Alex & Allyson Grey Ring in the New Year with the Love Tribe
On New Year's Eve 2010, in a small town just up the Hudson from the wild crush and thrill of Times Square, a few hundred people found a way to usher in the year with both revelry and reverence.
The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) in Wappinger, New York, is Alex and Allyson Greys' refuge for spiritual art and global community. The celebrants who came to its wooded hillside on Dec. 31, 2010, found a scene lit by sculptor Kate Roudenbush's sacred dome, costumed firespinners, a bonfire and the colorful windows of the main Guest House. Inside, DJs and dancing held forth among the awe-inspiring paintings and sculptures of Alex Grey.
"When beings come together in oneness, it creates sacred space," Alex told the crowded front rooms during the night's opening talk. "This place was meant to be a temple. These are temple grounds. I'm convinced of it."
That temple, envisioned as part of a decades-old dream, is closer to fulfillment than ever. And it's more needed than ever, as Allyson said later on the dance floor.
"Our family is everywhere. It's called the Love Tribe," she said joyfully. "We went to Moscow, and our tribe was there. We went to Bali, and our tribe was there. We went to Egypt, and our tribe was there. These are ritual-oriented people, people who want to celebrate love. Everywhere we went, they wanted this [experience] there. But New York needs it. It's a little harder to penetrate, but the Love Tribe is coming out."
The coming out journey for the temple, at least, began in 1978, when the iconic "Sacred Mirrors" were first inspired. The 21 images, now familiar worldwide for their detailed blending of physical anatomy and energetic symbols, were imagined as a comprehensive map of body, mind and spirit.
The first hint that something beyond mere art was at work emerged in 1985, four years before the series was finished.
"A collector named Marshall Frankel became interested in purchasing a few of the pieces, and we refused to break up the series," the Greys recalled in an e-mail interview this week. "He then offered to purchase the entire work in order to exhibit his favorite two or three paintings in his private home and keep the rest in storage."
"As we were negotiating this amazing amount of money offered, Marshall shared two hits of MDMA [then a legal substance in the United States], which changed our lives," the Greys said. "Lying on our bed in Brooklyn, we had a simultaneous vision of the Sacred Mirrors being available to the public within a Chapel."
The Chapel's evolution from that first vision has sped up dramatically in the past 15 years. The Greys established CoSM as a nonprofit in 1996. Seven years later, they began hosting full moon ceremonies at their Brooklyn home. In 2004, CoSM became a well-known gallery and gathering space in a loft in New York City's Chelsea district, and within four years, it was officially recognized as a religion. In February 2009, CoSM relocated to a former United Church of Christ retreat center in Wappinger, a small town an hour north of the City.
"The town of Wappinger is a unique location with many Christian churches, a Buddhist monastery and stupa, a mosque and a Sihk temple -- all representing the broad range of spiritual possibilities for people today," they said. "Fifty years ago, the United Church of Christ, the former owners of this property, vowed to build a Chapel on this land, and instead passed that promise on to CoSM. Friend and native American scholar Evan Pritchard tells us that this land was also sacred to the Wappinger, the native people that, tragically, were expelled from this region."
Even with most of their art not yet on view, events at the CoSM in Wappinger "actually are often better attended than those we held in the city, where the support was also very strong." The 2010 New Year's Eve event, for instance, sold out days in advance and had what the Greys called "magnificent energy."
CoSM's new home is the same distance from the Hudson River as the former loft in Manhattan, another important element of the site. "For us, the river is a symbol of community, because it is made up of many small streams moving toward the ocean of love bliss," they said. "The Hudson is a tidal river that flows from the Atlantic up to Poughkeepsie, 10 minutes upstream, and then back every six hours, flowing by the Town of Wappinger both ways. The worship of a community is like the tidal forces that draw the ocean of love upstream into the river."
Community is certainly an integral part of raising the millions of dollars necessary to complete the project.
"As isolated artists in our earlier days," Alex and Allyson said, "we've had to transform our personalities to be able to speak to people about the project and generate their participation. As people are inspired that building a sacred site is a worthy investment, they join this project."
The personality transformation was evident on New Year's, as the couple spent much of the final evening of 2010 embracing visitors with their particular brand of grounded enthusiasm, delight, curiosity and warmth. The rest of the time, they performed live painting in a well-lit alcove. Allyson's work involved bright, channeled, hand-sized sacred letters in rows that filled the canvas. Alex, alternating playful grins and jokes with his trademark intensity and focus, drew and painted portraits of patrons who'd paid $500 fees for the honor.
The money will go, in part, toward fulfilling the original vision for a Chapel to house the Sacred Mirrors. That building is in the design phase, planned for the meadow now illuminated by Roudenbush's dome. The Greys said it will feature an "uplifting, original approach to architecture" intended to still exist in 1,000 years.
"Building a sacred temple is our physical goal," they said, but added that the physical is only part of the true Chapel. "By 'getting along,' we can make something beautiful together. Focusing on the creation of beauty can transform the planet. A global community is coming together on this journey. It will take the talent and ability of many creative spiritual people to manifest this vision"
And the Chapel itself is only a part of the vision for CoSM. The heavily wooded property has revealed hidden reflecting pools and wisdom trails, a labyrinth, an outdoor stone pulpit, even a history of UCC ceremonies held to break down racial and other barriers.
Not all the surprises have been pleasant -- the Greys have tackled mold issues and sewage problems as remodeling continues. And then there's the life-surprises: a car crash in March 2010 left the couple facing months of rehabilitation.
"Life is full of hurdles, so, of course, having our vertebrae crushed like Dixie cups looked like a set-back," they said this week. "It can also be seen as a gift. Healing and enduring pain is a test. All living things suffer. Realizing gratitude for what we have -- our mobility and our life -- and seeing that obstacles can be overcome makes us stronger and better, like the healed bones.
"Do we use this incident as an excuse not to achieve our goals and be all we can be, or see it as an episode on the path to realizing our vision?"
Less than a year after the crash, the two moved with strength and grace throughout the celebratory evening, showing no evidence of the potentially devastating incident. And they'd certainly made progress on the path. That night, CoSM's gift shop, library and dining hall were brilliantly decorated, showing off the work done on the main house so far. Alex kept the capacity crowd enthralled with tales of Tibetan monks, tattoo artists and well-known authors who've come to the gatherings, including the full-moon ceremonies that have happened each month for seven years so far. He and Allyson have big plans for all six buildings on the site, now being renovated and expanded for guests, workshops, events, weddings and "community building activities that will support the infrastructure of CoSM."
And then there's the front gates. While showing photos of the 20-foot, flowing metal scrollwork planned for the site, Alex earned laughter from the gathering as he described an earlier design -- dragons and a naked man and woman, some of the sacred symbols of CoSM's work.
Somewhere along the way, someone asked: "Is that really the message we want to be sending to the neighbors?" A new version featuring less, er, provocative imagery followed, and is now under construction in Bali.
But beneath the humor is a more serious commitment to building relationships between the avant garde and more mainstream society. "We are newcomers in our town," Alex and Allyson later said, "and must prove ourselves to be an asset to the surrounding community and elicit their trust."
That can be a challenge for artists whose most famous pieces can generate comments like: "Whoa. Someone took some good acid!"
So, while rave music and eclectic costumes were the norm at New Year's, event promotions touted it as drug-and-alcohol-free, and the bubbly beverages served for the midnight toast were of apple juice, not champagne.
"Those who make known their substance use on the property are escorted off the site," Alex and Allyson said. "Use of illegal substances in open defiance of the law cannot be permitted."
And yet, the Greys are candid about their own history with psychedelics, which they see as sacred and critical tools for the transformation of our time.
"As artists, the subject of our artwork is the most important decision we have to make. Great art shares the most important personal experiences and mystic truths.
"For us, traditional Christian and Jewish upbringings did not catalyze a transcendental opening. The experience of LSD and, subsequently, other mind-altering sacraments, offered us personal contact with the divine."
The Greys warn that caution is needed to prevent harm to "individuals who should abstain." The couple says psychedelics are special medicines that, they pray, will eventually be delivered responsibly in appropriate religious contexts in support of a society that celebrates contact with the divine.
"In this country, we can exercise our First Amendment rights to speak of the experiences that have assisted in liberating our consciousness. Those inspired by consciousness-expanding entheogens, especially leaders, can serve others by responsibly sharing this knowledge," they said. "We support tolerance, research and cognitive liberty. That is the stand that CoSM takes."
In the meantime, substance-free events, fundraising and expansion continue. A portion of CoSM's permanent collection of artworks is expected to be displayed in Wappinger later this year, with the opening of the full Chapel and collection intended for 2015.
The Greys will lead their next Pre-Full Moon workshop Jan. 15 at CoSM, entitled "Visioning Our Highest Intention." A four-city tour in Australia is coming up, followed by a trip to Bali. To find out more about CoSM events in the Hudson Valley and its role throughout the world, check here.
The upcoming CoSM Journal will be themed "Cosmic Creativity" and feature "some of the greatest visionary artists of all times, including rarely seen works by Ernst Fuchs and Mati Klarwein and original articles by Deepak Chopra and Matthew Fox." One of the new features in the CoSM Journal is the gallery section where artists can sponsor space and have their work seen by a wide audience of like-minded visionaries. CoSM Journal will soon be available online, giving all sponsors increased exposure. To find out more about sponsoring space in the upcoming CoSM Journal, contact Delvin@cosm.org.
Photos courtesy of CoSM.Tweet