As seen in new exhibit ‘Float,’ San Diego artist Richard Becker’s work has become more playful


For the past few years, Richard Becker has been drawn to things that are light and bright.

The San Diego sculptor — whose commissions have ranged from busts of Ron Howard, Mary Tyler Moore and Vivian Vance for the Television Academy Hall of Fame to a World War II POW monument at Miramar National Cemetery — is now focusing on characters that are part child and part cartoon.

“It’s the first time I’m doing something non-classically anatomical,” he said of the whimsical children he creates out of stainless steel and calls “tots.”

That dramatic shift in style coincided with Becker’s restored hearing after a cochlear implant in 2014. His new work will be the subject of a solo exhibition called “Float” at the Sparks Gallery in downtown.

“This exhibit is a search for hope and brightness in the world around us,” said gallery owner Sonya Sparks.

The tots manifest a childlike wonder, but Sparks said, “it’s not just about fun but there’s also a quality of bravery, about going forward.”

The show, which opens Aug. 4, will include 35 new pieces. Over half will be paintings — colorful pieces depicting clouds, water and things that float, which is also a first for Becker. He started painting because he has become a lot more interested in color after his hearing was restored.

The subjects are simple moments such as a single cloud or bright yellow life rings on the sea. Becker said he has always been interested in clouds and has photographed them for years.

“I love doing both,” Becker said of painting and sculpting. “I love the immediacy of acrylics. I consider myself split between the two. I feel like I’ve become an artist as opposed to a sculptor.”

The 59-year-old Los Angeles native said his hearing started declining since college, although a diagnosis was never made.

“It was getting pretty bad, and it was very therapeutic to sculpt,” he said.

A graduate of Stanford University, Becker spent years working as an engineer. He was living in Barcelona when on a whim he bought a bag of clay that was on a shopkeeper’s doorstep. The art-filled Spanish city had reawakened Becker’s artistic side, which he had pushed aside for years.

One of his first commissions was a statue of mountain lions for the city of Poway, which is on display at Lake Poway. The commissions started coming in, and by 2012 he had become a full-time sculptor, working mainly in bronze.

Now, many of his previous, realistic sculptures seem very quiet to Becker.

The implant, which he resisted for many years, was “like a second chance,” he said. “It was wonderful. I found myself drawn to creating light, buoyant works; things that are lighter than air, things that float.”

The Sparks exhibition will also include a series of “balloon” sculptures made from stainless steel resin composite. Some, such as the blue fish and the red fish, are then painted with automotive paint. One balloon, titled “Pop-Pop,” is a tribute to Becker’s friend Richard Hamilton, considered the father of pop art.

“(The exhibition) has a pop feeling, an edginess with the stainless steel,” Sparks said.

Nearly all the of tots are stainless steel. “I love the brightness of stainless steel, how it reflects the light,” Becker said.

One, titled “Flying,” is nearly 4 feet tall and was created with a computer program and 3-D printing in plastic and then painted with automotive paint.

The idea for the tots came from commission of a “goggled-eyed kid” he named “Queen of the Sea.” Since then Becker has often set the tots, who are mainly bald-headed boys wearing swim trunks and goggles, into water-themed settings. “Buoyant” has a tot floating in a life ring, and “Flight of the Shark Baby” is a tot standing on a balloon shark.

“You can really see the time and energy that went into his work,” Sparks said.

Becker’s success is based on an innate talent and lots of research and hard work. His last formal art class was in high school.

“The thing I love about it is it’s really about what the viewers experience,” he said. “Once it’s in a gallery, the piece no longer is mine.”

He hopes the exhibition will inspire viewers as well as make them smile.

“My dream for this show is that we have people come in and feel good about what they see. If I have someone say, ‘That makes me feel happy,’ that’s the best compliment.”

“Float,” a solo exhibition by Richard Becker

When: Aug. 4 to Oct. 7; opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 4

Where: Sparks Gallery, 530 Sixth Ave., downtown

Admission: Free

Phone: (619) 696-1416


Schimitschek is a freelance writer.