Alex Tieghi-Walker, Founder and Creative Director of TIWA Select
Originally from Wales, Alex has lived, worked and studied all over the globe and currently come to rest in California. Here, he initially lived in a redwood barn in Berkeley. This also became the first showroom for TIWA Select, his very carefully curated gallery and platform that represents self-taught artists working mostly in traditional folk-craft practices. The most recent TIWA Select show, Big Plates, took place on the East Coast, and presented large dishes created by thirteen artists in the woods of Stone Ridge, New York.
Before all this, though, there was more history than seems feasible for someone barely into their thirties. Alex studied in Buenos Aires before getting his first job at the Venice Biennale, worked for Vice in London for a while and commissioned films and stories for digital video channel NOWNESS. On moving to the States, he first worked at a winery before joining the team at Pop-Up magazine. Then there’s his last major solo project, self-publishing The Anonymous Sex Journal, which prints often slightly awkward real-life sexual stories, with each issue having a theme, and each story illustrated by an artist.
We caught up with Alex straight after his first holiday in well over a year.
Did you always know you’d end up working in the creative arena in some way?
I’m from a pretty creative family; my father is a ceramicist, my maternal grandmother made textile works, and there are various actors and writers in my family, so it’s been nice to grow up in a home that values and encourages creativity, and the pursuit of a creative career.
I was always very creative at school, but I didn’t like the rigidity of art class, which was a shame: I feel if it had been taught a little less ‘out-of-the-book’ then I might have pursued going to art school, and would have got to doing what I’m doing now a bit sooner!
How did you get your first break into that world?
My first internship was at Wallpaper* Magazine, right before I went to university. When I finished my degree, I hit up my old boss, the magazine’s Photography Director Claudia Donaldson, who had since moved over to NOWNESS; she brought me on board to work with her on the photo team, which was really exciting, given the turnover of work in both photo and film. Baptism of fire!
Did you spend a lot of time visiting galleries when you were growing up?
Very much so. My entire childhood was spent traveling and visiting museums, archaeological sites, cathedrals… My mother was an academic and historian, so made it her purpose to give me the most immersive education outside of school. I associate galleries and museums as a place to really step back and slow down; working in London, I would go to the British Museum on my lunch break just to sit on a bench in a gallery and think. I still do that here in California when I can squeeze it in.
How do you describe what you do when you first meet someone?
Now it’s a lot easier because my sole project is TIWA Select (“I work with self-taught artists and have a gallery space in L.A…”) but beforehand I described myself more as a storyteller, communicating visually by commissioning and working with photographers and filmmakers, and through my own writing.
What made you decide to start TIWA Select?
I think I’d always fantasised about opening a shop. I didn’t realize that I would leapfrog the traditional shop model and go straight into opening a gallery that guided and supported, and represented artists whose work I would then sell. I still try to keep the aim of TIWA Select a bit nebulous – part-shop-part-gallery-part-studio – but I think that allows people to make what they want out of it. Essentially my aim is to connect self-taught artists and makers and give them the same type of platform or space to showcase their work that more classically trained artists are given.
What do you look for in the artists whose work is shown at the gallery?
Most of the artists I collaborate with work very intuitively and instinctively. I think the joy of being self-taught is that you haven’t been bound by a defined career path, or been told to do something/not do something by institutions. A lot of the makers are experimenting, working in new materials. There is room for mistakes and sometimes those mistakes become part of the beauty of a piece. It’s inspiring to see people with no ego creating work.
What prompted the relocation to California?
I was just partying and working too hard in London and I wanted to move somewhere that was a bit calmer. I’d spent time traveling around California as a teenager and just always felt very connected to it. Northern California feels a bit like Wales. Dark ancient forests and mountains and a rugged coastline, little hippy enclaves and wet, dank winters. I love it! I moved to L.A. about a year ago for my (now ex) boyfriend and had been nervous about living in a big city again, but in all honesty, it’s been really wonderful, and I have a great community here. I love the smells, the hills and canyons… the sense of possibility… it’s a cliché but it’s true. Los Angeles is having a design moment, it feels. The access to space and resources seems to be a big draw for creators.
Do you have any favourite galleries within the state?
L.A. has more museums per capita than any other city outside of Europe. Not many people know that. But then you think and it makes sense. As well as a couple of great public museums, L.A. has some of the most expansive and thorough private art collections like the Getty, the Broad, the Huntington Museum and Garden. The latter has a collection of pre-1900 folk art from the USA that I really enjoy. Elsewhere in California, I’m particularly fond of Creative Growth in Oakland, which is an organization that provides studio space and gallery representation to artists with developmental disabilities. It’s a hive of wonderful creativity, and their shows are always so playful and brilliant.
Are you a practising artist yourself?
I guess what makes someone a practicing artist is such a blurry area, especially in the field of design and art that I’ve chosen to focus on. I’m not sure many folk artists or makers necessarily consider themselves artists, it’s all how their work gets framed. I don’t make anything concrete with my hands, but I create spaces and environments and moments… ‘installations’ of sorts that aim to immerse people, educate people, while being visually pleasing, thought-provoking, telling stories that should be told.
Could you tell us about what inspired the recent Big Plates Show in New York state?
Back in June, I asked all the artists I work with to create a mezcal cup. The brief was simply that. “Make a mezcal cup” – I wanted to see how the artists would respond, what they would make. The pieces were wildly different across the gamut. Some artists made very literal sipping cups, and others interpreted the brief way more loosely. I guess for the next brief, in the summer, I wanted to challenge them to make something bigger. So, making Big Plates felt like a fun direction. Some artists were really challenged, with limitations on production like the size of their kiln. Others used new materials like stone and wood. It was really fun!
What can we look forward to in the next edition of The Anonymous Sex Journal?
Ha! Who knows? I’d love to make another… time permitting. But nothing planned yet.
Do you have your eye on any artists whose work you’d like to see as part of TIWA Select?
Oh gosh, yes. Many. I’m always looking for new artists. I keep having fantasies about moving back to Europe and seeing what TIWA looks like in the context of a different culture. But I’m still learning about new American artists and makers, so I’ll be here for a bit longer, I think.
What’s do you have planned next for TIWA Select?
This year I’m putting on an ambitious three shows, with self-taught artists working in glass, wood, and textile. The focus of each show will be the artist working in a new medium, or learning a new practice based on a change of location. The gallery and shop will continue to operate how they have been, but the shows will really spotlight how flexible it can be to create work when you are not bound by a specific art education or training.