If you're a fan of dark art and the montage medium, there's a really great chance that you've already seen the work of Alex Eckman-Lawn on the internet. The combination of new contemporary digital work with old imagery from medical books are melded into multi-layered cacophony that's the literal definition of depth. His work has been seen on some of your favorite metal albums, in comic books, in galleries, on posters and most recently on the cover of books. Alex was truly a good sport as we asked him all sorts of questions involving necromancy, artistic movements and dug into why Philly seems to be THE place to be an Artist in this day and age.
Please tell us your name and what you do.
Hey, I'm Alex Eckman-Lawn and I'm a Philadelphia based illustrator and collage artist.
A lot of artists have been on our radar from the Philly area. What makes Philly a rad place to be a creator? Can you talk more about the community and why (or why not) you think this is a great place for art?
Haha, have you been reading my diary!?? I couldn't agree more! I have been screaming about how Philly is going through some sort of Renaissance lately and I feel super lucky to be a part of it (or at least living here during it). There are so many talented people here right now, and the Art scene is pretty inclusive compared to a lot of other places. I think there's a kind of "we'll show'em all!" underdog attitude that's hung around from when Philly was more of a punchline and that's really helping to fuel the scene at the moment. Or maybe that's just my own petty motivation, haha!
Practically speaking, Philly is still relatively affordable and there are a bunch of galleries run by younger people who are trying to do something interesting. Also, the city is beautiful. I'm a big dork for architecture and you can find amazing buildings eeeeverywhere. It's a really inspiring place to live if you like dusty old grime, or impossibly beautiful structures, or a great vegan breakfast.
It's hard to quantify the amazing juxtapositions and dreamy details of your work in one concise sentence. Can you talk more about your collage work, where you derive inspiration and what (if anything) you hope others feel when they look at these pieces?
Jeez, thank you! I get inspiration from a lot of places (one of the cool things about working in collage is you can pull from anywhere) but I was trained as an Illustrator and I still think of my work in terms of a story. As I said earlier, I love buildings and architecture, in particular, older more ornate stuff. I like how small an enormous structure can make me feel, both physically and in terms of how much work and craft and labor went into making them. For an anxious person like me it can be extremely comforting to feel less significant if that makes any sense.
So I think of collage as kind of organizing chaos, piecing together separate things until they work together in a new way. This helps me to feel much more calm, and I hope some of that comes across to people who look at my work. For instance, the more anatomical stuff came about because I was looking for a way to feel in control of a body. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac and the idea of actually controlling what's inside a body is so satisfying/calming that the process can kind of lead the work for me at times. I hope people feel some of that calm when they look at my work, but if not that's okay too.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how the past shapes us and how history can feel like a prison. Like there's these dusty old monuments and ancient ideas that are all piled up on top of us and we're just slowly trying to push our way out as they crumble. So there's hope in this for me because those monuments ARE starting to crumble away, but I guess I hope to survive long enough to see it all gone. It's a race to become dust!
How do you decide to work with a particular photograph that you find? Where do you get most of your images?
I pour over hundreds and hundreds of images from public domain photo libraries, trying to find what feels right for a series or illustration I'm working on- or sometimes I just dig through trying to find something that I have a reaction to and then I store it away in the AEL vault for future use. This of course leads to an ever-expanding catalogue of images that I then sift through again until I find the right thing/lose my mind.
There's so much out there and sometimes it feels like every image has so much potential that I'm like a ravenous maniac weirdo just trying to scoop all of the stuff into my bag because I want every last bit! Clearly I'm pretty far along into losing my mind already.
I also occasionally collaborate with people, usually someone I've known and respected for a long time.
Favorite Artistic movement throughout history?
Hahaha, this question is unfair! I love so much art, I don't think I can choose just one but I do really love symbolism, Expressionism, Art Nouveau, later Surrealism. But you know what I'm a big dork and I also love romantic landscapes because I'm not made of stone!
The truest most embarrassing answer is I love Illustration and comics. Moebius, Otomo, Jack fucking Kirby? Who could say those guys aren't the best at what they do. Oh, also, I have ultimate reverence for like every artist that worked at Capcom in the 90s. Those guys defined my childhood.
What made you decide you wanted to be an artist? What was that decisive moment and the inspiration leading up to it?
Oh, perfect segue! It was absolutely comics and videogames. I used to copy pages out of my favorite comics and like draw sonic the hedgehog from the instruction booklet of Sonic 2. One time I drew Ken from street fighter doing a hurricane kick and I was so proud I showed my parents who were understandably underwhelmed. Anyway, it wasn't soon after this that I knew I wanted to take art seriously and make as much of it as I could, even if I was garbage at it.
My parents have always been shockingly supportive, despite my drawings having been (and still to this day are) embarrassing nerdy trash!
What does dark art mean to you?
That's a tough one. I feel like that supreme court justice trying to define obscenity. Basically, "I'm not sure if I can define it but I know it when I see it." I think too often people assume dark art can only mean spooky paintings of vampires, or piles of skulls, or a very realistic digital painting of Jack Skellington or whatever. Not that those things aren't art, it's just a shame that many people don't look past that stuff. It's such an unbelievably vague title that you can hardly blame people for not knowing exactly what it means. Same goes for "New Contemporary" etc. At this point, it seems like art is so much a mishmash of different influences that you almost have to make the descriptors more general.
Maybe the best way to explain my perspective on dark art is this: try to imagine that William Blake, Max Ernst, and Caravaggio were making work right now. You could find pieces by all of them that fit neatly into the Dark Art category. To me, this says that the term describes more of a way of thinking than a way of making images, and that's really interesting to me. So maybe dark art is a way to categorize artists who confront things in themselves that are unpleasant or difficult or inevitable. As a collage artist, the concept of a movement that takes from so many different sources and has such a sprawling aesthetic is really inspiring.
Honestly, In the absence of a strictly defined movement, Art all feels like collage to me. Everything is a mash of what's come before, squeezed into new combinations. It's like trying to take all of our interests and influences, stack it all up on top of each other and see what it says we are.
Sorry if this is all the most pretentious bullshit you've ever read.
If you could travel back in time, any time, who would you want to talk to and why? What meal would you share?
Oof. I'd like to talk to Egon Schiele, but I'm afraid of what he'd say to me, haha! There are so many incredible artists that I've admired over the years but I think I'm okay with the ability to know their Art without knowing them. I struggle a lot with knowing that some of my Art history heroes were probably less admirable human beings.
Five contemporary and five time unrestrained artists who you think every single person should know about.
Contemporary: this is almost impossible to keep to 5 but here's some real good dark arts ones - Caitlin McCormack, Sean Tan, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Joao Ruas, Yaroslav Gerzhedovich (absolutely criminally overlooked! I never see anyone talking about this guy!)
For all time I'll try and just limit this to dark arts kinda artists: zdzisław beksiński, Odd Nerdrum, Käthe Kollwitz, Francisco motherfucking Goya.
What would you say to a teenage version of yourself with all that you have learned from then to now?
"you're right to spend so much time watching cartoons, reading comics and playing videogames! keep going"
A confusing, conflicted, hot topic, the role of digital in the Art world. What is the role of digital platforms for the art world in this contemporary day and age? Do you think that online art shows and platforms will replace the good old brick and mortars? We would love to hear your experience and perspective on all of these things!
Yeah, this is a real tough one. Art's in a very strange place right now and I think all of us are kind of flailing around trying to see what's gonna work and how it's gonna happen. I've shown with a few online galleries and it's generally been a pretty good experience in terms of sales and working with supportive, kind people. So yeah, I don't think it's a bad thing. That said, I absolutely think it's beyond tragic to imagine physical spaces for art disappearing. Seeing art in person is important for the viewer and the artist, not to mention the basics of human interaction that are missing in an online platform.
Obviously I live in the same year that you do so most of the Art I look at is on a screen and not in person, just like most music I hear is on Spotify or whatever. That doesn't mean I never want to go to a live show again. I think there's room for both things, as long as people still have access to art in the real world as well.
How does someone go about working with you? Are you taking commissions? How do you balance the needs of prospective clients with your own artistic integrity?
oh that's easy, just message me on Instagram or email me. I'm currently booked up through October but I will absolutely be taking commissions again soon and I'm always accepting new illustration projects.
Again, I did major in Illustration and I find it fairly natural to balance my integrity (if I've got any) with client needs. When I make work for a gallery or for myself that's it's own thing and I get to make all the choices. I'm willing and even excited to work with a client and see how we can approach a piece together to get what they need. It's a separate challenge and can be very satisfying to me. Of course, I also love when someone hires me to just do what I do, haha!
If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing? Or even, what alternative career would you pursue?
Probably sobbing into some filthy puddle in the gutter somewhere. I don't have much of a safety net - this is about the only thing I'm qualified to do. I guess I also enjoy writing, and I play the drums (pretty badly) so I could try being a failure at one of those things if this art stuff doesn't pan out.
Keep an eye on your local street corner for my withered husk of a body.
If you could give any nuggets of advice to budding creatives, what would they be?
Find a way to not give up. This is a really really stupid insane hard thing to do for a living, and some days it will absolutely kick your ass. That's fine though because the good days are the best thing ever and nothing else feels better. Just don't be afraid to get a part-time job, or "side hustle" or live with your parents for a while to save money if that's possible for you. There's no shame in not being a full-time Artist and there's nothing wrong with being rejected or failing. That stuff is all part of the process as long as you keep going and keep pushing yourself.
Also, I strongly recommend watching like a whole lot of anime and horror movies as a kid. just so many.