A Conversation With Alex Stadler

Alex Stadler works as a painter and ceramicist, and his recent work is a series of color and composition studies - an exploration of different shapes and color vibrations that express a happy and playful exuberance.  Alex talks about his painting and his process, and shares some of the music and books that he’s been into as of late. 

1. Tell us about your Color & Composition Studies!

These are exercises that I use to work out issues of composition and color vibration- ways to figure out what I can make colors “do” and also explorations of different shapes, and what happens to them as I play with their relationship to the rectangle that surrounds them. Sometimes when they are finished they end up feeling like short form verse-poetic descriptions of a mood or experience. 

2. I love the optimistic naivety in all of your work.  Your inspiration always runs deep but it translates playfully, with everything you make being so true to you and your personality.  What do you think about when you’re making paintings or ceramics?

Thank you for those insights. While I work I try to stay in a state of play, but one that does not disregard what I know about picture making. 

I’m going for something akin to Fred Astaire‘s dancing- a modus operandi in which sophistication and technique SUPPORT a joyful, expansive  expression or exploration. It’s like trying to be 5 and 55 at the same time. 

3. How do you go about choosing color combinations?  Does it come naturally or do you ponder pairings?

It feels closest to cooking. I’ll understand somewhere in my brain that a picture wants more lemon taste or more umami or more funk and then I’ll try to cook those flavors into the color. I also enjoy making indeterminate colors- beiges that are green and also pink. Poisoning or sullying pure colors is also something I like to do. 

4. When did you begin making art?  Tell us about the journey!

Somewhere around 4 or 5 I drew a rabbit that looked like a 1970’s Rubbermaid daisy with ears and a face and I experienced what Agnes Martin called “full body joy.” Also, there was tremendous pleasure in knowing that I had rendered what was in my head in a way that other people could now experience. Communication. Then there were lots of different things I wanted to do: design scarves and textiles, write and illustrate children’s books, have a gallery/store, create ogre-ish looking but refined ceramics, so I just kind of did them (in a messy, seat of my pants way).  Lately, as painting becomes more and more important to my happiness, I see that I am mostly trying to get back to that full body joy feeling- like an athlete pursuing the state of being in the zone. 

5. You recently spent a meaningful amount of time working on “Gone & For Ever” - an exhibition, ceremony, and community procession dedicated to Philadelphians who lost their lives to AIDS.  I know how committed you were to the development of such an important production.  How did you become involved in the project and can you talk about your experience, both personally and creatively? 

While speaking to a friend about the phenomenon from the early years of the AIDS crisis regarding the cremated remains of people who had died from complications related to HIV and how they were unclaimed by their families and loved ones,  it occurred to me (quickly, in a way which is uncommon for me) that I could gather a group of living and dead writers, artists, designers and composers and create the memorial that those people had never had. Under the aegis of The William Way Center in Philadelphia, I applied for a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust and spent two years building the piece which was called Gone & For Ever.  It was performed in 2022.  I’ve just completed a documentary about it: https://vimeo.com/837939132 

6. Who or what is exciting you right now? 

Artwork by Marcy Hermansader, Jonathan Hammer, Liz Collins, Howardena Pindell, and Elena Sisto. Ceramic sculpture by Kimiyo Mishima, paintings by Charles Burchfield.  Performance and creation by Bob the Drag Queen, the food at Tao Yuan in Brunswick, Maine, videos of Naomi Campbell walking. 

7. What are you reading and who are you listening to? 

Music: Nina Hagen’s sprawling, rageful comedy sounds especially true right now. Also, the single Hero Worship by The B-52's. Otherwise, I’ve been soothing myself with Deep Sea Skiving by Bananarama, Dolly Parton’s beautiful concert album Heartsongs and Shirley Horn’s The Main Ingredient and I Love Paris. For live music: I went twice this year to hear Marylin Maye.  Hearing her voice and being in her presence is like going to Lourdes. 

Books: Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, Syllabus by Lynda Barry, Black Swans by Eve Babitz.
I always read Bernadette Mayer’s all encompassing poem Midwinter’s Day around this time of year. Other Powers, Olivia Goldsmith’s biography of Victoria Woodhull who was a suffrage leader, free love advocate, sex worker and medium, and who ran for President in 1872 with Frederick Douglas as her VP, has a mother lode of useful intel in it and is a really good read. For fun I go back to Mistral’s Daughter by Judith Krantz, and Such Times by Christopher Coe will break your heart right in half.