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The Art of Living: Auctioneer Alexander Gilkes

The Paddle8 co-founder talks art, style, and what's cool now.

Alexander Gilkes Photo: Ball & Albanese

Alexander Gilkes, co-founder of the pioneering online auction platform Paddle8, has hammered in more than $1 billion worth of art over the course of his career, having honed his powers of persuasion under the tutelage Simon de Pury at Phillips. Earlier this year, the Eton educated, New York–based Gilkes, 39, was named co-CEO of Native SA, a publicly traded Swiss company that recently took a majority interest in Paddle8. Robb Report met with Gilkes at Paddle8’s new headquarters on Norfolk Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to talk art, personal style, and bicoastal living.

What have you done recently for the first time?
I went on an amazing trip to Mexico City with the team that opened Soho House. In addition to numerous artist studio visits we went to the Barragán stables and home. I’ve never been to more cocktail parties where insects were served as a canapé—fried locusts and different types of grilled worms. I am sure it’s the first place I’ve had the tequila worm.

What is the first thing you do in the morning?
When I am in New York I tend to get up at 6:30 and immediately dive into emails. I try to do TM [transcendental meditation] for 15 minutes before walking down to Cha Cha Matcha in my neighborhood, where I order a ginger-turmeric hemp milk latte, with double-ginger, double-matcha. I know it sounds very pretentious, but it tastes damn good and wakes me up.

How often do you train?
I see a trainer at the SoHo Strength Lab, usually for an hour, three times a week. I’m also a regular Soul Cycle visitor.

How would you describe your look?
I have become notably more casual and comfortable in my ten-year chapter in New York, having arrived as a bit of an over-tailored and uptight Brit. I prefer things that make for an easy transition between the office and the cocktail hour. As for a description, I don’t, any longer, give it a name or a term or a description, because that has come back to haunt me in the past. I once termed my sense of dress as “urban farmer” and that became a perennial source of bullying from my friends, particularly my brother.

Where do you get your clothes?
If I find an item of clothing I like, I tend to buy it in multiples. Australian tailor Patrick Johnson just nailed this shape of pencil trousers so I’ve had him make them up for me in different colors. My girlfriend [Maria Sharapova] has friends at Nike so I get a bit of stuff from them. Sports apparel has never been a feature of my wardrobe but there’s a lot of that now.

Are you wearing a watch?
Yes. It’s a Girard-Perregaux 1966 rose gold chronograph.

Your sunglasses?
Handmade in England by Kirk Originals.

Personal Talismans?
I am never without my gavel, which I bought from an antique shop in Burford, in the Cotswolds.

What is your spirit animal?
I looked up my birth year, and it was something surprising, something I didn’t agree with; a bear. I think I’m probably an alpaca. I find them very funny. They’re quirky, a little bit eccentric.

Who is your guru?
I would say my girlfriend, who is a great role model in my learning focus and discipline, a linearity versus my more radial structures. My father is someone I’ve always looked up to as the ultimate example of chivalry and humility, and someone who’s just deeply kind and empathetic and selfless.

What is your favorite cocktail?
I confess I’m more of a sake drinker these days, having discovered a wonderful sake called “Tears of Dawn,” which I buy from my local off-license. I also enjoy Mezcal, served sans worm but with a slice of orange.

Wine of choice?
When it comes to the grape, I remain loyal to Krug champagne, having worked there for a bit. My favorite white is Cervaro della Sala, a classic chardonnay from Antinori that is sharp, crisp, dry, and aromatic with notes of, elderflower, apricot, and dried, stewed fruit. As for a red, I’d say Château Canon, a classic Bordeaux with great strength and great depth. The vineyard is run by a former Krug colleague; they’re now winning awards.

What’s the most impressive dish you cook?
I’m a bit of a dynamite fisherman when it comes to cooking as I don’t have the patience, but I am a huge foodie. And one is so spoiled in New York City. Whatever you’re craving at the moment, you can find it within a ten-mile radius.

What are your favorite tables in New York, London, and LA?
A new favorite is Uncle Boons, which has an incredible lamb salad steeped in cilantro, red onion, lime, and chili, and the green curry snails are fantastic. A London favorite is Wilton’s on Jermyn Street, which has been in business since 1742, and in LA, we recently had an excellent meal at Bestia. It’s a great space. They’ve got a big garden in the gallery district. I would be remiss not to mention La Scoglio, on the Amalfi Coast. Their yellow zucchini pasta is extraordinary.

Favorite apps?
I read the New York Times digest on my app every day. I recently discovered a great app, Mosaic, which allows you to put together beautiful photo albums with ease. If I’ve been away for a weekend with friends and taken photos, I simply send them off and a beautifully packaged photo album is delivered to their home.

Favorite websites?
One of my favorite online destinations is Hypebeast, which allows me to stay on top of the street culture scene. Mr. Porter I go to, because I think they’ve really hit the mark in finding the right marriage between content, context, and curation. Not only in their merchandise, but in the alchemy of characters. They have such a clear understanding of their end user.

Do you still write letters?
I do from time to time. But I’ve found, just as sort of the written word is somewhat in jeopardy and we communicate now through lazy shorthand and through pictures, I even found that when I do put pen to paper I sort of write in hieroglyphics because my hand is so ill-equipped. There’s the old tale that children of doctors have terrible handwriting, and I’m the son of a doctor. So I have my father’s terrible scrawl. But I do try and write. I write whenever it’s an important occasion, whenever it’s a note of thanks or celebration, or a friend has recently lost his mother so I actually wrote a letter of condolence last night by hand.

Importance of manners in the modern world?
I’m a big believer in manners and respect: that one should never do to another what you wouldn’t wish for yourself. I was just raised to puts manners before all else. And I hate to see a day and age where we’ve become so ego-maniacal that we lose the capacity for empathy and we lose the capacity for tolerance and for manners. Unfortunately, chivalry seems to be on the decline, but let’s hope that manners can remain important. I, for one, will certainly be an evangelist with it. When I have a family, it will be paramount that we keep to the standards of the family, at the kitchen table and beyond.

Favorite gift to give?
In terms of wedding gifts, I like to buy people experiences. A favorite in the UK is gift cards for Petersham Nurseries, a bohemian gardening center belonging to this artistic couple who have converted their old conservatories into this beautiful restaurant. In New York, I go for Stone Barns.

What do you most regret?
I tend fit too much into my day. I’m bad at saying no. I’ve sort of learned, with time and discipline, to curtail my yeses and learn the power of no, and pushing back on people’s demands for your time.

Do you trust your gut instinct?
I think I’ve actually learned through experience to listen more to the intuitive voice. It’s always the most silent, but it’s the voice you have to lend the microphone to. When I’ve made mistakes, it is usually because I ignored my own intuition.

If you could stick at one age, what would it be and why?
I think I’m very happy at the age that I am now. There are certainly ages from the past that I would not like to be again. I think my seven to 13, being sent away to a boarding school, was miserable at that time. And being a prisoner and having all these liberties taken away from you. Would definitely not go back in time, but very happy where I am now.

If you could be anywhere in the world, where would it be?
My favorite place to go in the world to unwind is the English countryside—namely the Cotswolds, where have my favorite walks, rivers, and year-round swimming holes, and of course, favorite pub lunches.

Dylan or Bowie?
Bowie always.

Movies or theater?
Theater. One of the most incredible pieces of theater I saw over the summer was As Much as I Can, an experiential project in Harlem that examines the plights of ethnic minority communities in the 1980s, during the rise of the AIDs epidemic. I went purely on the recommendation of a friend who said it was one of the most shocking and provocative pieces of theater that he had seen. I went with an open mind and was flabberghasted by it.

What’s your last box set or Netflix binge session?
I tend to get my fix on one of the many trans-Atlantic flights. I think the last film that made me blub was Lion (2016), the film with Dev Patel about two children in India being separated.

How do you find calm?
I actually find flights, long distance flights, fairly therapeutic. It’s a good time to think. But now that there’s wifi on the flight, once again, you find yourself back in the grid and the hamster wheel. I often travel to London and as soon as I arrive, I go to the South Kensington Club, which has an incredible Russian bathhouse where I have a steam and a cold dip, which is followed by a double espresso. Then, off I go to meetings.

When was the last time you completely unplugged?
On a recent trip to Bhutan, at the COMO Uma Paro in Bhutan, which is one of the most magical places I’ve stayed. You walk around the property and see brooks with King Salmon leaping as they go back to their nesting grounds. Bhutan is so intensely pure in the way that people deal with one another. It is one culture that is certainly not in jeopardy of losing its chivalry as it is the inverse, or the converse, of the egomaniacal Instagram culture.

Do you have a favorite hotel that you return to?
I tend to go to Le Sirenuse in Positano. It’s run by very dear friends, and I am always incredibly well looked after there. The food, the rooms, the views—it’s pretty special.

Sporting Life?
Tennis is one of the few sports that I played as a child, and I was fortunate to have a court at a family home in the English countryside. While I enjoy the game, I haven’t dared demonstrate my skills to the ace.

What’s your dream car?
I love to drive and if I lived in sunnier climates, I’d probably have a Citroen DS, which has these incredibly elegant parabolic lines. My other dream ride would be an open-topped Porsche Speedster from the ’60s in a bottle green with a biscuit leather interior.

What’s on your art-world radar?
I’m very interested in the emergence of street culture as it is without doubt one of, if not the most, disruptive and transformative forces in today’s contemporary art world. And it is the force that has brought in new audiences. As I say to people, if you walk down the street and ask if others have heard of Gerhard Richter, probably one in ten people would know who he is, and that’s because we’re in New York City. If you ask how many people have heard of Banksy, likely eight out of ten would have heard of him. And this is reflected in our street art sales at Paddle8, which continue to show hockey stick growth. I think this whole street culture movement and its effect in fashion and in various other types of apparel and in art, is a true defining force of today’s trend.

Speaking of art, what are you personally into?
I’m excited by this new breed of artists that is coming to the forefront through platforms like Instagram, which offers aperture and exposure to new talents beyond the gallery system. One of those such artists is Australian hyper-realist CJ Hendry, who has been brilliant in how she plays in to the whole Insta generation. She did a pop-up in Brooklyn not long ago where each monochromatic set of works—self-contained rooms really—was built around pantone colors.

What’s the most recent thing you have added to your collection?
The last piece that I bought was a work by Wang Ningde, who had a great show at Bryce Wolkowitz in Chelsea. At first glance, it just looks like Morse code and lines. But when light shines through it, it reveals patterns and pictures. I thought it was very clever, very poetic, and a fun twist on use of material and use of light.

Match Points?
I have been spending quite a bit of time in L.A. as that is where my girlfriend lives and trains. It just so happens we also have a Paddle8 office there, so I can go there and work very easily. Aside from the U.S. Open, New York is not known for its tennis opportunities but it’s a city she loves and she is quite keen on going to galleries—sometimes even more than myself.

If you could learn a new skill, what would it be?
I always wish I’d continued piano lessons. I know there’s that saying of “it’s never too late” I know people who have picked it up late in life and I don’t have a piano here at home, but maybe it’s something to invest in. But I think that is definitely a skill I’d love to pick up.

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