A Cut Above | Eric Standley


On the surface, Eric Standley’s multi-dimensional laser-cut paper art is startlingly intricate. It is strongly influenced by Christian and Islamic architecture. Eye-catching whether in a gallery or in the basement studio of his home, Eric’s delicate yet robust works invite closer inspection and the urge, which must be firmly stifled, to touch and explore their many layers.

Eric, 49, is an Associate Professor of Studio Art at Virginia Tech. His work can be found in private collections, pinned on Pinterest and in one Middle Eastern palace. He combines cutting-edge tools with geometric principles, such as the Fibonacci sequence, to create sprawling, spiraling designs that are laser-cut into sheets of colored paper. Those sheets are then stacked to build stunning compositions.

Talking with Eric about his work and creative process uncovers layers of meaning and an artistic journey that started with a humble Cheerios box. Eric says he started playing with the idea of “elevating the banal” and began carving designs out of Cheerios boxes with one of the three laser printers in Virginia Tech’s art department. To conserve the limited supply of cereal boxes he had collected, Eric used sheets of construction paper to practice, and was intrigued to see new designs form when he happened to pile the sheets on top of one another. That “lightbulb” moment launched a new obsession that has evolved over a period of several years into his current work.

Kismet, 2017, Cut paper, wood and gold leaf, 24 x 24 x 3 inches | Above: Kismet (detail)

“I like the thought that faith itself is a unifying bond across religions. Within each individualized human need to believe, there is intrinsic commonality. Maybe this commonalty can be expressed visually.” –Eric Standley

A new design begins in drawings in his sketch book, which are then are transferred to the computer, where Eric expands and refines his ideas in Corel Draw. “I work from event to event in a composition,” he ex-plains, with an “event” being an element that, in his mind, needs to happen. The challenge is getting from event to event. With their intricate designs, the individual layers of paper can be very fragile. But layering scores of papers makes the work as a whole relatively solid and stable. “It’s a process that I discover and re-fine as I go,” he notes.

Depending on its complexity, a work might take a year to complete, with months devoted to the drawing process. Sheets of paper with the most complicated designs could take a whole day for a laser printer to produce. The highest number of layers he’s included in a work is 289, but he usually sticks to between 120 and 200. Eric says it gets difficult to keep track after 200 layers.

There’s no shortage of inspiration, from Gothic architecture to his everyday surroundings. Eric’s artistic sensibilities see patterns everywhere. He says he can’t look out of a window without his eyes settling on a pleasing composition. “What makes the work authentic to me is my obsessive need to freely organize space and color,” he says. “Historically, I believe all artists were compelled to organize things that were relentlessly beckoning them.”