The luckiest man alive – Glass interviews artist Alex Echo


The work of artist Alex Echo – vibrant abstracts with thick layers of paint – literally drip off the canvas. Taking inspiration from various sources  Impressionism, the Pre-Raphaelites and minimalism, the American artist has also worked with Sir Paul Smith to create patterns for the fabric used in his SS2011 collection. Throughout his 35-year career as an artist Alex Echo has attracted the attention of some very high profile collectors including Prince Rainier of Monaco, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Downey Jr., Cindy Crawford and Jimmy Carter.

Having a great love and respect for nature, Echo ensures that his work is sustainable by using the highest quality water-based paint and non-toxic resin. Even collecting the drips and spills of paint to be dried and used for future large-scale paintings. Glass caught up with Echo in London recently.

Alex Echo photographed by Justin van VlietAlex Echo. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

You’ve had quite a turbulent past. Setting up several galleries, then going on to lose them and now returning with an incredible success. Has that influenced your art in any way?
It was certainly a full life. I’m still young so hopefully a long full life. But, does it influence my art? You know, all I’ve ever known is art work, so my skill-set is digging ditches … or washing dishes or painting paintings. So I had to keep up the art, that meant travelling all over the world, just trying to make your way. It’s given me a big world perspective and an art history perspective.

My past only influences my work in that I am extremely grateful to be a painter, I now know how precious this gift is, and it is a gift. I know that anyone on earth can be an artist, any 10 per cent of someone can be a famous artist but not everyone realises that is such a precious gift. That is what influences my art the most is that I recognise how precious this is. I wake up in the morning and I come down and I spill paint and people pay me for it, and that’s amazing. And if my past has given me anything it’s given me 35-40 years of practice. So now it’s just joy … it’s just joy. I recognise that every single day.

Bang! by Alex EchoBang! by Alex Echo

I live in a state of gratitude every single day, and that’s what my past has given me. It was turbulent. It was wild. It was excessive. It was really fun. It was Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Monte Carlo, Paris and Amsterdam, it was very wild, and I thank God because I use the phrase for myself, “I didn’t know any better.” I didn’t go to art school. I have no formal training. I just didn’t know any better, so I just stumbled.

I fell down a lot, and got back up and make different kinds of paintings and stumble and open an art gallery in Denver and stumble and open an art gallery in Rockport, Massachusetts and stumble, have fun, open up a gallery in East Hampton, New York and stumble and go broke and crash and burn and stand back up. And it’s given me a really nice world perspective. It all comes down to you now, and gratitude.

Alex Echo photographed by Justin van VlietAlex Echo. Photograph: Justin van VlietAlex Echo. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

That’s a good attitude. I want to set up a gallery, so I’ll just set one up.
I loved artwork. I grew up in Denver, Colorado. That’s not the art capital of the world by any stretch of the imagination. I used to have to ask my mother to buy me Vogue Magazine because that’s where I could find pictures of art in Denver. You were in a tech industry, or the oil business or cattle ranching. I wasn’t in Oil, Tech or Cattle, I was just a weird little kid that loved art.

Who would show my artwork? But I knew I wanted to show my artwork, so the next best thing was, ok, I’ll rent a space, give it a name and open the doors to the public, and I did and that was the trajectory. I just didn’t know any better. I had no rules, I was very lucky, I had no rules. What do I want to do? Let’s do that! So I was lucky.

Painting by Alex EchoPainting by Alex Echo

You mentioned growing up with Vogue, and looking around us I see a lot of books about fashion. Does this influence your art?
I think fashion is unbelievably important, I think it’s important because it’s our armour. A great journalist in NYC, Bill Cunningham says, “Fashion is the armour that helps us get through this life.” Your jacket, whatever I put on, we are all in drag every single day, all of us, it’s incredibly important and then if you can do it with some sort of style and have fun with it, and maybe not go over the top … or go over the top, it doesn’t matter. It’s the flashpoint of personal design for everybody.

The great design of a men’s Savile Row suit, it’s design for me, pure design. I’ve worked with Paul Smith designing fabrics for him, I have aspirations to work and have had conversations with Louis Vuitton, and I’ve approached Missoni and I’d like to be part of that. I’d like to create textiles and have fun with that, above and beyond the static surface of a painting. I’d like to see it in 3D on someone’s body.

Recently a woman bought one of my paintings, and she was diagnosed with cancer. She loved this painting so much she contacted us and said, “Can I please have a scarf made? Would you allow me to make a scarf, so when I go to Germany to chemotherapy I can take the scarf from that painting?” My company gratefully and graciously had a scarf printed for her, and that’s fantastic for me to know that it’s serving such a great purpose. It’s just a piece of fabric, but it has my painting on it and it means something to somebody. I’d like to see that on a larger level, that’s an extremely beautiful level of application, but how amazing? I’d like to see more of that.

Atlantic Watch by Alex EchoAtlantic Watch by Alex Echo

You are a very emotional speaker. The male societal norm is to distance yourself from emotion, you have nearly the opposite, where it is unashamed, completely open and very able to express yourself. Where does that come from?
You know, Society should do whatever they want to do, it’s none of my business. For me, I’ll speak about my art and my daughter and I’ll start crying … and I get overwhelmed, not because I’m in front of people, I’m in front of people a lot. I get overwhelmed because I do. I get up in the morning and I say, “thank you” to the universe.

Into The Night by Alex EchoInto The Night by Alex Echo

I get up in the morning and I get on my knees, and the universe doesn’t require me to get on my knees, but I humble myself, I say, “Thank you, I’m glad to be alive.” I’m glad to be sober, and I’m glad to be a father, a painter, an artist. Who’s the luckiest guy in the world? Me. What makes me emotional is the fact that I recognise that.

Pow! by Alex EchoPow! by Alex Echo

And if you can recognise that without being jaded or cynical, you can be open no matter the circumstance. I’ve seen the whole world, I’ve been a bad boy, I’ve been a good boy and I’m not cynical. I’m just grateful. I sound so preachy, I apologise, it’s just where I’m at. Whatever anyone else in the world does, I don’t care, I know what I do. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

by Justin van Vliet

Alex Echo is represented by Castle Galleries and Washington Green