parents, a new community formed to build CoSM which became a church in 2008.
Was the design of Entheon influenced by what you learned from CoSM in New York City?
Allyson: Alex has been doing drawings of chapels and Entheon for decades.
Alex: We’ve learned many technical things by studying state-of-the art attractions and installations. Lighting, materials, flow of visitors… Our intention is to offer a journey that takes a “pilgrim,” a visitor to a sacred site, through art and life, the body, mind and soul of an individual entering a collective or community. Paintings like Gaia and Nuclear Crucifixion present the viewer with the challenges that humanity is facing through eco-catastrophe and violence. Engineering a transformative experience could offer reflections on the sacred, what makes life worth living and is ultimately worth preserving, allowing a sense of connectedness with the life web and the cosmos.
Allyson: It was Alex who came up with the name Entheon, years ago. Alex offered it to Matt Atwood and MAPS for a Burning Man camp – Entheon Village – in 2006.
Alex: Visiting the worlds sacred sites, we loved the name Pantheon, “a space for all of the Gods.” En, a suffix meaning “within” and “theo” referring to God. So, Entheon will be a place to discover the God within. The art at CoSM comes from visions that are “God centered” in the most inclusive sense. Visionary art is sacred because it points to those visionary mystical experiences that unite the Love Tribe. When we look at visionary art, we can be reminded of experiences of the infinite, validating a realm or dimension of awareness that has been marginalized if not completely denied by a nihilistic and agnostic culture. Those who have “glimpsed the emperion” tend to gather and create nodes or centers where that awareness is celebrated. We can become islands, or whispering souls in the shrillness of the corporate media culture. Rudolf Steiner created a church that was a theater called the Goetheanum. Entheon will be a sculpture, a building, and an inspiring art installation experience.
The Entheon design looks almost more like a sculpture than a building. What technology will you use to create this striking effect?
Alex: On June 3rd, last year, I had a lightening strike vision of a sculptural building with twenty-foot heads cladding the entire exterior. With all Godheads interlinking, symbols in each third eye would represent the transcendent unity of thirty sacred traditions. An angel of creative imagination on each cheek links the cosmic eye of the creator with the human eye, bridging the imagination between sacred traditions. A paint brush at heart level in the hands of all angels is like a spear with a flaming tip. Hieroglyphic elements on the back lower wall tell the evolutionary story from the birth of the cosmos, crawling out of the slime and ascending to confront our own mortality.
Allyson: Alex did a fine pencil drawing of Entheon and shared it with Ryan Tottle, a wonderful computer modeler and friend who animates for Disney in Hollywood. Together, they’ve developed a computer 3D model and have been designing the building via email over the last year. To create the sculpted surface, panels will be 3D printed in foam twenty feet high and eight feet wide. Molds will be made from those positives and glass reinforced concrete will be sprayed into the molds. A 5 foot x 7 foot DJ booth was printed out in foam allowing folks at our last California events to see the fantastic quality of the print-outs in a giant size. Entheon will be an ornamental cast concrete building, a similar material used to build the Patheon in 125 A.D. We invite everyone to come witness the process. Steel will be erected later this summer and our target completion date is September 2014.
What does the term “visionary art” mean to you?
Alex: Visionary art is art created in a visionary state, art that refers back to an experience of consciousness, sometimes considered an altered state of consciousness. That image is later recalled by the artist. In my own work, I have a vision. I make multiple sketches of how I perceived it’s appearance in a multidimensional experience, and flatten it on a two-dimensional plane. Allyson and I have glimpsed the visionary experience and expressed that in painting. But visionary art is made in every medium especially including film, computer graphics, any media that can portray inner dimensions of awareness embodying universal or archetypal forms.
For example, visionary art depicts human/animal hybrids called theriomorphs. We are familiar with Egyptian deities like Horus, Sekmet, Thoth, and Ba, who sport animal heads and human bodies, or human heads and animal bodies. In the cave art of Trois-Frères the art depicts a stag element and a human element. In the ancient world, visionary art and representational art existed side-by-side. Perhaps cave art bison appeared to the artists because of his/her heightened state of awareness. The torches flickering against the cave wall revealed a stampede of buffalo. The term visionary art points to the imagination being used to access another realm.
Allyson: Visionary art is associated with the psychedelic experience. There are extraordinary abstract visionary artists emerging today. For forty years my work has expressed an essentialized world view characterized in three symbol systems I call Chaos, Order and Secret Writing. In a series of altered states, I have seen secret writing washing over surfaces, over my body, in and through the invisible air. Others have told me they’ve seen fields of unidentifiable symbols washing over and through. The symbols I created over forty years ago have no interpretable meaning. They represent the symbol maker that is every artist in every medium.
Alex: Visionary mystical experiences are humanitys most direct contact with God, the creative source of all sacred art and wisdom traditions. The best currently existing technology for outputting the mystic imaginal realms is a well-crafted artistic rendering by an eyewitness. That is why visionary art matters.
Alex and Allyson: We have been inspired by the recent success of Kickstarter for funding projects large and small. If artist’s projects can be financed by friends, there is no limit to creative freedom. In that spirit, we urge all readers to check out the Kickstarter Campaign for Entheon which will end on May 31st. Make a pledge, and build Entheon with us.