Studio Visit: Artist Eric Standley Is Using Lasers to Carve Eye-Popping Paper Sculptures, and Reading Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk

The artist welcomed us into his studio to show us some of his intricate layered-paper "artifacts" in progress.

Eric Standley in his studio. Photograph by Peter Means.

Artifacts—that’s the word artist Eric Standley uses to describe his meticulously assembled layers of multicolor laser-cut paper. The designation is appropriate; Standley’s intricate artworks call to mind centuries-old global decorative motifs, from mandalas and the webbed arching of Gothic cathedrals, to Islamic prayer niches with organic, tangled carvings. 

Eric Standley in his studio. Photograph by Peter Means.

Eric Standley in his studio. Photograph by Peter Means.

These artifacts, which Standley draws, laser cuts, and assembles in his studio, seem to stem from the tradition of the great art historian Aby Warburg’s unfinished Mnemosyne Atlas project, in which he sought to trace how ancient designs appeared and reappeared across cultures and epochs. With each line of paper first drawn by hand, the works are also an experiment in negative space, as each line creates a three-dimensional negative in the completed work. 

Having recently closed “Song for the Living,” his solo show at New York’s Dinner Gallery, Standley is back in the studio experimenting with designs and building new layers for his works in progress. We caught up with the artist to talk about why he can’t do without his computer’s gaming mouse for drawing, and why polemical art bores him.

Installation view "Eric Standley: Songs for the Living," 2020. Courtesy of Dinner Gallery.

Installation view “Eric Standley: Songs for the Living,” 2021. Courtesy of Dinner Gallery.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

My sketchbook and drawings in progress are the entry points to all my work, but the ULS laser, a large monitor, and a gaming mouse (for drawing) are my most uniquely essential tools. There is something supernatural about drawing in ephemera and then cutting the vectors into physical materials with photons.

Is there a picture you can send of your work in progress?  

Verum Object 4 in progress. Courtesy of Eric Standley.

Verum Object 4 in progress. Courtesy of Eric Standley.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

For most of the day, I will be building new layers for the center of Verum Object 4.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? 

I am helplessly sensitive to music. I can slip out of reality under its spell, which is good for a repetitive grind. But for the most part, I need silence to concentrate. Composing an artifact is like writing and performing a physical song. I cannot listen to music while writing new music. To be in the flow-state of my process takes a delicate combination of concentration and while maintaining an open mind. I need to listen to what I am seeing. 

Eric Standley in studio. Photo by Peter Means

Eric Standley in the studio. Photo by Peter Means

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise? 

I like evidence of faith overcoming doubt and judgment. The extraordinary leaps into the unknown by artists are acts of heroism against all odds—and I love an underdog! The artworks I want to continue a dialogue with will have the unmistakable aura achieved through heartfelt conviction and intension.

I cannot have the same relationship with something that exists for purely esthetic reasons. I have an aversion to polemics, especially declarations that purposefully manipulate reality in order to persuade, subjugate, or mislead a viewer.

What snack food could your studio not function without?

You go too far here! Let’s just say the snacks may or may not be the key to it all… .

Eric Standley’s studio. Photgraph by Peter Means.

Eric Standley’s studio. Photograph by Peter Means.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

Jason Seife (@jasonseife) is doing some amazing work right now and I love seeing his posts. Danielle Krysa (@thejealouscurator) has a great eye for interesting contemporary work. I loved working with curator Heather Hakimzadeh of MOCA VA and have a feeling our paths will cross again one day.

I read and reread Peter Sloterdijk’s work and never interpret his concepts the same way each time, likely because I can only grasp pieces that take months for me to reconcile. Truly a leading thinker of our time.

Drawing for <i>Arch 7</i> in progress. Courtesy of Eric Standley.

Drawing for Arch 7 in progress. Courtesy of Eric Standley.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

I don’t think there is stuck and un-stuck in the studio, just times when I am at my best at certain tasks. I have a job that includes play, speculation, and dreaming—elements that should never be measured with expectations. When these things start turning into tangible goals, I capitalize on my temperamental behavior by jumping around different processes of multiple projects happening at the same time.

Drawing for <i>Arch 7</i> in progress. Courtesy of Eric Standley.

Drawing for Arch 7 in progress. Courtesy of Eric Standley.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

While not an exhibition, watching the removal of the Stonewall Jackson monument in Richmond, Virginia, last July was an encouraging event of hope that impressed me. It came at a time that needed public actions, even when being in public was difficult. To see a long-standing symbol of oppression and supremacy be replaced with an index of solidarity was moving. The power of symbols should never be underestimated. The power of an index doubly so. 

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

Unagi maki with a generous amount of wasabi, ice-cold water, and the smell of saltwater in the air.  

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