Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum in Arizona explores the Visionary Arts movement with exhibitions featuring Alex Grey and Allyson Grey plus several contemporary artists based in and beyond the Southwest.
Divine Paradigm, Lucid Fate, The Beyond Within, and Vision Seeds
September 10, 2021–various closing dates
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, Mesa, Arizona
Dancing figures connected by vibrant lines and colors signaling cosmic energy fill a gallery wall inside Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, where four exhibitions explore the Visionary Arts movement that centers the idea of collective consciousness.
The figures, which exude a kinetic sense of joy that’s particularly striking amid the despair wrought by both political cynicism and the pandemic, are part of Alex Grey and Allyson Grey’s Star Dancers, an eight-foot by thirty-two-foot acrylic-on-canvas mural-style painting.
The painting anchors Alex Grey and Allyson Grey: The Beyond Within (which continues through January 23, 2022). The exhibition lineup at MCA also includes Amanda Sage: Vision Seeds (through January 16, 2022), Wiley Wallace: Lucid Fate (through January 2, 2022), and Divine Paradigm: Contemporary Visionary Art (through November 28, 2021).
Taken together, these exhibitions present a compelling counterpoint to the contemporary zeitgeist, particularly as it’s reflected in the American body politic with its trends toward authoritarianism, individualism, and homogeneity.
Without expecting viewers to embrace a particular philosophy, religion, or spiritual practice, participating artists suggest that the way forward lies in embracing open-mindedness, connections within and beyond the human realm, and the vast expanse of diversity.
The Beyond Within—which shares its name with a renowned 1964 book exploring the mind-altering effects of LSD—includes paintings, drawings, and small-scale sculptures that reveal the artists’ distinctive styles. Works by Allyson Grey are imbued with patterns that reflect her interpretation of occult symbols that she traces to a mystic experience during the early 1970s. Alex Grey often incorporates human figures and fractals anchored by multiple eyes. Together they channel several themes prevalent in visionary art, including the cosmic scale and divine nature of human existence.
Vision Seeds features works by Amanda Sage, a Colorado-born artist who trained with Ernst Fuchs in Austria, where she learned a Renaissance painting technique revived by Fantastic Realists during the 1950s. Sage’s Galactic Ambassador (2015) punctuates the fact that contemporary artists working in this genre often incorporate interstellar subject matter.
Poetic language shown with Sage’s Vision Train (2017) includes these words: “I am remembering the future.” Here, as elsewhere, exhibition materials elucidate concepts prevalent in visionary arts, even as the artworks lead the way in illuminating threads related to time, space, spirituality, and states of being.
Lucid Fate highlights work by Wiley Wallace, a Phoenix-based painter who populates his pieces with children, often showing them exploring or interacting with other beings. Most prevalent is a little boy who often holds a mason jar, as if capturing cosmic energy the way another child might trap fireflies.
Both human and skeletal forms, as well as geometric shapes, are common elements in Wallace’s paintings. Most feature natural elements such as rocks, rivers, caves, and clouds. Thus, he anchors unseen worlds to known and lived landscapes.
In the group exhibition The Divine Paradigm, artist Michael Campbell’s sculpture Our Mother of Mystery imagines Our Lady of Guadalupe as the stem for a mushroom with a wide red and yellow cap, and circles several smaller mushrooms around her. Here, curators signal the genre’s focus on psychedelics, its embrace of maternal imagery, and its use of traditional religious symbols as source material.
With Divine Paradigm, the museum spotlights artists from several states, and continues its tradition of highlighting those based in Arizona. Here, those artists include Tucson-based Daniel Martin Diaz, whose elaborate drawings combine philosophical and scientific constructs as well as Marco Albarran, whose site-specific sculpture references the pre-Columbian deity Mayahuel.
The exhibition also features art by Kyllan Maney, who uses maps as the backdrop for her mandala-style designs, and Beth Ames Swartz, whose expansive body of work exploring ideas common to multiple worldviews includes abstract and landscape paintings created with mixed media such as paste, holographic film, and fire.
Despite the many strengths of these artworks and the insights afforded by including a range of artists working in the realm of Visionary Arts, their collective power could have been enhanced by incorporating additional pieces reflecting the museum’s own cultural and geographical context.
The museum is sited on the ancestral home of Indigenous peoples, in a city that was settled by Mormons. In each case, elaborate cosmologies speak to themes prevalent in the Visionary Arts movement. Broadening the exhibition’s scope would have significantly enhanced the conversations and curiosity propelled by this fascinating look at interior and cosmic landscapes.
Mesa Contemporary Arts is located at 1 East Main Street in downtown Mesa.