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An Interview with Alex Eckman-Lawn

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

I’d seen sprinklings of Alex Eckman-Lawn’s work across the social media sphere for a while, and a bunch of people in the Philadelphia scene had shown me his work but I first met him at a night market at Tattooed Mom’s in Philadelphia. This is where I really took notice of how great this dude’s work really is. Seeing this stuff in person compared to on a phone or computer screen is a night and day difference. Don’t get me wrong, this stuff still looks great on the screen, but to be able to really get up close and see the depth of these works is something that can’t be replicated. To this day the three Eckman-Lawn prints I have are my favorite pieces of my personal collection.

Eckman-Lawn does a lot of different things in his work, but his personal touch always stands out and makes each piece undeniably his. He meticulously scans through piles and piles of vintage photos to find imagery that he’s drawn to, then cutting and layering them up to reveal a deeper story and image (literally). Whether it’s altering the shape and weight of architecture or cutting away the flesh of a photo to reveal an internal image or pattern, the vintage nature of Eckman-Lawn’s work always has an eerie weight to it. It’s strange how vintage photographs always seem to evoke a morbid feeling, but Eckman-Lawn captures and molds this into the narrative of each work.

I was extremely excited to get to Interview Alex Eckman-Lawn and, just like the first time I met him, he was extremely easy and fun to talk to. I think he gives a really personal and in-depth view of his work that might never be revealed with just the image. He’s also been awesome enough to release a Plebeian Exclusive print on sale on the Deli (linked with the top image, link also at the bottom)! He’s one of the many artists taking advantage of the great things the Deli has to offer and we’re very excited to get to release this print with him! Enjoy!

1. So to start, tell me about your background in art. What got you interested/started in art? Any schooling? What makes you the artist that you are today?

I wish I had a cooler answer for this one, but I definitely started getting interested in art as a kid through comics and videogames. I would copy drawings of sonic the hedgehog and ryu from Streetfighter out of the instruction booklets. I remember asking my parents super early if I could go to art school and to my surprise they were really supportive of the idea from day one. I went to UArts for Illustration and I think the same stuff that got me psyched about art is STILL a big inspiration now. In other words, I'm basically a giant 9 year old.

2. To further that question, what got you into collage specifically? Do you prefer hand done or digital collage? Or does that depend on the piece?

This definitely came way later. I think I owe a lot to early 2000s era hardcore albums, show posters, etc. I remember being so psyched that there was a combination of art and the music I loved at the time and just hurling myself into that aesthetic as hard as I could, for better or worse, haha! I definitely made some corny stuff but it lead me to where I'm at now so I guess it was worth it.

3. Your pieces are very deep, both conceptually and visually, how do you begin a piece? Is there any prep drawing, concept studies? What inspires the subject matter?

Oh man, thank you, haha! I'm glad they come across that way for you. These days I don't often do much prep drawing, but I do pour over hundreds and hundreds of images trying to find stuff that feels right for the collection I'm working on, or album cover or whatever else. I guess for me a lot of the prep work is in my head- both before hand and while I'm actually looking through things. Sometimes I'm still making changes while I cut. That's one of the cool things about collage for me, it's kind of always in flux until you decide the piece is done.

4. Be it photos, artistic references, or architecture there seems to be a deep relationship with the classical or vintage. Does this loom heavily in the story that each piece seeks to tell?

Well, to be totally honest, a lot of that "vintage" look comes free with the era of images that have entered the public domain and therefore are available for me to use. The funny thing is I was kind of faking that look for years before I started working with those images. I've always been drawn to a faded image, scuffed up textures, things that look weathered and lived in.

I do love architecture and so that shows up in my work a lot. Often buildings in my work represent an impossibly huge or daunting thing, something that dwarfs or imprisons. I guess in my mind that feeling I get from looking at an enormous structure can be really exciting/humbling in a way that sort of puts me at ease. I'm an anxious person and feeling impossibly small kind of takes the pressure off, haha!

Lately I've been thinking a lot about history and how it can shape a person or tie them down to something. That's kind of what I was thinking about with the "antiquity" pieces. Like there's this outdated old crumbling thing that can still influence your life and you sort of just have to wait for it all to fall away so you can leave it behind. That's just for me though, I'd really rather people bring their own experience to the work when they look at.

5.How does this, and other elements, affect the decision behind each layer? Does each layer of your work, especially in the really deep pieces, have meaning?

Sometimes. I like to see what each piece needs, and I try not to overdo it. I want the impact to be strong and sometimes adding too many things can actually take away from the immediacy of a piece. I do love hiding little things in the lower layers though so keep an eye out.

6. There's incredible depth in your work, and I've seen it in both 2D and 3D, does each piece start 2D? Do they all start 3D? Does it vary? Is there any greater significance to a 3D piece as opposed to a 2D?

They all start as 2D images, usually composed in photoshop. I spend a lot of time getting things organized in there so that when it comes down to do the physical cutting/layering I usually am pretty clear about what has to happen. That said, I do leave it open for last minute changes, like I mentioned before. That's a really exciting thing to me- to always be able to change the whole thing if a better solution presents itself.

I think the 3D depth adds to the concept of most pieces so I guess I think they're more COMPLETE when they're cut and layered but I started as an illustrator and I love a 2D image more than almost anything in the world so it's kind of hard for me to say that one is more important than the other. Does that make any sense? I love it all, haha!

7. You've got pieces that take architectural elements and mash them up, distort them, alter them in ways that change their function and tell a different story. What does architecture specifically mean to you in your work? How do you decide what elements of this to use?

I kinda got into this a little bit earlier but I think architecture is a sort of complicated thing for me. I love a building and so I'm drawn to using them in my work for that reason alone but when I first started collaging with buildings I realized that it wasn't enough to just use bits of my favorites, I wanted to be a kind of architecture frankenstein and build this monstrous new thing out of disparate parts- I wanted to steal the spaces and change them into my own thing. It was about claiming my place in the city and sort of staking my claim to something that I felt was really beautiful and huge and definitely un-claimable by most traditional methods.

So lately I've been use buildings as kind of cages for little peeking faces, but when I make pieces that are moe about me and my experience, the architecture is like an armor built up around the figure. Like the ultimate voltron that I get to live inside and pilot. Man I'm really coming across as a psycho in this interview...

8. The narrative of every piece you create is incredibly deep and you always seem to find new ways to tell these stories. How important is the relationship between storytelling and innovation to you?

Well, I was trained as an illustrator and I'm also a comic artist (though I very rarely talk about it because I'm a real nervous weirdo about my comics) so storytelling is really important to me in art. A lot of my favorite artists are illustrators and I think the way they approach images has kind of soaked into my process. Or I hope it has anyway. I try to leave myself open to telling the story however it needs to happen. I don't know if I could ever bring myself to use the word innovative to describe my own work but I try to make the best things I can without constricting them!

9 Your work, be it through the vintage elements or the subject matter, is rather dark but there are occasional splashes of color, light emerging from places not typically seen in your work. What's different in the decision making process of the lighter pieces? They often depict some sort of nature as the colorful bit, is this a deliberate contrast to other things in your work? Another specific meaning? Or does it vary?

I'm one of those weirdos that makes "dark art" but doesn't always see it that way. Obviously the ones that involve literal surgical imagery are creepy and there's literal viscera but those are about taking back control of a body for me. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac and the idea of actually controlling what's inside a body is very comforting to me. I am the surgeon and the doctor and the creator. Yikes.

But yeah, a lot of my work is about comfort, at least for me. A hiding space in a harsh landscape, or a calm moment in the midst of chaos. I think collage is about organizing, piecing together separate things until they work together. In that way, my work is ALWAYS kind of a positive thing, if only for me.

I do use plants and natural bits as a contrast since most of the other elements I use in my work can be so harsh and geometric, or if they're organic it's a crumpled sepia photo of a person long since dead. I hope any of this actually answers that question.

10. You've been doing some collaborative work recently, are these experiences that you've been enjoying? How do your collaborations come about? How does your process or what you're doing vary when working with someone else as opposed to by yourself?

Oh man, I'm so grateful for these collaborations. I was getting into a little bit of a rut. I was unintentionally repeating some imagery, not necessarily because I had more to say but because I was kind of on autopilot? Or this was becoming my fear anyway. So shaking my process up and accepting a new viewpoint into my work was UNBELIEVABLY HELPFUL for me to get into a new groove and now I'm pretty excited about the things I've been making. I'm not sure how other people will feel about what I do but I know that I feel better making it.

As for how these happened, most were set up with close friends whose work I respect and who relate to the kind of stuff I want to make. In one rare case I was approached by someone on instagram and for some reason it just felt like the right thing to do. I have to say, 99% of the time I don't want to collaborate with someone I don't know, just because my work is so personal and collaboration takes a whooole lot of trust.

11. Finally, Plug yourself! Where can people find you? (website, IG, Facebook, etc.) Any exciting new projects coming up? Any new shows coming up? Anything and everything you can share, let's hear it!

haha, I'm so bad at this part. Follow me on instagram I guess, that's where I post most and where I talk about my upcoming stuff. I'm @AlexEckmanLawn on there. As for whats coming up, I'm going to be in some really cool group shows coming up, 13th Hour at Last Rites in New York, a Still Life themed show at Arch Enemy Arts in Philly, a Halloween show curated by Sam Heimer at the Convent in Philly, and the WOWxWOW square show opening September 6th!

I'm also working on a split solo show for Outre gallery in Australia next year that coincides with Matt Gordon aka Moon Patrol's first ever book release, as well another solo show from Mick Monster! Super stoked about this one.

Also Carmen Maria Machado's new memoir "In The Dream House" comes out in November of this year with my art on the cover, featuring impeccable design by Kimberly Glyder. I feel very lucky to have worked on this, definitely don't miss it.

Whew! I should get back to work!

Check out Shrine, the print Alex Eckman-Lawn has for sale exclusively on the DELI! Get yours while supplies last:


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