Alex Andrade has always been a tinkerer. He watched his father Joseph fix radios and televisions as a little boy—like Curious George, a character Alex owned in stuffed animal form and decorated with blood for Halloween one year. He's been taking things apart for as long as he can remember, soliciting his older brother Mark's help to take the training wheels off his bicycle when he was two, dissecting a motorized R2D2 at the age of four. Andrade began drawing at an early age, and his mother, Helena, would teach him to read from left to right when she discovered at the age of 7 he was dyslexic. He developed a passion for another mechanism early in childhood: that of the team, and Andrade would find bliss and excellence as a soccer player well into early adulthood.
Instructions have never been a necessity for Andrade—he intuitively knows how to put things together, to make—or perhaps he puts things together his way, outside the realm of method and steps one-through-nine. But Andrade went to Catholic school, and no one told him it was okay to be different. He stuttered. Written instructions mystified rather than clarified, and the constructs of the classroom didn't allow for Andrade to learn in his own hands-on, team-oriented, understand-from-the-inside-out way. He and three other students would go to another classroom during English lessons, and while there was an awareness of this separation, there was no affirmation of the experience. But there's been no other way but different for Andrade, and his life as an artist has thrived because of it.
In high school, Andrade made a series of off-color Christmas cards for his white-veiled art teacher: a poster for "Christmas Deth," a holiday death metal band, dragons flying about a jolly old "Anti-Clause." This sense of levity and humor is still present in Andrade, and especially so in his work—in many ways, it was humor and sports that carried him through his school years. The complexities of the classroom fell away on the pitch, and at times, soccer was the only thing that made sense. In the game Andrade was focused, chocked with adrenaline, and free. This freedom fell away in college, when Andrade suffered a dream-shattering knee injury, and he began to replicate that expansive feeling of the field with drugs and alcohol.
As a student in Syracuse University's art media studies, Andrade was introduced to pioneer video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka by his favorite professor, Tom Sherman, at a visiting artists lecture. Woody was building a handmade LCD monitor at the time, an endeavor fascinating to Andrade. He understood the Vasulkas as kindred spirits, and the world of video art exploded all around—and within—Andrade. It was the late 90s, and everyone was throwing out their old video game systems, TVS, and records. Andrade collected these castaways, and his apartment became filled with televisions in various states of repair and disrepair. He stuck forks into Atari units and rendered them into distorted audio-video processors—a method known as circuit- bending.
Nowadays, Andrade shifts between video art, painting, and drawing. On paper and canvas (and paper napkins), there are figures, abstractions, and abstract figures; cityscapes, graffiti-esque characters, and compendiums of ballpoint pen. On the screen, Laura Dern vehemently yells shut up in looped fragments; a space shuttle lifts off, then splices into a guy on a tricycle; a close-up of television snow shimmers while wailing guitars scream in the background. For Andrade, art is a place of presence and meditation, a realm of tangibility and rule-bending/shattering. Numerous institutions have traveled there with Andrade: the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York; Morrison Gallery in Kent, Connecticut; and the Art Basel festival in Miami, Florida have all showcased his work.
Art is also a method of inquiry, an avenue into Andrade's strong yet obscure family heritage. His mother grew up in communist Czechoslovakia, where people had to hide who they were in order to preserve their livelihood. She moved out of her mother's house and in with a friend, then worked in a chocolate factory in order to save money for a visa to America—she made it in 1968. Andrade's father was born in Portugal and came to the U.S. a decade earlier. There were shadowed stories—Andrade's grandmother traded moonshine for household labor after her husband Peter passed away. The Czech government threatened to keep Andrade and his brother during a planned trip to visit their grandmother when the boys were 3 and 5, a visit that never happened. His mother tells him he is like her father, who played the fiddle, fixed everything, and was affectionately known as "Papa" at the motorcycle factory he worked in. These vignettes have floated around Andrade since he was a boy, but he can't quite grasp the full story. Andrade's Instagram handle, xelaandrade, is a nod to the early years he spent with his brother when they were left home alone—the door was locked, and they weren't to let anyone in.
There are many other people dwelling inside Andrade's art—the groundbreaking painters Paul Cézanne, Carrol Dunham, Clifford Stills, and Francis Bacon; Nam June Paik, the founder of video art; Professors Witkin and Gold from Syracuse, who encouraged Andrade and helped him grow a thick skin; and his many friends and fellow artists: Jason Mombert, a fellow Syracuse undergrad who was holding a camera the first time he and Andrade met. Patrick Burke, who inspired Andrade to create napkin art and mixed media work, and Carl Eckoff, with his incredible eye for line.
This is where art is leading Andrade—to community, to connection, to collaboration. He wants to show others that struggle equals character. That it's okay to be different. That there is more than one way to accomplish something, to make art. That there are, in fact, infinite ways to make art, that there are ways out of the abyss of drugs, depression, of addiction. Recently emerged from the abyss himself, Andrade is focusing his efforts on working with learning disabled youth in the context of the arts and community-building.