South Philly artist sheds layers in new exhibit
Alex Eckman-Lawn’s “Recessive,” uses multi-layered, hand-cut paper collages to explore survival.
Portrayals of faces — some of friends, others of Greek statues — occupy the walls of Paradigm Gallery and Studio.
While, at first glance, the images of countenances may seem uncorrelated, each expression is lacerated with voids on one point of the portrait or another, revealing deeper layers of metal sheets and shades, and, perhaps, an inward unveiling of the depicted individuals.
For artist and South Philly resident Alex Eckman-Lawn, shoveling stratums — the actual ones and the figurative — serves as an avenue for inspiration.
“I think, when dealing with the idea of buried things, emotional or literal, it helps to have this physical depth to the pieces,” he said. “And particularly, when I’m working with anatomical imagery, I think the sort of surgical aspect of making the work really affects me.”
Eckman-Lawn, a West Philly native and established illustrator whose work has been featured nationally in comics, album covers, book covers, music videos and even recently the Wall Street Journal, is tackling his latest project and first solo show at the Queen Village space.
Although the Passyunk Square dweller dabbles in a few mediums, his latest project, “Recessive,” which will be on display through Dec. 6, spotlights multi-layered, hand-cut paper collages — a practice the 2007 University of Arts graduate has been exploring for the past decade.
Renowned for illustrations that have been seen on covers of Scholastic books and Relapse Records albums, Eckman-Lawn found an instinct for capturing other creators’ visions, whether musicians or writers, and interpreting them in new light.
But, this method of collage-making allows the artist to tap into his own creative consciousness.
“I don’t always have so much freedom in my freelance/illustration work, but I am in complete control of the cut paper stuff, so that’s probably the most accurate representation of who I am — for better or worse,” Eckman-Lawn said.
Though the sources vary from old medical textbooks to cell phone photos, his process entails seeking particular images and then revising with them in photoshop. Once the images become tangible on sturdy sheets of paper, he layers them one-by-one, adding foam boards in between for depth.
From there, he begins to cut.
Encompassing scenes drawn from grim dreams to casual pictures of friends, the 25-piece collection is a concoction of Eckman-Lawn’s experiences that revolve around fears, anxieties, hardships and survival.
Tapping into feelings of imprisonment, much of the work’s narrative boils down to control over one’s self.
For Eckman-Lawn, the personal prisons that organically surfaced in this body of work revolved around an irrational fear of illness, history of family strains and some reaction to the current political climate.
“To me, it’s the most personal work I’ve done, particularly like using people that I know. It’s hard for me not to have a strong reaction,” he said. “But, I think it comes through. I think you can tell that those are a little more personal and might be a little more stronger.”
The title itself, “Recessive,” harbors a few meanings, like inherited genes, yet the work also has literal recesses or hollow spaces.
But, Eckman-Lawn stresses the compilation, which not only includes portraits but also ancient greek sculptures and abstruse specimens like teeth-growing seashells, is intended to be ambiguous for audiences, hoping they attach their own thoughts to the sights.
“I want it to be available to other people. It’s not just mine. … This isn’t like you are coming into this room and looking at my experience,” he said. “It’s not really about me. I don’t want it to be when people are looking at it. I want it to be a way for them to get to what they’re about.”
Although Eckman-Lawn’s art was recently on display in gallery exhibitions across the country, including at SCOPE Miami Beach, Art on Paper NY, Arch Enemy Arts, Gallery 1988, Cotton Candy Machine, and Copro Gallery, as well as being highlighted in publications such as Hi-Fructose, Juxtapoz Magazine, and The Observer, he says having this solo show here in Philadelphia is meaningful on more than one level.
Eckman-Lawn feels Philly is in the midst of an “artistic renaissance,” saying in a decade or two, people will look back on this time as an extraordinary era for arts in this city.
And South Philly’s Paradigm Gallery and Studio, located in the heart of this cultural movement, especially lends itself to Eckman-Lawn’s “Recessive.”
“The (Paradigm) space itself is also full of little nooks and spaces that sort of force you to have a more intimate experience with the art,” he said. “I think that fits nicely with the little secrets I try to hide inside my art.”
Info: To learn more about the exhibition, visit www.paradigmarts.org/blogs/news/recessive-works-by-alex-eckman-lawn
To learn more about the artist, visit http://www.alexeckmanlawn.com/.