Art history is littered with tortured genius. Dozens of brilliantly creative minds have been ravaged by personal demons, with Vincent van Gogh (depression) and Jackson Pollock (alcohol) among the most famous to have suffered over many centuries of artistic expression.
So when renowned painter Alex Echo faced a career crossroads a few years ago, it’s no surprise that dark forces threatened to close in on him. With the recession raging, a divorce looming and sales of his work drying up, the pain and hardship that has befallen so many before him was slowly tightening its relentless grip.
“My life was collapsing,” he admits. “I could have done one of two things. I could have jumped off a bridge, or paint a painting. I decided to paint a painting.”
Only a few months earlier, Alex had been in Beijing, creating a huge artwork for a big corporate client. That trip to China left him with a large supply of tester pots of his paint of choice, AkzoNobel’s Dulux vinyl matt. So he got to work. “I got this small canvas panel out and started to pour the paint on,” he explains.
“I then used a kitchen soup spoon and a kebab skewer to smear it around and make a tree. Two things immediately happened. I recognized it was beautiful and I realized that I loved doing it. I was no longer doing this conceptual, crazy artwork. I was getting my hands messy with paint again, like when I first started out 30 years earlier.”
Jumping off a bridge was now the last thing on his mind, because that one painting prompted a whirlwind of activity for Alex. Within weeks he had sold 37 paintings (sight unseen) to a major client in Austria, while top British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith snapped up one of his paintings to form the principal pattern for his women’s spring/summer 2011 collection.
Notes Alex: “All of a sudden I was achieving major sales to huge clients and securing big corporate commissions, all because of this new style I had adopted using no brushes, just a spoon, a skewer and Dulux paint.” Now in demand all over the world, over the last three years, he’s sold more than 300 original paintings, some of them selling for up to £10,000.
But what is it about Dulux that he finds so special? “The viscosity is perfect,” he says. “I use water to mix different colors and create different viscosities and, because certain pigments float or sink, I have to think three dimensionally. It’s also color fast, is made to withstand the elements and direct sunlight and is eco-friendly. Plus I can go to my local store and choose from thousands of different colors. It’s a fantastic product.”
A native of Colorado in the US but now based in Surrey in the UK, Alex has been an artist for over 35 years. His work has been bought by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Robert Downey Jr. and he has just received a top secret commission from a famous star which could lead to even more exciting opportunities. But how does he approach a blank canvas? What thought processes contribute to his creativity?
“I have an intention, but the path varies. Many times it ends up not exactly where I wanted it but better, other times not quite where I wanted it but good enough. I’m racing against time really, pouring the paint on and covering the whole surface, so I have to act very quickly. I’m effectively moving the paint around while it’s drying. It reaches a point where I can’t move it around anymore and that’s part of the joy. It forces me to make radical aesthetic decisions very quickly, so it’s essentially the medium that dictates how far I can go.”