Alex Grey’s visionary artwork reflects a unique insight into the nature of death, grief and consciousness. Many of his paintings depict human subjects with seemingly transparent skin, the color and dimensions of their anatomy reflected in their environment. In the painting “Dying,” we see many eyes surrounding the person on their deathbed, the translucent eyes at each shoulder indicating substance and overlap between the seen and unseen world.
Grey’s images corroborate what has been recorded by researchers in the field of near-death experiences (NDEs), including distortion of time, heightened or premonitory awareness, and a sense of both disconnection from the body and borderlessness between the self and the universe of experience. Another common feature that individuals who have had NDEs recount is a focal point of light (sometimes at the end of a tunnel). In Grey’s depictions of the borderland between body and consciousness, he unifies these planes through images of human anatomy (often eyes) repeated within shadow and light.
The painting “The Soul Finds Its Way Home” similarly depicts the journey of consciousness beyond the material plane, incorporating elements of blissful and trial-based experience reflected in the soothing white-blue of water and air, and clusters of flame that veil a central point of light from the tangible human eye at the bottom of the image. Here, the flame-enveloped manifold eyes seem to indicate our limited understanding of consciousness beyond an embodied experience. However, the four unencumbered eyes resting inside the mandala-like light near the top of the image suggests that we have the ability to fully realize the nature of consciousness that exists both within the material and non-material world.
It is often difficult to untangle the sinews of philosophy from those of personal experience, and to consider the unknown outside the scope of religion. This is perhaps why Alex Grey’s paintings resonate so powerfully for so many people – they communicate a hypothesis of awareness beyond language, which is itself a limiting construct when discussing experiences that render us speechless.