My initial conversation with Alex Schaefer got cut short by a heinous act of art terrorism. While the saga of "the last burning bank painting" rages on, I thought I would try to ease Alex's mind, and just talk about other things. How do you think that went?
So, how are you holding up, Alex?
Whatever, you know?! I'm just having fun with it, and when you get to a certain point, where you don't give a fuck...Alright, let's not rehash all that right now. You told me you used to work on video games. What kind of work did you do?
Well, it was pretty early on in the video game thing, so it was still Sega Genesis, and Super NES stuff that I was doing in the beginning, for five years, and about four years for Disney. I contributed, basically, to every project that Disney worked on from "Little Mermaid" to "Pocahontas" and "The Lion King", all those movies. I also worked on a team that created a completely original Donald Duck game. After that I worked for Insomniac Games, on the team that came out with "Spyro the Dragon". Then, from about 2002 to probably 2008, I was just doing a lot of random stuff. NOT engaging in the art world. But I think a big influence on me was meeting John Kilduff and starting to hang out with him, to be on his show. He had such a different perspective on the art world. You know, he's always made a living as a painter, and he's got a house, and a mortgage.The guy has just never had another job his entire life.He's constantly sold paintings. He's got an eBay account from a month after eBay opened, you know? He had a YouTube account, that was so old...he had all these grandfathered in powers that they took away from people. So, he's always taken advantage of technology. He's got a whole painting booth set-up, with walls and counter weights, and he goes to every single plein air painting thing, up and down the coast, from San Diego to Laguna to Malibu to San Francisco, and sells his work. He does art fairs, all the time. The plein air is a little easier to sell then if you're just doing crazy, fine-arty stuff. It's easier to sell, just generally, to people. They understand it. To a lot of people, painting means representation. But the other thing that's hard to sell, and John's a great plein air painter...I'm good at it too. I've got a good color sense. People complement my colors and light. You know, I kind of get that really well. But the sloppy stuff, the painterly stuff, is always a harder sell. People think it's easy. It's just a different kind of hard. It's not Robert Williams butt-clenching, wrist-straining doodling, which has it's own pain in the ass suck factor.People don't realize how easily that can go wrong. I find it really difficult to paint super loose.
Yeah...and you put it on, because you like that. You know, I read Matisse saying that it's always been the illusion of spontaneity. You just sort of play it, but it's happening. That's like when John gets on the treadmill, or he's painting on his bike, or whatever. It's a way of putting on that out of control-ness. I can see why certain artists get fucked up and paint, like de Kooning. I mean, I understand that. To me, it's like jazz. Painting is like jazz, and I'm into it like that. It's not like installation art.I was going to ask you about music. You seem like a classical music guy.
Here's the truth about me and music, I grew up in a home where my parents just didn't listen to music. They had maybe five LPs. Half of them were Christmas carols, and maybe they had 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and the best of Bread, a Neil Diamond album, and then they had a few eight tracks in the car. They might pop in Dionne Warwick, or Air Supply. My parents had cheesy taste in music, and they never listened to it. So, I didn't grow up with that habit. I kind of missed out. I'm glad that I have friends that are totally into music and music history. I have them come over and just type shit into Spotify. You should just type a list for me someday of rad bands. Because, you know, I had not a lot of exposure to music.So, when you work in here, you just work in silence?
I do, often. Yeah. But I'm trying to learn to use the music, for the energy it creates, rather than just, I don't know, drink.I assume you went to art school.
I did, yeah. I went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena from '89 to '92. Art Center is an interesting place, because there's always a flow of teachers coming and going. There are only a handful of teachers, at least in the illustration department, that are just, around, you know? Then there's a lot of teachers that just come and go. I've taught there for about ten years, so I've been around for a while. But I've never been someone whose been engaged in the school life...I'm going off on a tangent. But I had some good teachers. There was some good timing that happened between me and some teachers that I came across. I was kind of late coming into the art game.I think I'm late just figuring out everything. I hope I live a long time. My grandma's 98, so...maybe I'll figure it out one day. But I came into the very notion that you could be an artist late. I had no idea what I was going to do when I was 17, and I graduated high school early...and I was clueless to life. I mean, I liked math and I thought I could go into science. But I was never really super into anything. I was good at a lot of things. I could sing well. I could harmonize. I could pick up music super easy. I could write well. But none of these things really caught fire for me. I had some kids I was in high school with, that were into movies, and then I kind of got into movie make-up, special effects, for a little bit. I volunteered to work as a P.A. on a couple student films, and that was just a nightmare. I was not cut out for that industry. I was just a mouse. I was a pipsqueak...and I didn't have any stories to tell. So, I started doing a comic strip. I saw in the newspaper that there were political cartoons and stuff, and they said to come on down to the journalism department, and we'll give you some pencils, and you can fucking draw a cartoon or something...and I GOT that somehow. I would get an article. I would read it. I would draw something. It was like, oh wow, illustration. That's what this is. Then I started taking classes and tried to put together a portfolio, and applied to Art Center and a bunch of other schools and got rejected completely. I just sucked. It was terrible. But I stuck with it for another year and a half., and I worked down in San Diego. Then I went to Mira Costa College and I took drawing classes. So, the second time I applied to Art Center, I got in. Then I was just into painting. I just loved it, and it came to me pretty naturally. The way that I understood music, color and light was easy to figure out...and that's what I teach now.So, you're still teaching there?
I do, yeah. Although I'm starting to put together some private classes. Like a six to eight student class at a place in the brewery that has the room. I want to start doing more of that. I feel guilty that Art Center costs as much as it costs. It's not just Art Center. I was talking to someone else last night at Blackstone about hoe their son is getting into debt, to the tune of $48,000.00 a year, going to some college, getting a degree in something. I mean, my God, you're going to end up $150,000.00 in debt, six percent interest rate?! That's a crime against the future! Fuck these vampires, man! The government should just come in and make it zero percent interest on these loans, and force the colleges to, across the board lower their tuition and force the loan amounts down and cram all that shit down to a reasonable level. Because it doesn't lend to a spirit of innovation and creativity that we need for a vibrant idea-based economy, if some kid graduates in all this student loan debt, and they just want any kind of job to start making money. It's...whatever. It's all part of the suck.
Note: There will be a part three of this interview. However, I make no promises as to when that will happen. In the meantime, you can usually find Alex at either Blackstone Gallery or The Hive.