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David Flores: The Saint-Maker

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"Dali In The Water" by David Flores.

Bold dark lines crisscross through fields of color to highlight the tonal shifts and unique characteristics of his subjects. Similar to the overlap and maze of freeways in Los Angeles, David Flores carves into the flat surface of the wall with his emblematic contours. The piece may feature a scientific hero such as Albert Einstein or a significant artist like Karl Benjamin, either way the scale, design, and handling emphasizes the subject's individual importance and unique qualities. Hardly a deep political commentary, instead Flores holds a mirror up to pop culture and has become a contemporary saint maker as he appropriates familiar imagery and shifts its purpose.

Public art holds a special place in the history of art in Los Angeles, as it once, in the 1960s and 1970s, was considered the mural capital of the world. The presence of art in the public sphere has a huge impact on the inhabitants of the city and Flores is contributing towards this revival. However, this was never his intent. Flores' interest in making art accessible started in design and has manifested in collectables, clothing, and prints. A progression that started in skateboarding and now seems to bleed into anything that can hold a graphic, it's a story that is inspiring since it's about making art that lives along side us.

Flores began his artistic life as a designer. Shortly after earning his bachelors degree, he received his first break working for Shorty's, a manufacturer of skateboard equipment. This experience led to his work being featured in the popular magazine Transworld Skateboarding. Originally a movement born out of surfing, the young sport of skateboarding experienced incredible growth in just a few decades, as it gained a mainstream audience through the success of the X-Games and the sport's celebrities like Tony Hawk.

Albert Einstein by David Flores
Albert Einstein by David Flores.
 Nelson Mandela by David Flores
Nelson Mandela by David Flores.

Despite this success, skating still exists as mainly an individual exercise practiced in the streets, a dualism that Flores attempts to maintain through his murals and commercial work. Foundationally, these experiences were an early taste for making work that folks use as part of their identity, a lesson about the importance of creating imagery that resonates with youth culture.

The jump to murals was a chance encounter by a friend who appreciated Flores' work. The end result was a huge portrait of James Dean. Once completed, it lit a fire for the possibilities of creating art outdoors and the exposure it allowed as thousands of people engaged it every day. The public reception was also well-received and quickly followed by additional invitations. Seizing each opportunity and embracing the new challenges, each mural continued to broaden Flores' exposure and audience.

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The abundance of portraiture by Flores along with his distinctive style, I believe, is best understood as a celebration. The varying level of importance of each individual is arguable but his or her likenesses are not. The stark contrast created by his contours draws one into the image and is akin to the stain glass masterpieces of the Medieval Era but instead of Biblical narratives, Flores' heroic portraits are a celebration of culture. His audience is attracted to the work because they can touch and engage it. From taking a photo and posting online to purchasing a product designed by Flores like sunglasses or a skateboard emphasizes that the approachability is key. It may be an image of Johnny Cash, on the outside of the famed Viper Room, or it's just as likely to see one of Flores' portraits on the bottom of a skateboard as it flips underneath the athlete's feet. The stained glass style of painting is simple but memorable, leaving us with who we want these people to be.

Yet it's Flores's history in design that paved a path for his take on portraiture. The culmination of subcultures including collectables, skateboarding, mural making, and street wear -- David Flores' work represents a distinct part of culture and the art world that didn't exist a few decades ago. The explosion and interest in design associated with skating grew from a youth subculture to a mainstream audience that allows Flores to make art that you can wear, play, or contemplate.

 Jean-Michel Basquiat by David Flores
Jean-Michel Basquiat by David Flores.
Johnny Cash by David Flores
Johnny Cash by David Flores.

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