This is the second installment of our 2-part interview with UCLA artist, graduate student, and total badass Angelica Becerra. If you missed the first part, no worries! You can catch up with our amazing talk with Becerra here.
Giovannie: One thing I wanted to ask about: I find it interesting that you’re on Tumblr because there’s a lot of… I work in a museum, right? I’m always around ‘Fine Art’ or ‘High Art’ with a capital A. I feel places like Tumblr are full of art, we can call it ‘popular art’ or whatever term really. I feel a lot of it is made via technology: computers, Photoshop and all that. One of the things that makes your art stand out is that they’re portraits and they’re watercolors. They remind me of Old Master Portraiture because they’re kind of looking at yours but it’s not following the traditional styles. You mentioned before that your tía taught you painting, but I was hoping you can talk more on why the use of watercolors and why does it come out the way it does
Angelica: Oh yeah! So every artist will tell you this. We go through phases with our mediums because we’re finding the mediums that work best for us. For me, I had a bit of a backwards journey: most artists want to get to the oil paints because that’s seen as the highest quality ingredient, for professional high art, too. It’s the most expensive (which is why I don’t use it). That really epitomizes what it means to be a serious Artist. Painting with your oils and your palette you look like Bob Ross and shit. Your evolution is like from finger paints to Bob Ross and so… I mean I learned through Bob Ross and Channel 28 (laughs).
My journey was more like, my tía had oil paints. She somehow came up with the money to buy some, so I began learning with really high quality tools when I was little. I started painting when I was maybe 4 ½. I was painting still life fruit when I was five, which I don’t know how that happened. She was staying with us for two months and those two months were when she was painting this piece the size of a door. And she was working on it and it was in our living room and I wanted to help her so she basically set up a little canvas next to her and I would paint next to her for days and days and days. So, I started with oil. I liked it, though it’s the most difficult to work with, I would say.
I left Mexico when I was 10 and I got to the US and art didn’t become a part of my daily life anymore. I didn’t have my tías with me. My mom was working and we still didn’t speak the language and we were getting used to being discriminated against here as opposed to over there. So I stopped making art until I got to high school, and there there was no oil paints. I went to a public high school. I went to LAUSD, so we had acrylic, those big tubs that everyone gets a little spurt and, you know, you just pass it around and we all get it a bit.
Giovannie: Yeah and it fucking stains your shirt forever because acrylic don’t come off.
Angelica: Totally! And we only had prime colors too, we didn’t have anything fancy. We just had yellow, red, and blue and black and white. So my high school teacher was very gracious and provided some colors and some mixing ingredients. But we were working with some lo-fi, like, this is what you get, you know. So I made most of my portfolio in acrylic because I had no choice, charcoal, too. That’s when I used the most mediums.
But then I got into watercolor because it had the things I like. People think it’s childish to use watercolor, they think of those little kid palettes you buy… like Crayola’s (laughs) But then there’s also this aspect to watercolors where it can be really expensive and high quality. I liked the qualities of it all, that it’s transparent and that you can mix it, that it’s never done. I liked that it can always be messed with, just add some water and then you go back to it. But then, watercolor, if you fuck up, you’re done. Watercolor can be really unforgiving. I liked that it can be really temperamental. It’s very similar to me. I’m very volatile. I’m always flowing, I’m a water sign. And my moon is fire so I don’t have any Earth in me at all, never grounded, always moving. So, that was cool. And also, watercolor you can take with you. And it’s cheap. Cool to carry. That’s how I chose it, probably not going to use anything else in my life.
Giovannie: And so do you like the way your pieces come out?
Giovannie: There’s kind of a less realist aesthetic to the faces and bodies in your portraits. It doesn’t look like a carbon copy.
Angelica: Yeah. I’m not a perfect drawer. There are some mistakes in it. The aesthetic is what I like. I like that it looks handmade. Because it is. It’s an aspect to my own sensitivity, I like things that are handmade, you can see the love in it. The people that I am painting deserve that. I have a deep respect for the people that I paint.
I’m not really sure, now that my artwork is being seen more, I’m getting a lot of questions about commissions. And I’m not really sure how I feel about that because it’s not so much that I don’t wanna do stuff for people, it’s more that I choose people who I paint and they mean a lot ot me. If I’m painting these people and it’s not for me, then I lose the integrity of my work. You feel me?
Angelica: But yeah. I like how they look, the handmade aesthetic of it. Again, I come from a family that made things with their hands and there’s this rusticness to it, it’s rough around the edges and that’s just how it comes. The text is obviously more clean cut and gives it more of an illustration aesthetic, but yeah.
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Giovannie: It’s interesting to note how you don’t want to commission something for one private eye…
Angelica: That’s very ‘museum’-ish.
Giovannie: I was thinking about other forms of Latinx art tailors to the idea of producing it to for the masses. You got murals, you got the prints… I was wondering if you see any connections between the Latinx art all around us, or if they are in any conversations with Latinx art at all…
Angelica: Hmmm, yeah, I do. I’m a grad student in the daytime. I do my research on more contemporary Chicanx art. I talk about artists like me who got involved in social movements
and lended their art to social movements, and I do see my art as a continuation of that. Chicanx art has always been so involved in civil rights movements and the images that were produced to the movements are very iconic. So my project, I see it as a healing project.
I’ve been there, I’ve been an organizer and I‘ve needed something to heal me. And much of the symbols you see in social movements are so strong and so aggressive, I wanted to create something that makes you go… *sigh* after a long day of being in meetings and not eating and you haven’t taken a shower and you have two conference calls the next day, I wanted to make work that provides breathing space. I think that’s important.
Latinx art has many branches: you got the muralism, which is cool and I respect but it ain’t my thing, you got the kind of like highly commodified, like, ‘let me make these 2000 prints of Frida and sell it’ which is kinda problematic but it’s out there, there’s also that really masculinist Chicano imagery.. mine is a lot more soft and vulnerable. i know a lot of artists around me whose art is very personal. I went to school with Julio Salgado…
Giovannie: That’s such a trip! I was just going to mention your stuff most definitely reminds me of Julio’s.
Angelica:Yeah. We were in Cal State Long Beach. He was a journalism major, a lot more ahead than me, growing up with him and watching him to portraits in the student union for $5 or for free, I was always around this amazing artist. His work is also very personal, too. Aside from his work about ICE and immigration he also does a lot of stuff about his friends and his family, about these beautiful people like MIA and Gloria Trevi who have inspired him. Popular culture art. When I see that work it’s really healing, like ‘yeah! I really would wish the cast in Friends were brown, that would make so much sense!’ (laughs) The work can be political without being politically political. A lot of times we forget to take care of ourselves. I don’t expect my art to be the next pamphlet or the next slogan or poster for the Xicano movement or the labor movement, I want it to touch a deeper part of you. I need to heal and I’m sensitive, I hope this work does that for other people.
Giovannie: I just finished reading Jazz by Toni Morrisson…
Angelica: There you go…
Giovannie: She was talking about like, how jazz, originally, was really made for the players, and how they understand its progressions, and if you stand outside it, it’s a bunch of noise. ‘That’s the way I want to see my art: a private thing for public consumption.’ It’s never about anyone getting it, but it’s out there and it’s for us.
Angelica: You’re never gonna make anyone happy. Let alone yourself. I have a whole wall dedicated to my art and that I dedicate to my friends’ art. All these people that I love. And somebody asked me ‘Oh, you must think so highly of yourself if you have your own stuff up on your walls’ (laughs).
To celebrate the end of a successful run inside the Kerckhoff art gallery & #PhenomenalWomxnFriday, (I’m making that a thing lol) I want to give back to all of you who’ve supported me and have found my work recently! Tag a phenomenal womxn (or as many as you want) in a comment to this photo and I will select two of you at random to get a Maya print in the mail. I’ll announce the winners this Sunday 1/31 at 12pm PST. Thank you for supporting my work and helping me thrive as an artist! ????????????????#AngelicaBecerra #woc #giveaway #phenomenalwoman #mayaangelou
Giovannie: Goddamn. Wow.
Angelica: They were kidding, of course. (laughs) Otherwise, they’d get kicked out. But yeah, I make work that I would buy myself. You shouldn’t make work you don’t want to have. It’s a daily reminder, these quotes.
The best selling piece actually is Maya Angelou. And that one’s not about being political, necessarily. It’s about being a phenomenal woman, and that’s really resonated. That one is also always bought as a gift.
I want that piece on my wall, who wouldn’t? I make work for me. And through that process I’ve found that the people that want my art are people very similar to me: these weird Chicanxs who didn’t get into hip-hop until late in their lives and barely getting into it…
Angelica: Yeah! Or like, Radiohead obsessed kids like me from high school, Morrissey in high school… I was that Chicana who always wore black all the time. I’ve always been that person, and I’m just finding kindred spirits.
Giovannie: You see your art going places, which is great. Where do you want to see your art continue towards?
Angelica: I don’t know. I’m a middle child so I’m not used to the attention, I’m just going to keep on working. I don’t really have a path, it’s always been about whatever I’m feeling. Like I mentioned, I’m for sure going to finish up the love note series with Bell Hooks and James Baldwin. And after that, whatever I’m feeling.
There’s this painting that is in the back burner that I will make, so I don’t know if y’all know this but I identify as pansexual. And, you know, the jokes will come, you know, pan. So when I first told my mom I am pansexual, because I identified as bisexual before and I talked to my mom about it and she was OK with it, at the time Miley Cyrus hadn’t come out with so she hasn’t saved us all yet. So when I told my mom her first reaction was, ‘Te gusta el pan!?’ (laughs) It was the funniest shit ever because I was a fat kid growing up and my nickname was ‘Gorda’. I was always the kid who was fed a lot. So yeah, I want to make a piece next about pansexuals. I already have it in my mind. It just needs to get done. It’s a tray of pan dulce that says ‘Pansexual Pride’ because I’m also proud of pan dulce and proud of liking it. But pan dulce can also be a metaphor for pansexuality, that you like multiple genders and are not afraid by other binaries. I can like a concha, which can also be vagina. I can also like, I don’t know, elote.
Giovannie: These intersectionalities get so complex, huh?
Angelica: Yeah. And only a Latinx queer person will understand that. Because other Latinx pansexual queers probably have had that conversation that ‘Oh, it’s pan, not “pan.”’ So I knew I needed to make a piece about that because my mom had such a funny reaction to it. I’m working on stuff like that, pieces in my brain I need to get out.
There’s another piece I’m thinking of doing about this painter called Maria Izquierdo, she is from my hometown of San Juan de los Lagos. She was a Frida contemporary, the only woman in the art school in Mexico in the ‘30s. And she was killing it. She was so cool. She was actually supposed to paint the National Palace, the murals that Diego Rivera did, but Diego Rivera shut her down. He was very influential at the time and she wasn’t very big. He didn’t want a woman painting his mural, he didn’t think a woman had the skillset or the capacity to do that. I have other things, there’s always going to be ideas in my brain. I’ve been painting for such a long time. I don’t really have a shortage of them, I just have to make them. Grad school gets in the way a lot, but it’ll get done.
Giovanie: What do you think the people in the portraits would say if they could see your work, as well as see how much it has touched people?
Angelica: It’s happened! Someone delivered the Angela Davis piece to her and she really liked it, so I was fangirling about that for days.
Yuri Kochiyama’s grand daughter works in San Francisco today, saw the piece, and ordered one. And I didn’t know it was her and saw the order and thought ‘HA HA’ but my friend —– works with her, and —- bought a piece and she saw it. She contacted me and told me, ‘My grandmother would have loved this if she were alive’ and said, ‘Thank you so much for doing this’. This makes me want to cry. Getting emails like that, obviously not from Selena or many of the other people I’ve painted, nevertheless I think they would like it. I hope they do. It’s done with the upmost respect- I do it because I just have to show love.
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