In an intimate gallery space, Alex Eckman-Lawn’s cut-paper work, “Neighborhood Watch,” stood out—layers of brightly colored flowers with a solemn owl in the center, the barest suggestions of skulls peeking around the corners, all teeth, jawbone and emptiness.
The Art Dept., a small gallery on Berks Street near Tulip in Fishtown, displayed “Neighborhood Watch” during a new exhibit opening with Eckman-Lawn on Sept. 11, showcasing his aggressively-styled paper-cut work.
The event, Eckman-Lawn’s second exhibit with the Art Dept., was “casual and comfortable,” according to the gallery’s exhibits director, Kate Glasheen. Eckman-Lawn said he spent the night shaking hands and talking with guests.
“This is a relatively new way of working for me,” Eckman-Lawn wrote in an email. “Openings tend to be a blur.”
Eckman-Lawn is a 2007 University of the Arts graduate with a degree in illustration. He said his professors “really helped me find my voice as an illustrator.” The university also taught him to make pictures that tell a story, instead of just looking pretty.
“I’ve been making art since I was a little kid,” Eckman-Lawn said. “I decided early on I wanted this to be the thing I wasted my life pursuing.”
As a child, Eckman-Lawn was inspired by comics, cartoons and video games. In college, he discovered Egon Schiele, an artist that remains an inspiration.
“His paintings are so unfiltered, just raw arrogance and passion,” Eckman-Lawn said. “I am also still inspired by comics and illustration. I love Moebius. His work makes me so jealous and inspired.”
A Philadelphia native, Eckman-Lawn believes his surroundings have largely impacted his aesthetics. The “amazing collection of styles and architecture” and “the history of buildings” throughout the city inspire his work.
Glasheen, a fellow artist and friend of Eckman-Lawn, said the artist’s subject matter is “dark, but his personality is light.”
From an artist’s perspective, Glasheen wants Eckman-Lawn to be known for his hard work and character.
“He spends hours, days, weeks, creating a new body of work that tells a personal story,” Glasheen said.
Using Adobe Photoshop, Eckman-Lawn creates detailed layers of art. The process starts by collaging old mechanical drawings or etchings of Victorian-era clothing, then painting portraits and burying them under the collaged elements.
Next, he saves six or seven layers of the designs in different states, prints them on thick paper and cuts out sections one layer at a time. Eckman-Lawn then layers the pieces in a frame to give it a diorama-like feel.
As for the artist’s future, Eckman-Lawn anticipates using a wider variety of material with more painting and drawing on each separate layer.
Although his work is personal, Eckman-Lawn also tries to convey mystery or implied history, something he describes as “finding a cryptic note in a library book.”
“A respected artist told me she got lost in my smaller pieces,” Eckman-Lawn said. “Like the room disappeared and she could exist in the space I created.”
Madison Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.