You could describe Alex Chaves as a painting genius, a young virtuoso of colour who swoops in through sun-drenched hues, stealing anything he comes across with wild, innocent glee. He’s only 29 years old, but he has already exhibited in New York, LA, and Europe. It’s easy to fall in love with his passionate paintings, and the genuine curiosity with which he enters into dialogue with the greats of art history. There’s no mistaking the admiration here, or his desire to reactivate the masterpieces of past eras and grant them new relevance. For instance, he recently made a sparkling yellow, red, and blue paraphrase of Picasso’s violent ‘Guernica’. However, looking back is just one aspect of his practice.
I’m originally from New Jersey, but I’ve never lived there as an adult. I ended up in LA because I wanted to pursue a career as an artist, and it felt like it would be impossible to find a studio and gain some recognition in New York. LA is more focused on production, and you can get a studio for a reasonable amount of money here.
Which works are you bringing?
I’ll be showing five paintings–a mix of abstract, figurative, and a few with icons or pictograms. I might bring something with textile, too! In other words, it’s quite varied. My works span many styles and genres. Sometimes I make portraits of models, sometimes I do historic painting with some early 20th century stuff, some Picasso.
What is it that attracts you to old, famous works from art history?
I’m not quite sure. The works are iconic to the point where even the idea of making a copy of them seems almost comic. For me, this also ties in with the post-Trump climate—you’d think there was a civil war on with all the fear that’s around today! I definitely take inspiration from politics.
My interest in history is probably also connected to the fun of tracing a family tree.
Sure, I’m imitating Picasso, but he imitated Cézanne, and so on. Basically, I’m just keeping the conversation going. Nothing starts from nothing. You take an idea and push it down the road, and that’s what I want to continue doing.
“One thing about politics that inspires me is the way digital space, which looked like it was set to dominate entirely, was challenged when people started taking to the streets with handmade placards. That’s how artists have worked traditionally, after all. Being in physical space, with physical, handmade objects. It’s actually quite similar to creating art.”
Another thing about politics that inspires me is the way digital space, which looked like it was set to dominate entirely, was challenged when people started taking to the streets with handmade placards. That’s how artists have worked traditionally, after all. Being in physical space, with physical, handmade objects. It’s actually quite similar to creating art.
It’s been seven years since I moved here now. I came here right after high school, because I wanted to get away from where I grew up. I actually didn’t know if I was going to make it as an artist, but I gave it a shot. I would still have been painting, even if I hadn’t become an artist. In my art, I can get quite intense with the colours, perhaps because of the light around here, but I think I would have made bright paintings no matter where I lived. I think I’ll be staying here. All my friends are here, and I just signed a five-year lease on a new studio. Los Angeles is, increasingly, becoming a bona fide art city.
Alex Chaves is one of seven artists in our ongoing group exhibition L.A. Dreams 2 – showing at CFHILL through May 11, 2019.