Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.
Each month, we ask an influential San Diegan: What was it like for you in the beginning?
Live: I live in La Jolla in the same house that I grew up. I moved back into that house 6 years ago.
Work: La Jolla
How Long: I've worked in La Jolla on and off for 31 years.
What was the defining moment that propelled you to start your own gallery?
I was 27, had started a family, and was doing a series of terrible dead end jobs. I was trying to be an artist but came to the realization that I did not have the willingness nor the ability to live the solitary, obsessive life that I felt the type of art I wanted to do required. I opened a closet-sized gallery, sold everything out of my first show, and thought, “This is easy.” I did not sell anything else for 3 months, and was a day or two from going out of business when someone walked through the doors and bought a painting. I have been hooked ever since.
What struggles did you face when starting your own business?
The normal day to day struggles of finding clients, dealing with unscrupulous art dealers, placating egotistical artists, haggling with cheap collectors, the expenses of rent, shipping and insurance. The biggest struggle though was doing it on my own. I now have 5 people working with me. I look back and think, “How did I do that?”
What was the riskiest move you ever made?
Nothing seems that risky in my business. Sure you can get burned and lose money but in the long run it’s not brain surgery, and you are probably not going to really hurt yourself or someone else that much by selling or buying a piece of art. Financially, the riskiest move I ever made might have been moving into my new, much larger gallery space.
If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?
I would have realized earlier on that no matter how much people act like they “know” art and they are the big authorities, it is a very subjective endeavor and my thoughts on the subject are as valid as the next person. I would have worked on my modesty concerning taking a few more chances, making myself more visible, and speaking up a bit more.
Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else?
No. I got into this business because of the freedom to do what I want and that is what has kept me going. The art world is a little like the Wild West; besides the normal constraints of civilized business practices, we are able to make our own rules, define art any which way we want, move objects around the world pretty freely without a lot of tariffs or taxes, and not be tied down by many regulations.
What personality traits must a someone possess in order to do what you do and be successful?
Tenacity. Having a relatively hard shell when it comes to people being critical about your taste. A willingness to gamble. Liking and really enjoying people. Not being scared to fail. A love in discovering new things even though your first instinct is to stick with old pleasures.
In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt?
OH MY GAWD.
Peter Alexander: Perception of Desire opens at Quint Contemporary Art Saturday, April 20th (6-8pm) and runs until June 1st.
Photo by Tim Hardy.