It has oft been said that the final stage of a work of art is not in the artist’s finishing of the piece but in the moment that it is viewed on the wall of a gallery or museum. Where the outsider takes the image into their mind and digs into it, or rather, allows it to dig into them. When this relationship is at its most successful there is a bond created, built through connection and deepened through mystery. We become curious; longing for answers as to why this particular piece speaks to us, what the intention of the artist was, and what lies behind the layers.
And this is the magic of Alex Eckman-Lawn’s work. It takes us into those layers.
We are welcomed into the bowels of an image, through exquisitely cut paper, the delicate overlays usher us into the recesses of the work where we find new worlds hidden within.
In his October exhibition, “Recessive”, Eckman-Lawn’s first solo at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia, we see the artist playing with his entire bag of tricks. Utilizing both vintage images and digitally created original paintings, he painstakingly creates portals into faces, landscapes, cathedrals and Grecian statues. Sea shells wink at us, fissures in statues unveil secreted selves, and cancerous catacombs tear away at stern faces revealing the yearning light of the soul struggling to escape. Precision and vision elevate these images of the gothic and noir, creating unmistakable hallmarks that make Alex’s work instantly recognizable.
“Recessive” remains on view through December 6th.
Specimens – 2018
“Recessive” is an eclectic and stunning selection of works. Can you give us some background on the show, the pieces and your relationship with Paradigm Gallery?
This is my first solo exhibition of my cut paper work! Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about that until Paradigm brought it to my attention.
I’ve been showing with Paradigm for something like 7 years now. They’ve been supportive and encouraging of my work, long before I ever cultivated this particular approach, and they’ve helped me to refine my ideas and my technique over the years. At the risk of sounding corny, they seem to care about my work. I also think the space works particularly well for this show because there are some little nooks and corners that force the viewer to have a more intimate experience with the work.
Alex Eckman-Lawn – Drowning in Red Dots
Was there an overlying theme behind the works in this show?
I’m always a little hesitant to tell people what themes I had in mind while making a collection. I want them to bring their own experience to the work instead of being nudged in a direction by my description. That said, for me this show is about a few things – mostly fear and survival. I’m a hypochondriac (among other things) and I’m always pretty scared about what’s happening inside my body. My more anatomically-focused work is a chance for me to explore the contents of the human body, while having complete control of what’s inside, for once. This can be extremely cathartic for me, soothing even.
I’m also concerned with family in this show, and how inescapable your genetics can feel. Honestly, it’s just one more way in which your body imprisons you, though I think it’s up to you if you let your heritage define you. I try not to. Unfortunately I’m also afraid for many of my friends right now due to the current political climate. I don’t know if my voice should be the one to be heard about this, so I’ll just hope the work speaks for itself.
We Were – 2018
Papercut collage is not an easy medium to break new ground in, but you most definitely have.
Where do your pieces begin?
These pieces begin in so many different ways! It’s actually one of the really fun and exciting things about the way I work. Sometimes I have a clear idea in my head (like The Secret for example), and then it’s just a matter of finding the right images, or painting what I need until it looks right. That can be really painstaking but occasionally it all just comes together cleanly.
I really love pouring over massive collections of images, looking for hidden gold. I have folders and folders full of amazing finds, and sometimes I have to drop whatever I’m doing and start working right away if I find something too perfect to ignore. That feeling is just the best, and a good way to describe the act of collage in general. It’s like being a curator and a designer and an artist all at once.
I guess I wasn’t thinking about breaking new ground in paper-cutting so much as I was trying to find a way to make images that felt complete to me. I start in Photoshop, design the piece, collage the pieces together, then make 5 or 6 distinct prints on sturdy paper, and meticulously cut each layer, then stack them with spacers in between to create depth. When it’s all layered together like a big sandwich in the frame, it feels like a sculpture or a sort of topographical map.
The Secret – 2018
Was there an evolution in your process that brought you to this style?
I found this way of working about 4 years ago. Stumbled onto it, really! The process has absolutely come a long way since then. I was really learning as I went, and it all makes way more sense to me now. I also think my hand is steadier and my brain is more able to see how I’ll layer the piece while I’m working on it.
I’ve made digital collages for a long time and I wanted to make the work tangible in some way. My plan was to print them out, cut them up, and re-organize them into new physical collages. I remember I looked down at the paper that I had cut the pieces out of and realized it was more interesting than what I was trying to make. I still remember how excited I was to make those first pieces in something approaching my current style. I couldn’t wait to start on the next piece, and I honestly still feel that way now! There are so many more things I want to try!
What is your creative environment/studio?
Oh god, my “studio” is really whatever couch will fit me. I often do some of the design work in coffee shops around the city. I like having an excuse to get out of the house once in a while, and seeing other human faces is kind of a bonus. When it’s time to cut, I sit hunched over a table for hours in the living room, usually with some dumb movie on in the background. I’m slowly filling the house with tiny paper snips, which I’m sure my cats appreciate.
Antiquity Irev – 2018
Where are you from and where are you now?
I was born in West Philly, though my family eventually moved farther west of the city. I was very glad to move back here in 2011 or so. As of about 4 months ago, I live in South Philly, near Passyunk Ave. I moved in with my partner, Caitlin McCormack. I do have a soft spot for South Philly though; there are still some cool bars left, and probably my favorite food in the whole world.
Did you go to art school in Philadelphia as well?
Yes, I went to The University of the Arts, here in Philly, and I majored in Illustration. I’m really grateful for my time spent in art school. I learned a lot about how to make pictures, met some people I really look up to even now, and definitely learned a lot about the history of art and how to approach telling a story with pictures.
Diminished – 2018
Who is inspiring you now?
Man, so so many people inspire me. Lately I’ve been trying to absorb inspiration from as many sources as possible – artists, music, movies, comics, and the way the light in my bathroom looks, etc etc. I’m trying to be less pinhole focused, at least in terms of inspiration.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some heavy hitters that get my blood pumping on the reg.
I love Shaun Tan, Aron Wiesenfeld, Allison Sommers, Caitlin McCormack (sup girl), Joao Ruas, Moebius, Katsuhiro Otomo, Kilian Eng, Hope Kroll, Seth Clark, Glyn Smyth, and like every artist on the Capcom payroll in the 90s.
Inheritance – 2018
You have done work for quite a few bands. What led you to those collaborations? What are the unique challenges or advantages to doing that work?
I think the first band I ever worked with was Psyopus! They played a show in town in like 2006 and crashed with a friend of mine. We got to talking a little bit and I somehow didn’t embarrass myself too much so they had me do a t-shirt for them.
I really love working with bands. Music is a huge part of what keeps me motivated and enthusiastic about art/life/remaining alive. It’s definitely different than the cut paper stuff, but sometimes a band comes along and just says “hey can you do what you do for our album cover?” and I get to just go apeshit and it’s awesome. That’s pretty much how it went with the King Dude cover. Other times, the band comes to me with a specific idea or image in mind, and that’s cool too! Since I went to school for illustration, I feel pretty prepared for that kind of problem solving.
Do you have a favorite band collaboration?
I think one of my favorite albums to work on was Maruta’s Forward Into Regression. I’m a big nerd for grind and these guys are both amazing musicians and really great dudes. The song “Solace Through Self Annihilation” still gets me all goosebumped up. Pretty much the only revision I got from the band on this one was “gnarlier, maybe more skulls” which is obviously great advice for any situation. I wound up filling the sky with skulls, which shouldn’t have worked but somehow did? I don’t know, I’m still psyched about it.
Maruta Album Art
What’s next for you? Upcoming shows, projects?
In November, I’ll be in a small works show at Arch Enemy Arts as well as Innocent When You Dream at The Dark Art Emporium. In December, I’ll be tabling at The Holiday Oddities Market at The Brooklyn Bazaar with Caitlin McCormack. I currently have a piece at Red Truck Gallery, and I’ll be showing at Art On Paper in March with Paradigm. I’ve also got some surprises that I can’t talk about quite yet!
Do you have a mantra? Something that keeps you motivated?
I don’t know if I have a mantra exactly, but sometimes I like to think about how “nothing matters.” I find it very freeing, really takes the pressure off a guy. I do feel very lucky that I get to make art for a living, and on days where it feels hard, I like to remind myself how much I’d rather do this than anything else.