From child prodigy to international sensation, artist Alexandra Nechita finds herself through her work.
Romanian-born, Los Angeles-bred artist Alexandra Nechita has been practicing her craft since she could hold a crayon. Like most children, she always loved to draw, but in her case, there was something deeper at play. “It was brought to my parents’ attention as maybe being more than just a hobby when my third grade teacher said ‘All she does is draw in class all day long,’” Nechita remembers. “My mom was like ‘Well, when she comes home all she wants to do is paint.’ At this point my parents had taken me to an art store and asked some idiot what I should paint with and he gave us oil paints and so I was painting with oil paint from six years old.” After being invited to Nechita’s home, the living room of which had been reconfigured into an ad hoc studio, the teacher suggested she have an art show at the local library. Soon thereafter, she showed over 60 paintings there. By age 10 she had an international publishing contract. And she’s never stopped since.
“I was brought to my parents’ attention as maybe being more than just a hobby”
Nechita went on to study fine art at UCLA, and made a name for herself with her colorful, cubist paintings and sculptures, which are collected by the likes of Ellen Degeneres and Oprah. Her career was humming along until a major life change: the birth of her daughter, Tevva, three years ago. Since assuming the new role of motherhood, she’s constantly questioning what it means to be a parent and an artist, a subject she’s exploring in her latest batch of canvases. “I think this group of work is about forgiving myself and moving forward in search of this equilibrium that I kind of was afraid I couldn't find,” the artist says. “You become so swallowed into parenting. You [worry that you] can't possibly have both worlds, right? You can't possibly be a good, involved mother and then be a good and successful artist.”
“Surely, those things are true in the beginning,” Nechita says, answering her own question. “I had no idea what the hell I was doing in being a mother. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, and the things no one likes to talk about, and the shifts that happen to you mentally. I also thought, I was like, ‘That's it. I'm going to say mercy and I'm never going to be able to find myself again in my studio.’ I was so tired and so conflicted. Yet, I still felt inspired. I still felt like I had things to say.” Below, the painter and sculptor spoke to the Arch about motherhood, overcoming obstacles, and her idea of beauty. Read on for the full Q&A.
Q: What's been the greatest challenge in your career?
The hardest things for me have been to not have to try to prove myself to anyone, and knowing that whatever you do, it'll be criticized. It’s not about not caring what people think. I don't necessarily want them to like it, but I want them to step into a new experience when they see a piece or a sculpture.
If I'm talking about things that are related to gender, or race, or sexuality, I feel like it involves more than just me and my own experience. That’s when I'm much more sensitive to what people think. It's not about not caring, it's about not making that a priority, which has been one of the biggest challenges for me in the actual process of making my work.
Another one of the hardest things has been kind of removing myself from my history, which I don't want to do because I believe it's what's built me so much, but it seems like because there was such a sort of like sensationalism attached to it, people are often like, ‘Oh well, you know, you didn't have a traditional segue into this world.’ I went to one of the best art schools in the world and even though I've worked at the best studios, and I've done all these things it's like ... It's never quite the exact formula the art world likes their artists to fit into. [I struggle] in finding a way to detach myself from that commercialized experience, but yet, still making it a part of who I am.
I come with a crazy PR story, I come with an insane childhood, I come with my immigrant story. I come with all those things and I've been challenged so many times to erase that from my past and I can't. I think that challenge, that second challenge is really kind of learning how to integrate it into who I am in my work. Take it or leave it.
Q:What’s the proudest moment of your career?
This last project that I did in Romania. That was one of the biggest highlights for me because it came at such a crucial time for me as a woman, as an artist, and just kind of proving to myself that I still have exactly the tools I need to do the things that I want to do. The city of Bucharest commissioned me to do this crazy installation. I basically produced eight sculptures ranging in size, average about 8 feet, in like three weeks. These are pieces that are being made for exactly the opposite reason of why most people think art gets made. This about having them being interacted with, having kids crawl on them. If someone wants to have a sandwich and a cigarette and put their butt out on it, great. They're meant to withstand the environment. I don't want people to feel skittish around them or to feel inferior to them. The whole point is that they can completely become a part of their space and their environment. There's no longer any sort of segregation.
Q: What inspires you?
I am my biggest source of inspiration — the dysfunction in my head. My own experiences, and my own failures, and the things that I want to talk about. As a woman, I'm really interested in this idea of forced femininity that gets put on us. It's something that's been really important in my work. Especially with this new work that I've kind of tried to address with a softer sort of attitude. That's the reason why the palette is like this. It's really different from what I've always done and it was so much of the structure and the color choices in the past have also been kind of like a defense. I think that finding a little bit of vulnerability in myself has been really important, and just this idea of femininity and particularly. My daughter is a really big inspiration, going back to the fact that I'm raising a woman.
Q: Who do people tell you you look like?
I got Brooke Shields for a little bit, but not now.
Q: Beauty is ___________.
Confidence. I see plenty of women that to someone else might not fit the mark and the social expectation of what's pretty, but I think it's all an attitude.