Hello there, and welcome to my gallery!
For this specific blog post, I am going to take my audience on a little adventure from one side, to the other side of a specific kind of spectrum- the PSYCEDELIC spectrum. Psychedelics and their use all have their own special kind of culture. You can see it strongly in the Vietnam protests, the peace-and-love kind of attitude of the 1970’s. But there is a much bigger side to it than it seems. Psychedelic drugs and their culture seem to all be about indulgence and pleasure, but they actually have a very religious connotation, I personally believe. I feel that there is two types of people who want to engage in psychedelics and the culture which promotes them- those who believe in the experience itself, and who don’t try to understand, but merely take it all in; and on the other hand, those who want to try to use psychedelics to understand the universe, and god’s relationship to man.
I say that this concept is ‘religious’, but I do not mean Judo-Christian style religious. There is a transcendental meaning behind much of the artwork that comes out of the ‘trippy’ attitude. That’s why for my first art showcase I’d like to share the works of one of my favorite artists, the genius Alex Grey.
This is Alex Grey’s “The Great Net of Being”. This specific painting is highly spiritual. From this painting we can see Grey’s belief, that we are all connected to one and other, before birth, during life, and after death. This image plays on a spiritual concept called “Bardo”. Bardo is a traditional Hindu and Buddhist ideal that there is a transitionary stage between death, and the next reincarnation. In this state we are all one being, and we experience dramatic hallucinations which are the clearest experience of reality one is spiritually capable of, followed by immense fear and despair over actions in the past that were done unskillfully. This period is actually more like a period of rest, or meditation, and there is a concept of Bardo that takes place in reality where one is ill, or in a coma, and this can be considered a time of resting as well.
I personally believe this image is beautiful and inspiring, very skillfully done with an immense eye for detail and repetition. It certainly says a lot about us, if you can think of each of these ‘faces’ as a representation of the human spirit, and if you look closely you can see these faces are made up of dozens of galaxies. I feel that Alex Grey is trying to convey the idea that we are each a galaxy in itself, and we are only the universe experiencing itself. A complicated, and difficult theory to consider, I know.
Here is another piece by Alex Grey that I particularly like, titled “Dying”.
This picture I believe shows the transitory state from life to death, and that the shimmering image coming out of the person’s brain is supposed to be their soul. The location in which the soul is coming out of is called the “Third Eye”, which is a conduit to the spiritual world that emerges from the pineal gland, which is the gland in the very center of your brain that contains fluid. Among the chemicals in this pineal fluid is a substance called Dimethyltriptamine, DMT, which is an extremely intense psychedlic drug when manufactured from Amazonian roots and herbs. People have claimed that while tripping on DMT, they have spoken to either god, or the devil. There is no scientific proof of any of this, and certainly it would be heresy to try to explain to the Catholic church, however it has been said that the DMT contained naturally in your brain is released at only two times in your life- upon birth, and upon death.
On another note, the reason why the conduit from the pineal gland is called the ‘Third Eye” is because there are some animals which literally have a milky, tertiary eye located in the middle of their forehead, usually found in frogs, lizards, and newts.
More about the artist: Alex Grey was born in Columbus, Ohio, November 29th, 1953. Alex Grey’s father was a graphic designer, and encouraged his son’s artistic vision. Grey would often collect dead insects and animals and bury them. Life and death have had a heavy influence on his artistic journey. Alex Grey’s period of death-based artwork was changed and heavily influenced by his wife Allyson Rymland Grey, who he met at the Boston Museum school. She introduced him to psychedelics, specifically LSD. Grey’s journey into a more philosophical standpoint was also influenced by his interest in human anatomy, which we can see in his paintings such as the one above. Alex Grey never draws a human being as they are seen from the outside, but rather as they are seen from the outside, or from the viewpoint of some spiritual being, looking in.
Grey’s work has been exhibited in many renown locations, such as Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum and in San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art. I consider him to be very successful. Alex Grey also partnered often with the music group TOOL, and is the art designer for all of their music videos and cover artwork.
Speaking of Tool, I would like to begin discussing them now. TOOL is an American rock band composed of 5 people, (1 guitarist, 1 drummer, 1 singer, 1 bassist, and 1 previous bassist who had to be replaced), so I won’t spend much time going into the biographies of the individual people, except for the main singer Maynard James Keenan. Tool was founded by the group of friends in 1990, in Los Angeles. Here is an example of one of their music videos, the iconic “Vicarious”, artwork done by, of course, Alex Grey. The LYRICS of the song, like much of Tool’s music, contains a strong message about society as we see it today and the problems that lie therein.
I am naturally impressed with the work as a whole, which goes without saying. I wouldn’t have chosen it if I didn’t like it. I’d like to explain instead what I think the art means, and why it’s meaningful to me. I think that the lyrics of the song and the video have separate messages which reinforce each-other. What Maynard is saying is that society lives in a vicious cycle of wanting to see suffering or misery. In this televised day and age, through the news we can see live reports of human atrocities, through television and Hollywood we see the glamorization of murder and sex and intrigue, and we get it instantly, every day, any time we desire it. As a world wide society we indulge in the use of television literally every second, of every minute, in every day, and Maynard questions the wisdom and the consequence of having this accessibility.
In the music video, we can see the humanoid form looking apparently very stressed and confused by his surroundings. Later, we see the creatures which emerge from his eyes, and the realm they venture into. Isn’t that realm familiar? It’s the first picture I posted, “The Great Net of Being”. I think that realm represents Bardo, and I explained how in the religious definition of the term, there is a period where the person has intense hallucinations about something they regret. I think the realm outside of the person’s eyes, where the big flaming circle is and the red dry earth, is a hallucination. The humanoid form is a person who has died. What they are hallucinating about is a regret, regret that they spent so much time just watching the television. They see creatures dying around them. I think the red and blue worms represent the person’s spirit, and the journey that it is undertaking. In the end we see the worm creatures, the man’s soul, go into one of the golden orbs in the Bardo realm, and they appear to go through a strange metamorphosis. I think this is representative of the person’s soul accepting its fate, and its shortcomings in their previous life. The transformation they undergo is reincarnation back into the world.
After this we see that the red sun on the planet is actually a massive eye. This eye is turned down, watching the life and death of what happened on the surface. I think, what Alex Grey is suggesting by this, is that the urge to see life and death play out in the natural drama that is life, is a very natural and common urge. It isn’t something to feel guilty of, because the universe is watching all of our lives play out, too. Observing is the natural state of the universe. We can observe motion, and learn from it. That is physics, at its very basics. There is a theory that the universe is self aware, which I think Alex Grey and Maynard James Keenan would believe. If that is the case, I think that the very end of this video explains that the universe exists to observe itself, and so simply observing is not a ‘sin’. But it is absolutely true that by spending all your days watching TV, you miss out on many experiences and possibilities.
Onto the darker side of TOOL. The band has heavy metal roots with their early album Undertow, which was actually rather inappropriate and received many negative criticisms for their vulgarity. The album’s song “Prison Sex” was actually removed from MTV for being too vulgar and offensive. The band’s original symbol was a wrench in the shape of a penis. This phallic imagery is a part of their message and idealism, that you can basically do whatever the hell you want in life. Much of the vulgarity in the band’s attitude likely stems from Maynard James Keenan, who is wholly inappropriate and controversial. His music and his attitude are explained by tragedies that happened in his past, such as the paralysis of his mother and her eventual death due to cerebral aneurysm.
This next video is for that controversial song that was removed from MTV, “Prison Sex”. It is in my opinion VERY disturbing, especially if you keep in mind that the LYRICS of the song are about sexual abuse. I am not going to go into details of what I think each scene of the video is about. Despite being so disturbing though, it does send a very powerful message, one I think that the public needs to hear, but prefers to keep quiet about.
Well, that is all the TOOL I am going to show you. The band is very emotionally provocative and stressful. There is another band I would like to discuss, and revisit the idea of psychedelic and spiritual influence creating modern artwork. Israeli artists Erez Eisen and Amit Duvdevani came together in 1996 to create the artist known as Infected Mushroom. Infected Mushroom is, as its name suggests, heavily influenced by electronic, the club scene, and of course psychedelic drugs. Despite this I feel that their music is brilliantly and excellently put together, well mastered and utterly inspired. They have a lot of skill as electronic musicians, but they also have roots in traditional instruments. Many of their songs are creatively influenced by their middle eastern upbringing, and include traditional Israeli instruments like the sitar. Here is the song “Heavyweight” off their album Vicious Delicious, released in 2007.
What a journey. This song might be obnoxiously long, but I think that the whole experience is very much worth it. Listen to the changing meters, and the rising and falling pace, like you might see in a work by Igor Stravinsky. The shifting and altered vocals, the swinging and sudden note changes typical in middle eastern music, and of course, that GUITAR. That electronic guitar was put through a filter, and that was it. No remastering, no auto-tuning, no manipulation, just Amit Duvdevani and his skill. (That might actually be Erez Eisen, but I think it’s Amit Duvdevani)
This song is pretty ideal to capture the essence of the way that their music sounds. It always has slow and rewarding building action, followed by indulgent melodies, and a gentle let down back to the ground.
To finish off this art gallery I would like to complete this with a song by an emergent duo of artists called Purity Ring, just being founded only 3 years ago in 2010. The duo Megan James and Corin Roddick, 25 and 23, are originally from Edminton, Canada. These are emergent artists and are part of the newer wave of dubstep and electronic music, although they are categorized as “Synth Pop”. This is one of my favorite songs by them, “Obedear” on their first and only album so far Shrines.
I really like this new kind of music, it is cleverly put together, gentle and relaxing. A good tone to end on, since the artwork I have shown you so far is either exciting, bizarre, or controversial. I think that vocalist must be Megan James, and I have to say she has a beautiful voice. The lyrics are interesting, complex and riddling. I especially appreciate those chanting vocals in the background, they give the piece an air of spirituality, a sort of sacred influence. I have high expectations for this duo and I hope to hear more music from them in the future.
Thank you for visiting my gallery, I am sure it’s been a long and winding trip. It is my hope that it was enjoyable, and accessible.