From within a hollowed–out cavern in an ancient statue, a face peeks through. Shadowed and half–hidden, wearing an expression of guarded innocence, it gazes evenly to the outside world like a child in a hiding place waiting to be found. The layers of cut paper framing its countenance resemble cut–open flesh, as if the statue itself has been tunneled through to reveal a living soul trapped inside.
The piece, titled Antiquity, is one of many featured in Recessive, a solo exhibition of works by artist Alex Eckman–Lawn, which is on view at the Paradigm Gallery in Queen Village through December 6th. The Philadelphia–born artist’s debut show with the gallery is comprised of multi–layered, hand–cut paper collages, achieving both emotional and physical depth within the two–dimensional. Each work features an outer shell of some form, whether human or reimagined, with its surface eroded over many layers to reveal its hidden depths. The outer shells of many pieces are antique sculptures or portraits, embodying living in the ruins of past generations and being caged in by events and decisions that came before.
At its core, Eckman–Lawn’s work hints at the influence of history and family background, and how an individual’s origin shapes and defines their life. In addition, the artist incorporates an anatomical theme that is key. “I’m a hypochondriac,” he says. “I’m convinced I’m dying all the time, so being in control of a collage feels really calming for me. For once, I get to decide what’s in a body.” As a result, he assembles interiors from an assortment of images ranging from temples to snakes to leaves to old medical photographs of “weird meat,” as he describes with a laugh.
Due to his experience as an illustrator, Eckman–Lawn drew inspiration from a broad swath of popular culture, from Moebius to movies to music. “I’ve been a huge dork my entire life,” he says. Having done extensive work with digital album cover and comic illustrations, he eventually felt the need to bring his art into a more tangible, material form. “Sometimes you feel like you’re just throwing art into the abyss when you’re doing work on the internet,” he reflects. Creating paper collages allowed him to work hands–on with paper, mimicking his process on the computer in real life.
Recessive was a culmination of this work, allowing Eckman–Lawn to confront aspects of himself, his family, and country that were difficult to face. To some viewers, the exhibition may seem dark upon first glance. However, from Eckman–Lawn’s perspective, Recessive is not so much about violence or torment as it is about survival and resilience. However, he prefers to leave the slate blank when it comes to interpreting his art. Instead, he is happiest when viewers have the freedom to walk away with their own distinct takeaways.
In one memorable instance, a woman relayed that one of his collages—a Classical sculpture with a tooth dangling in her hollowed–out mouth—helped her reflect on her own personal struggle with ovarian cancer. Eckman–Lawn equates the audience’s ownership of the art with his own. “The art is personal, but it’s not all about me,” he says. “Once it’s on the wall, I don’t feel like it’s mine anymore.”