Interview with Alexander Philippe

Fellow artist Alexander Philippe asks me the meaning of life and other tricky questions.

SF 20/21 Preview Gala

Philippe: When did you know you that you will be pursuing art/an art career?

Teichert: My great grandmother Minerva (awesome name btw) was an early 20th century muralist. I looked up to her and wanted to be like her as a child. After encountering a lot of detours along the way, here I am presently, on the intended path.

Philippe: In our current society obsessed with meaning, does art need meaning?

Teichert: Is our society obsessed with meaning? I think we’re obsessed with meaninglessness. If you want to be relevant, make work that means nothing.

Philippe: What is the role of traditional art in our contemporary society?

Teichert: Traditional art gives us something to marvel at and think, “How did they do that?” I’m always in awe of the old masters’ craftsmanship given the resources they had at hand. I certainly don’t mix my own pigment.  I admire classical painting, but am unimpressed with some of the subject matter of Renaissance revivalists.

I encountered a pack of kids in art school that I nicknamed the Old Masturbators. It’s great that you spent 150 hrs on that and I think that you’re an excellent draftsman bro, but fruit bowls are a bore.

Philippe: Does a person need to go to art school to become an artist?

Teichert: To quote BJ Palmer, “Many a great man is born, has within him greatness, and dies great, stifled because his education can’t take it, his education won’t let him, his education ridicules him, and the educations of his family or friends keep him submerged.”

I went to art school and improved vastly as an artist while there, but there was a point of diminishing marginal utility. A point when throwing more money into the sinkhole wasn’t going to make me more prepared for a life as an artist. I’m still learning and evolving. Going to art school didn’t make me an artist. Practicing art does.

Philippe: What major sacrifices did you have to endure to sustain being an artist/creating art?

Teichert: Conventional employment.

Philippe: Did you ever feel defeated as an artist?

Teichert: Totally. I have a folder on my desktop entitled Failed Proposals.

Philippe: What is the role of an artist in our current society?

Teichert: Court jester

Philippe: In your own words, what is an artist?

Teichert: That’s as hard to answer as What is Art? Who am I as an artist- someone who wants to use art as visual communication-a vehicle for questioning, observation, reflection and satire.

Philippe: What medium do you prefer to work on?

Teichert: I’m democratic when it comes to materials. Whatever medium best conveys my vision will do, though I am partial to making BIG THINGS. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a penis of my own.

Philippe: What is success to you as an artist?

Teichert: Ideally, I’d like to pay my rent on time, but that’s success in any business. Success as an artist means waking up and creating by whatever means possible. I get satisfaction from making something out of nothing.

Philippe: Does art change the world or does the world change the artist?

Teichert: We are all receptors of our surroundings, whether we want the osmosis or not. The world does affect us, and some of us hope to return the favor.

Philippe: Is art the ultimate savior?

Teichert: There are artists who believe they are saviors (ah hem, Damien Hirst).

Philippe: Artist dead or alive you would want to collaborate with?

Teichert: John Baldessari or Cindy Sherman

Philippe: How do you deal with criticisms?

Teichert: Badly. I work though a cycle of indignant anger, name calling, sedation and then acceptance. I joke, I joke.  Though criticisms do hurt.  I always keep in mind that not everyone is as intelligent as me, and therefore, cannot grasp my genius.

Philippe: Is rejection necessary for the growth of an artist?

Teichert: If it is then I’m a giant.

Philippe: Is the art world corrupt?

Teichert: I would say, like most winner take all industries (see modeling, acting, music), visual art is not a meritocracy. Great actors do Shakespeare in the park while hacks rake in the dough at the box office in a blow up film. Institutions ordain individuals based on something other than merit. Hell if I know what their criteria are, but if they wanted to ordain me with a MacArthur Grant I wouldn’t call them out for corruption.

Art is not fair. There is way more supply than demand for new art, and the business model does not favor new artists. If you think that’s corruption then I suggest you find yourself a new path. Make art because it satisfies you. Oh, and don’t quit your day job. Most of us have one (or many).

Philippe: Die struggling or live long and burn out? 

Teichert: I’m going to be a crazy old cat lady affixing abalone shells to the fence of my cabin in Big Sur and selling tchotchkes to tourists on their way through. The definition of a simple life is open to interpretation. Martyrs are terribly unattractive.

New Zealand Journal

IMG_3114 copyArmed with a borrowed backpack and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I set off to New Zealand flanked by a specific set of travelers. Next to me, an elderly couple (locals I presume) presented a corollary between raising sheep and the joys of economy air travel. A few rows behind, but well within earshot, sat a group of tittering teens reveling in their first unchaperoned adventure. Populating the remainder of the cabin was a slew of middle class quarterlifers, predominately male, many of whom would return stateside with a regrettable Maori tattoo to show for his time.

There’s something both charming and cliché about searching for yourself in an exotic land. The burden of American unexceptionalism is a heavy cross to bear. My entire generation joined the work force expecting the gold stars our parents and teachers bestowed so liberally in our youth. I was failing, or at least flailing, through adulthood and on the brink of some sort of crack.

Hell, half of my girlfriends were becoming yoga instructors, so I knew I wasn’t the only one grasping for consciousness or at least limping away from a life of denial. I had left San Francisco with a lot on my mind. The remnants of an old relationship were failing to fade away gracefully. My art career was a sinkhole. A curated online persona may have fooled some, but unfortunately, I still new the truth. Instinct and popular fiction indicated I was bound for a life dulled by antidepressants and pacified with designer handbags if I didn’t right my course. Travelling alone when navigating the choppy waters of existential crisis gives you a lot of time to think. Or in my case, blink back tears under your scarf while pretending to sleep.

NZA prison of politeness, economics and engineering, the 747-400 lumbered across the Pacific through the night.  I sat trapped by a tray table of half eaten swill, looking up with hopefulness every time a stewardess passed by, shifting restlessly until the refuse cart finally came to relieve me.  California law protects poultry against similar confinement.

Thirteen hours later I awoke in Auckland in time to sprint outside to the domestic terminal. All the while, earning new blisters in my recently acquired hiking boots, clammy under the weight of my pack and three layers of outerwear. In a state of relief at having made my connection, I barely had time to marvel at the general lack of security and the flight attendant’s nonchalance as my bag overhung into the aisle, too large to fit in the overhead compartment of the tiny prop plane.

Jessica, a family friend, awaited me in Nelson. She had been removed from our pastoral upbringing for fifteen years now and was no stranger to the perils of maintaining one’s mythology. Several years my senior and a closer friend to my late older sister, Jess had always been a reference point as the one that got away. We had grown up in a ranching community so small it didn’t warrant classification as a town. In a tiny K-8 schoolhouse, my affections volleyed between her younger brothers intermittently. I can assure you, at least two of their names were scrawled in my little pink diary and guarded under lock and key.

In the years since leaving Ruby Valley, Jess had worked as a wardrobe stylist on a few mystical film sets adjusting loincloths, cloaks and prosthetic feet. Bouncing from LA to New York to Sydney to Bali and probably a few other places in between, she was, to an onlooker, the perfect expat.

Though Jess appeared to have her shit together, she too was at an impasse financially, living in a turquoise motel with a good natured but unambitious surfer and ignoring letters from the IRS. A TV project she was working on had just wrapped, and with nothing new on the horizon, it was the perfect time to respectively waste our savings on a monumental trip.

Curbside, I tossed my pack into her station wagon already smelling of patchouli and damp wetsuits. It would be our home for the next few weeks and would undoubtedly smell a lot worse by the time we were finished with it. Several hours winding through emerald hillsides brought us to the northern reaches of the South Island, a strip of land called Farewell Spit, or to the Maori, Tuhuroa.

We made camp at Wharariki Beach which touted itself as the Eye of the Kiwi, acknowledging the coastline’s resemblance to the beloved national bird. The holiday park was maintained by a red faced German in his early 30’s, likely a backpacker who stayed on in Neverland to reign over the Lost Boys.

As it so happened, I was contemplating such a move myself. Abdicating on a distant island seemed just the remedy for all that ailed me. Returning home to work on the ranch resounded of failure, though, disappearing into the ferns to live peacefully held much of the same appeal without the prodigal shame. New Zealand was a hemisphere away from my problems, but as Jessica’s experience verified, it would not entirely solve them.

A dinner of campfire lamb was made palatable by a minty smothering of jelly and gulps of sweet local wine. Perhaps it’s just semantics, but where I come from, the term lamb isn’t bandied about so loosely; that sheep tasted a bit long in the tooth if you ask me.

Perched in the tall grasses of the dune, Jess and I drunkenly recounted the antics of childhood hooliganism and zany relatives. Strange, upside down stars emerged, and our drunken giggles faded into quiet reflection. There’s an unspoken understanding between friends who have known all versions of each other, in the same moment humbling you and setting you free.

The abyss of adulthood still loomed before me, but I found comfort in knowing that I wouldn’t be alone out there. Unburdened by the necessity to do our own PR, Jess and I sat in silence staring up at the southern sky.