Prying open the third eye of art lovers and music fans everywhere. (AP Photo/Jim Cooper)
Grey said his paintings began with a vision which he describes as "psychic FedEx." (AP Photo/Jim Cooper)
Tool's Adam Jones describes the three-dimensional images in the packaging for "10,000 Days."
Jones on why the once camera-shy band included members' portraits in the album booklet.

More than half a million people have already seen Alex Grey's latest painting, a colorful, geometrically intricate assemblage of faces and eyes blending into an infinite corridor. That's impressive exposure, considering that this unfinished work, "Net of Being," is presently resting against the wall of his Manhattan studio.

Such exposure isn't uncommon for Grey's work, which has been featured on million-selling albums by Tool, Nirvana and the Beastie Boys. He also provides illustrations for Tool videos. The latest such collaboration, his second with Tool, resulted in the cover art for "10,000 Days" -- currently the No. 1 album on the Billboard chart with 564,000 copies sold.

"Because of its mass audience, it reaches people that contemporary painting rarely does," Grey said. "If you don't get to see a painting in the flesh, then how are you going to get to see it? Maybe you'd see it in a magazine. Maybe you'd see it in a book. But if you'd see it associated with powerful music and you love that music, maybe it even engenders a love onto the artwork."

Tool guitarist Adam Jones -- who doubles as the band's art director and directs their videos -- began working with Alex on the artwork for the band's latest album even before the group was finished promoting its last disc, 2001's "Lateralus." The process started when Grey and Jones paused from their work on the music video for the single "Parabola" in 2002.

"He had a sketchbook and just rifled through his sketchbook and opened to a page. He said, 'What do you think of this?'" Jones said. "It was the 'Net of Being' drawn out with a pencil. You could see that Alex was working out the math of getting the grid right for it. I was like, 'Oh my God.' I could just see myself in there."

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UNUSUAL PACKAGING:

An adaptation of the work appears on the cover of the "10,000 Days," and built-in stereoscopic lenses make another version of the painting on the inside booklet stand out as a three-dimensional image. By looking through the plastic lenses embedded in the cardboard packaging, a printed image of Grey's painting appears three-dimensional, with multiple layers forming a corridor of faces. Images of the band members also appear in 3-D; smoke emitted from a vessel in drummer Danny Carey's hand appears to rise over his shoulder and trail behind him. (Coincidentally, Tool fans: Jones says a video featuring Grey's artwork for the band's single "Vicarious" should by out early July).

Jones, an aficionado of stereoscopic photography, said the band had to start from scratch to devise packaging that would allow the painting and other images to appear to float above the page. In addition to Grey, the band enlisted the work of several other artists, including computer graphics and 3-D image specialists.

"I think it's really important that you work as hard as you can on something," Jones said of the extra effort in putting together the album packaging. "You have to do that nowadays because everything's like, you can just download it off the Internet or you can just get it from your friend and tape it. I'd rather always be about giving people more than their money's worth."

Credit that zeal for visual arts -- which has given Tool a reputation for some of the most innovative album packaging in the industry -- with helping propel their latest album's opening-week success in an age when digital piracy looms over album sales. "10,000 Days" sold more in its first week out than Tool's last album and more than doubled sales of this week's No. 2 entry, the latest album by Pearl Jam.

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UNDERGROUND ART HERO:

While you might know Grey's work from thumbing through the booklet for "Lateralus," "In Utero" or "Ill Communication," album art is just a sideline for him. Considered a central figure in the visionary or psychedelic school, he's sold 100,000 copies of a coffee table book of his work, been profiled in The New York Times and The Washington Post and sold paintings for as much as $100,000.

"Visionary or psychedelic art is a major 'alternative art' within the world of contemporary art. It has a strong, large, loyal, and serious following, because it deals with serious human matters ... and because much of it, like Grey's paintings, is better crafted and much more beautiful," art critic Donald Kuspit, a professor at the State University of New York, told asap in an e-mail.

Like "Net of Being," Grey's paintings typically start with a vision, which he turns into a pencil sketch and later a painting that can measure five feet by 10 feet.

"Something like a psychic FedEx just kind of gets inserted in your mind," Grey said.

The process can take six months to a year, and the visions are often inspired by experiences Grey has after taking psychedelic drugs. He said he has used LSD within the last year while working on a painting of the drug's creator Albert Hofmann.

The result is incredibly vivid and geometrically intricate work that centers on the human body, with visible sinews, organs or blood vessels and electric auras. The work has drawn a loyal following to Grey's work and made fans of musicians like Kurt Cobain and the members of Tool.

"After we're all gone and in 300 years or 500 years, Alex will be a master. He, right now, is a modern master to me," Jones said.

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Jonathan Drew is an asap reporter in New York. He dreams in Tool.

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