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Meet Alex Chau of ALXasthtcs in East Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alex Chau.

Alex, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Early on, I was taught if there was something that made you different and not fit in, you were supposed to hide it in a drawer inside yourself. You were supposed to keep that drawer closed.

In college, I remember using MySpace to make friends with others that shared my frustrations with conformity & rigid social standards. Some of them were musicians, makeup artists, hairstylists, photographers and drag queens. They didn’t keep their drawers shut and instead, showcased the things that made them unique.

It felt to me through what they did, they were challenging perceptions, attitudes and on a smaller scale – changing their immediate world. Because of their influence, I started to experiment with this visual vocabulary of my appearance, my style, ink, body mods and other forms of self-expression and individuality.

Back then, the media was still very homogenous. Even in California, the culture was very much about assimilation and fitting in. Asians were not seen on television, movies or ad campaigns. Having ink or piercings was a mark of tragic failure. During this time, you couldn’t even get a job at Target if you had these forms of self-expression. So being scouted by a modeling agency with the foresight to sign a non-white, non-hulkish guy like me, was validating.

After college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue this. I was lucky & landed a big tv commercial right away. This gave me the means to afford a little studio with no parking. But media’s fascination with individuality, as a virtue, ebbed & flowed. Bookings weren’t consistent. I continued to come across pressures to conform my appearance, so that I could have a broader appeal to more brands.

To continue to support myself, I started working at Rosamund Felsen Gallery. I found support, validation & belonging with the gallerist and artists I met. We had shared values for individuality, self-expression, and using one’s authentic inner voice. At this time, I also got to model in an Eileen Cowin video art installation for LAX airport, for Gegam Kacherian paintings for his exhibition at the gallery, and for art photographers Rollence Patugan and Chris Anthony.

I learned artists don’t make work for people who aren’t into what they do. They make it for those that are. They focus their art practice on what they had to say, along with improving and strengthening that. It was here, the gallery taught me about true self-confidence and having purpose in life.

I kept changing modeling agencies until I landed with one that didn’t think they had to mold me into something more marketable. Just being myself – however unexceptional, flawed, or lacking in the eyes of some – I’ve been able to book campaigns for brands like Ray Ban, Bonobos, Beats by Dre, Soundcloud, and have gotten to be in music videos for musicians I loved like Tegan & Sara, Lady Gaga and Moby.

It’s great to think we’ve gotten to a place where the whitewashing of people is fading out. No one thinks someone with piercings isn’t able to bag groceries, or someone with blue hair can’t raise a family, or someone with ink can’t work in an office. Or that your skin color, gender, or who you sleep with should limit anyone. People are people. Individuality shouldn’t be hidden away.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When I first started, insecurity was something I fought hard to hide. Being validated with the modeling, and by the gallery, eventually convinced me that I was fine just the way I am.

There were dry spells where I wasn’t booking much and I’d be worried about being able to pay for things. I’d compare myself against people that took more stable paths in life and question myself.

Instability is something that you have to get the feel for. You aren’t on top all the time and you have to find a way to be fulfilled even when you aren’t.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My dad worked for a tech company back in the 90s. I remember sitting next to him as a kid while he showed me the internet for the first time. The computer made that techno screeching sound and I remember being like oh, cool, that’s the computer talking.

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Image Credit:
(From Top to Bottom) Markus Hirner, Audrey Fery, Jon Sollee, Markus Hirner, Matt Kulisch

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