Alexandra Nechita's paintings sell for as much as $30,000, her reputation is swelling--and she's 10 years old.
The pint-sized prodigy from Norwalk counts Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso among her heroes.
"I get inspired so much by their colors. I feel like they're right next to me, telling me to continue with my dreams. Some accuse me of being too much inspired by them, but it's all coming from me, from my heart," she said.
Her paints cost $100 a bottle and come in colors that have names like superchrome yellow light, raw sienna, burnt umber, archival crimson, ultramarine blue and scarlet red.
Every day for three hours or so, she dons slippers sloppy with paint and an apron splotched with blotches of color to produce her abstract, Cubist paintings. When she doesn't have school, she can paint up to eight hours each day.
A boom box in the family room-turned-studio provides anything from alternative rock to classical--depending on her mood.
"I'm not put in a cage and forced to paint," Alexandra said. "It's something that no one can stop me from doing. It comes from me, totally."
Alexandra lives with her parents, Niki and Viorica, both lab technicians; and her brother, Max, in a modest home in a neighborhood that borders a freeway. She is a bright student who insists that her life is normal and that she is not missing out on childhood. She says she has lots of friends and enjoys soccer, football, basketball and in-line skating.
During a recent show in Costa Mesa, she sold two dozen paintings for up to $30,000 each to collectors eager to have her work. Her agent, Ben Valenty of International Art Publishers, said she also has signed a $600,000 book deal for a coffee table book of her work.
"She's totally original," said William Emboden, who worked for five years at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and is currently with the Severin Wunderman Museum in Irvine.
"By some unexplained quality, Alexandra has assimilated all the tenets of 20th-century art: Cubism, futurism, every 'ism' that has permeated this century. However, there is no copying, no artifice.
"I would liken her to a small matador with her brush as a sword. She does what one would hope, finishes each one off with bravura and elan.
"I'm baffled. I know of no artists in the present or the past that can achieve this. There was a work by Mozart at 11, 'Apollo and Hyacinthus.' I thought, 'How astonishing that an 11-year-old can compose such an astonishing work.' Now, I see Alexandra at a similar age doing something comparable. She is an incredible genius; there is no other explanation. She can only command admiration."
After money is set aside for Alexandra's expensive supplies, the rest is placed in a trust fund for her and Max. Alexandra, meanwhile, gets a $5 weekly allowance.
Alexandra has completed more than 200 paintings and displayed them in eight solo exhibits. Her paintings were shown at a public library when she was 8 and the nonprofit Mary Paxon Gallery at 9.
When she was 2, she started drawing and coloring with pencils, pen and ink and crayons. By 4, she was using pastels and watercolors. When she was 7, she incorporated oils. She has received no formal training.
She shrugs off all the attention, saying it is something she absolutely loves to do.
"Just because something so big is going on inside me, doesn't mean I'm not a normal kid," she said.
President Bill Clinton wrote to her: "I applaud your impressive achievements."
"At the ripe old age of 10, Alexandra's career has elevated to a level unimaginable for all but the truest of art masters," Valenty said. "She has become one of the most recognized artists in the world."
Alexandra was born in Romania and recently became a naturalized American citizen.
It is because of a trip to Romania in 1994 that she refuses to sell one painting, titled "Summer in Europe," even though she was offered $50,000.
"My grandpa would play his accordion and give me a few sips of wine. Then I saw my grandpa's shadow and my shadow and it reminded me how anxious I was to leave," she said. "I love them so much. I was so full of joy then. Even for the biggest amount of money, I wouldn't sell this."
But she will part with paintings about "The Lion King," "Pocahontas" and "Snow White," along with "Comedy Lover" and "Chicken Escape," both inspired by personal experiences in her life.
Alexandra's goals, like her calling, are much larger than the canvases that confine her:
"To be a full-time artist who is well-known internationally, to be the best that I can be," she said, as she rolled up soft candies into balls and popped them in her mouth.
"Maybe I'll study art in high school and college. I can get better. To have an art show in London and one day meet the royal family and dedicate a painting to them. You have to put all your effort into what you want to be so that when you grow up, you won't just work at McDonald's or Taco Bell. You can be your own boss and you won't be stressed out."
Most of her paintings are not about the stress of everyday life but the happiness and hope that even tragedies can bring.
"Oklahoma Terror and Tears" was inspired by the 1995 domestic terrorist bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. But its colors are muted.
"I used dirt colors," Alexandra said, "sad, dark colors and doves crying for help. Just from one crazy person, such a disappointment comes for so many families. So many things are going on in our world, you can't just think of yourself."
Alexandra never works from photographs because that's "too artificial, too fake." She leaves such things to her father, who took art classes to study realism.
"She is as lovely as her works are powerful," said Emboden, who also has written several art books and articles on art. "We must be careful. Are we looking at the work for her young age? The works would be just as amazing if she were 60 or 90."