Alex Becerra: Prelude to Understanding

Various Small Fires is pleased to present Los Angeles-based artist Alex Becerra’s debut presentation in Asia titled Prelude to Understanding. This is the second solo exhibition with the gallery.
Becerra approaches painting with the aim to summon embodied responses, enrolling the viewer in an experience that links vision with the emotional body. Using oil-paint in copious qualities, Becerra builds dense surfaces and pictures that are raucous with color, gesture, and images. Often, Becerra’s paintings have an element of montage; many moments in time are layered into a single painting, reflecting the cacophonous and disjointed scroll and distraction of contemporary life. 
The Worst of Classical Easel Painting Oil exemplifies this tension between fragmented simultaneity and clarity in Becerra’s work. In the foreground a figure stands at an easel, working on a small canvas. Bearded, well-groomed, clad in a suit jacket, and rendered as a pale-yellow outline squeezed directly from the tube, this gentleman painter harkens back to the lineage of European plein air painting- and a chain of sausages jauntily placed underfoot literally underscores his identity. Behind, around, and within the figure of the painter a tropical landscape, lush with foliage, bleeds into the figure of a powerful woman who dominates the right-hand side of the canvas. Her body is at once nude and made of tropical plants, a sly nod to the objectifying gaze of artists like Gauguin and Rousseau who left Europe, either physically or in their minds, to find “pure” sources of inspiration for their landscapes and portraits. Further complicating this commentary on the history of painting is a nightclub scene of a group of women in the right-hand background of the work; their assembled postures recalling Les Demoiselles D’Avignon and group portraits by Faith Ringgold among others. The left-hand side of the work is split off from the female-dominated right-hand side with a cadmium-red wall. Beside the clearly articulated figure of the painter and his rope of sausages, this section of canvas dissolves primarily into abstraction, leaving reality or clarity the exclusive purview of the artist’s gaze or suggesting the artist’s power to create their own reality.
Elsewhere in an untitled diptych, Becerra again splits the canvas into vertical halves – a pile of chrome hub-capped tires is rendered in a poppy graphic style on the left, while the right is a jazz riff of colors, shapes, and images including a red skull, a startled face, a woman’s legs in platform shoes, a pineapple, and an illustration of a grayscale gradient. These images again evoke a history of painting that includes the European and North American canon: Picasso, Immendorff, and Salle, while also summoning the aesthetic and cultural referents of Mexican-American lowrider culture. This broad range of reference and interpretation of the image culture of both art history and popular culture reflects Becerra’s positionality as a Los Angeles artist weaving together the lived experience of this vibrant environment with a deep investment in working through the historical stakes of painting in tandem with the shifting values of art in the contemporary moment. 
Alex Becerra (b. 1989, lives and works in Los Angeles) works in painting, drawing, and sculpture, exploring the way we view modernity, often chopped up into bits and sliced together. He has had solo exhibitions at Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Karma International, Beverly Hills and Zürich, Switzerland; Weiss Berlin, Germany; One Trick Pony, Los Angeles and Levy Delval, Brussels, Belgium. Selected group exhibitions include Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles; Kunstraum Potsdam, Germany; Wilding Cran Gallery, Los Angeles; The Journal Gallery, New York; Richard Telles Gallery, Los Angeles; The Green Gallery, Milwaukee; M+B Gallery, Los Angeles; Journal Gallery, Brooklyn, New York; and Ben Maltz Gallery, Westchester, California.