The Art of ElsewhereAlex Tieghi-Walker of TIWA Select
For such objects to attract the viewer, to be continuous with the easy beauty of the lemon balm and the aloes, requires a new attunement to beauty: a new craving for the difficult and the surprising.
There is an art to being elsewhere. For Alex Tieghi-Walker, the traveller’s capacity to look deeply and tread lightly is not so much a learnt skill as an inherited patterning. “Growing up, I had the chance to move between Wales and Italy, and to spend time in India and Argentina,” he explains. “It was my mother who taught me that I had to find my own particular way of participating in each new culture we entered, and perhaps it was my grandmother who gave me the shared language of craft. Travelling across continents after the Second World War, she would make patchwork quilts from fragments of textiles collected wherever she settled – carefully considered compositions, tiny hexagons of materials all stitched together, whether silks, or grain sacks, or starched cotton.”
Here in Tieghi-Walker’s Los Angeles home, the materials that surround us shape a sense of place – the matter that binds the elsewhere to the here and now. On the kitchen table, a seaweed-shade glass vase by Dana Arbib, produced in Murano and currently containing vast stems of overgrown geraniums. A line of 18th century Delft tiles above the bathroom sink, blue capillaries preserved within an eggshell-thin glaze. A hinged box installed on the wall, designed by Jeff Martin and faceted with ruched and pleated stoneware tiles, as though imitating the textiles throughout the house – nomadic surfaces sourced from Welsh woollen mills and Japanese flea markets, unrolled in preparation for imminent arrival or departure.
As we sit in the kitchen – English Breakfast tea steaming and butter quickly disappearing into unfrozen hot cross buns – there’s a sense of dislocation, of living in multiple time zones. It’s a feeling that suits the architecture of Echo Park, where houses lightly pitched on the hills appear ready to fold inwards and be transported like tents – lightly traced frameworks that quickly succumb to clematis and bougainvillea. “This is the first time that I’ve lived in a house with white walls,” says Tieghi-Walker almost apologetically, descending from the mezzanine to enter a sunroom where a painted vine unfurls across a wall. It’s here, looking back through the vertically stacked levels of the interior, that the logic of the house becomes apparent: it is a frame for everything that enters.
That organising principle reflects Tieghi-Walker’s own role as a gallerist, a curator, a host, and facilitator – the house is the domestic counterpart of Tiwa Select, his Los Angeles gallery and itinerant platform for site-specific exhibitions. Celebrating the practice of self-taught and under-recognised makers, Tiwa Select explores the possibility of directness and dignity in an art market driven by desire. “What attracts me to these artists is the depth of thought behind each work, the layers of stories,” says Tieghi-Walker. “When visitors encounter the objects, they find themselves slowing down instinctively – trying to figure out how Vince Skelly’s wooden stools manage to balance, or examining the hand-stitching of Megumi Shauna Arai’s salvaged textiles, or interpreting symbol and meaning in Jim McDowell’s intuitive face jugs.”
Throughout Tieghi-Walker’s own collection, faces are a recurring motif: ceramic heads rest heavy on bookcases, expressions are coded in engravings and drawings, curious portraits with unreadable eyes. The house has a spaciousness infused with the mood of the crowd. It is the home of a humanist, a site which regularly provides the makers of LA with an environment to gather and share meals around the large oak table in the garden; a practice ground for the gallery, where Tieghi-Walker refines his role as a conduit and connector. “If the artist is the chef, then I’m the waiter, serving their work in a way which allows it to be truly appreciated.”
Tiwa Select is a quiet act of resistance within a culture of quick consumption and sprawling over-production. In a small room set apart from the rest of the house, objects are stored before being transported to the gallery; a desk is stacked with yellow envelopes, and the adjacent day bed suggests a steady rhythm of industry and rest. Expressive vessels and twisted metal suggest a counterpoint to measure and order; on a high shelf, a buck-toothed ceramic head by Jim McDowell plays the role of anarchic guardian spirit, and a worktable is scattered with Skye Chamberlain’s contorted copper candle sconces. For such objects to attract the viewer, to be continuous with the easy beauty of the lemon balm and the aloes, requires a new attunement to beauty: a new craving for the difficult and the surprising. Tiwa Select simultaneously unearths and serves that craving, subtly recalibrating the values of a city notoriously beholden to lifestyle – a direction of desire which finds its most authentic expression in the impulse for more and more life.
Tieghi-Walker casts open the French windows, transforming the room from a shadowed enclave to an extension of the garden. He picks up one of the metal sconces, revealing its ecstatic angles and inconstant patina. “These are made from the offcuts of other metalwork projects – so when someone orders a sconce, they have no idea what form it will take.” Perhaps, momentarily, there will be a jarring, an uncertainty of purchase. To have received something you do not fully understand – to live alongside it, and to grow to love it more even as you understand it less. Perhaps this is our most human way of relating to something other; whether a person, a place, or a new source of domestic illumination.