Behind the frosted windows of a nondescript 1,700-square-foot storefront in Inglewood, California, just a few minutes south of the world-renowned Randy’s Donuts, billows of cigarette smoke envelop the Castroesque beard of Alex Becerra ('11 Fine Arts). The young artist is dressed in a blousy, cement-toned double-breasted suit, a plain white T-shirt, and camouflage-patterned Crocs with a half-cashed American Spirit hanging from his lips and what appears to be a Remington shotgun (but is really just a wax cast of one) in his hands. On the floor, to Becerra’s right, his white German shepherd, Fletch, gnaws on a gnarly hunk of rawhide. Scattered around the dog are hundreds of drawings—in marker, calligraphy ink, and oil pastel—on papers marked with human and canine footprints and random leaves of stationery (some pilfered from local businesses, others handmade to resemble those from Life magazine or the old Heritage Valley Inn in Becerra’s hometown of Piru, California). Small constellations of empty Rex Goliath wine bottles and colored milk crates—stacked against drawings and paintings of those very same bottles and crates—are tucked in the corners of this makeshift live/work space, along with painted Styrofoam sculptures of Igloo coolers and Coca-Cola bottles (embedded with a bladder for cocktails and a keytar, respectively).
While the optical overload from all this artistic flotsam and jetsam—not to mention the exuberant fashions for today’s photo shoot, inspired by one of the artist’s theatrical selfies— might seem excessive, it’s nothing compared to the image bombs exploding from the thickly impastoed canvases lining the walls. In the span of a few years, these densely packed paintings have turned the 27-year-old artist into a critical conundrum and a market darling. At press time he holds fourth position on ArtRank’s “Buy Under $10,000” index, though some of his works fetch more than twice that from his dealers, which now stretch from Hollywood to Brussels, Chicago to Berlin; he’s spent the better part of spring making a series of air-dried sculptures, drawings, and a few oil paintings for an opening at Weiss Berlin this month. Still, some have a hard time digesting Becerra’s oeuvre. After seeing his fall 2014 solo debut at ltd los angeles, “Las Putas Problematicas,” which loosely evoked Picasso’s nudes and Becerra’s Mexican heritage, Frieze magazine had to “marvel at the selfgranted freedom that allows Becerra to paint a picture that no white artist would dare put his name to.” In her review of the 2015 nada fair in New York, where ltd los angeles brought a few more tough works, Times critic Roberta Smith labeled them “rude, cartoony pseudo-Expressionist paintings, thick and thin of paint.” Despite such mock-offended appraisals—or the fact that he’s actually a very thoughtful and self-deprecatingly humble person—Becerra’s bad-boy rep has only increased. He has become a minor sensation on the L.A. scene, where his air-horn laugh, Hunter S. Thompson sartorial sensibility, self-administered tattoos, and ever-present Polaroid camera always seem to attract a crowd at openings and fairs—where he’s been known to run impromptu tattoo parlors or make performances wearing a so-called Taco Belt equipped with meats, onions, hot sauce, and tortillas...while wearing cowboy boots that have 25-foot hoses attached to the toes. “Alex is a totally normal L.A. artist, and anyone who thinks he’s crazy hasn’t lived,” says fellow Angeleno artist T. Kelly Mason, who plays with Becerra in the post-punk-meets-electro band Los Tres Pericos (a nod to L.A.’s Los Pericos tortilla company and the Spanish slang for cocaine).
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Image: Alex Becerra with Fletch in the artist’s Los Angeles studio, 2015.