In Depth with Eric Standley

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
Jun 11, 2015 1:03PM

The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art recently opened Eric Standley: In Depth. Standley, a professor at Virginia Tech, has gained a loyal following from creating intricate paper wall sculptures. There is a visual alchemy in them that almost seems magical. Layers upon layers of colored paper reveal intricate, obsessive detail and seem to go on forever. Yet they also possess a familiarity; a quality that encourages recognition and a sense of déjà vu. Art history, from the beginning of time, provides touchstones that have led to their creation. Gothic rose windows and Islamic architecture are an easy connection. Despite this, they are unique. To make this type of art requires extreme patience, an ability to visualize spatial relationships in three dimensions and a passion bordering on the neurotic. 

Eric Standley: In Depth at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art 

The journey for Standley began while he was working on another project involving a laser cutter and cereal boxes. He noticed how interesting the finished cut pieces looked when stacked. This led to further laser experiments and evolved to the type of work in his exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). The process to create a single sculpture is intense. First, Standley creates a vector drawing containing each layer of paper in the sculpture. Any decision made about a specific layer affects the outcome of the entire work. Each sculpture can have anywhere from fifty to over two hundred layers.  He constantly experiments to push beyond what he has already accomplished, by adding layers, and working with different shapes and sizes. Both the software he uses and the frames he uses are at their physical limits. After the drawings are complete, Standley laser cuts, cleans the edges and stacks each layer of paper for completion. 

The title for many of the works begin with the words Either/Or. This is in reference to an essay written by early 19th century philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, considered by many to be the father of Existentialism. Like much of the writing attributed to Kierkegaard, the ideas contained in Either/Or are complex and fill many books and doctoral theses in their consideration. Standley is simply acting on his own interpretation without overt concerns about the opinions of Kierkegaard’s learned scholars. It is about choice, responsibility and outcomes. 

Contemporary tools of computer and laser cutter marry beautifully with the mathematical exploration found throughout art history. The geometric shapes of circles, tetragons or arches are divided again and again. The slightest change in a given detail will create an entirely new work. The possibilities are endless. With the creation of each piece takes the artists one step closer to the infinite.

By Heather Hakimzadeh, Curator, Virginia MOCA

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art