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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Call it whiplash painting. Ricochet inside the high-octane art of Alex Becerra

“Untitled” by Alex Becerra, 2019, on view at Karma International L.A.
“Untitled” by Alex Becerra, 2019. Oil on linen, 83 inches by 142 inches, on view at Karma International L.A.
(Alex Becerra / Karma International L.A.)

Alex Becerra’s paintings are car wrecks: violent collisions of images whose mangled remains take the shape of thrusting brushstrokes, splattered colors and twisted knots of paint. They’re also thoughtful meditations on the way we make sense of modern life: We glimpse bits and pieces of reality and try to organize our fragmented perceptions into story lines that capture the complexity of the moment.

The past figures into Becerra’s seven oils on linen and canvas in “La Nueva Onda” at Karma International L.A. Yesterday and yesteryear return via art history, entering the picture by way of figures (Picasso’s skulls and nudes), settings (Jorg Immendorff’s Café Berlin bar scenes), compositions (David Salle’s non-sequitur montages) and paint handling (Michael Reafsnyder’s thickly slathered abstractions).

But historical references and recognizable imagery are not what you notice when you first lay eyes on Becerra’s cacophonous paintings. Their physicality overwhelms.

“Unattainable Paradise in C Minor” by Alex Becerra, 2019, on view at Karma International L.A.
“Unattainable Paradise in C Minor” by Alex Becerra, 2019. Oil on linen, 83 inches by 71 inches, on view at Karma International L.A.
(Alex Becerra / Karma International L.A.)

All but one are big — not quite as big as murals, but with paint piled up so thickly that each packs more punch than its dimensions suggest. That’s because Becerra has compressed loads of energy into every square foot. It’s also because the speed of his gestures makes your eyes race — and ricochet — across their surfaces. Turbulence rules.

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The gallery is too narrow to step back and gaze from a distance. So you find yourself immersed in a whirlwind of activity: slashing brushstrokes, whiplash imagery, low-relief silhouettes, radically cropped fragments and marks that might be letters — or just random slashes that resemble parts of the alphabet.

That ambiguity is Becerra’s bread and butter. What you see depends on what you have seen before — and what you are looking for, right here and right now. Desire and reality intermingle. Memory and experience rub shoulders.

“(PIP)” by Alex Becerra, 2019, on view at Karma International L.A.
“(PIP)” by Alex Becerra, 2019. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 95 inches by 87 inches, on view at Karma International L.A.
(Alex Becerra / Karma International L.A.)

The fascinating tangle of fact and fiction, self and surroundings, identity and its transformation takes physical form in Becerra’s high-octane paintings.

Upstairs, seven page-size drawings, a silkscreened collage and a midsize work on paper show the L.A. artist looking for inspiration in hot rod magazines, elaborate tattoos and Surrealist imagery. All fan the flames of his paintings, which make a virtue of confusion as they invite viewers into a world where the only truths are those that you figure out for yourself, for the moment.

“Papi Paga Todo” by Alex Becerra, 2019, on view at Karma International L.A.
“Papi Paga Todo” by Alex Becerra, 2019. Oil on linen, 20 inches by 16 inches, on view at Karma International L.A.
(Alex Becerra / Karma International L.A.)

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Alex Becerra
Where: Karma International L.A., 4619 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.

When: Wednesdays-Saturdays, through Oct. 26

Info: karmainternational.org

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