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Alex Grey Tree of Life Review

Alex Grey’s, The Tree of Life, is an oil-on-linen painting utilizing every color imaginable, and makes for a very powerful and thought provoking piece. His use of line, color, symmetry, and balance are characteristic of pre-modern art, but he adds a progressive and psychedelic feel to this piece by placing modern figures throughout this painting.

At first glance this painting seems to be a symmetrical picture of a tree. Although symmetrical in shape, either side is painted in an opposite color and shade. The left side of the painting contains bright colors often seen in nature. Blues, greens, gold, and earth tones really stand out to the viewer. The opposite side has dark and dingy colors, representative of death, and destruction. This side of the tree is on fire, and what were fields of animals and plant life on the left side is now a baron wasteland of industrialized machinery, and plumes of smoke. This adds an extreme contrast to the piece that is quite unique to Alex Grey’s work.

The imagery used is very provoking since it depicts the time before humans, and the wasteland we now call home. This painting was completed in 1989 before the 9/11 tragedy, and before the Taliban was on the tip of the everyday person’s tongue. This being noted, there are three figures at the bottom of the tree on the death side. One resembles George Bush, another looks to be Osama Bin Laden, and the last figure, standing next to both, is a penis with horns. Grey did not label these individuals, but did such an incredible job of painting them that they look exactly like those people. In the distant background on the death side there are 2 buildings resembling the Twin Towers with two commercial airliners flying overhead. Some viewers may speculate that Alex Grey was predicting the future event that would change society forever, and he did so with a paint brush. The mentioning of the date 9/11 brings strong emotions and provokes ill thinking today, but it is hard to say that Grey was striving for the overwhelming feelings that viewers today may feel when looking at this piece. Regardless of his past motives this painting has developed its own meaning as time has passed and certain events in the world have transpired.

All of these characteristics collaborate to bring a gut-wrenching, thought-provoking piece of art. The colors, use of line, and the placement of notorious historical figures create a progressive painting that utilizes timeless artistic techniques found throughout art historically. Alex Grey sets his work apart from the common progressive artist. His pieces have an energy about them that is unparalleled by any other artist. He is truly one of the finest artists of the modern age.

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