FEATURE///AN INTERVIEW WITH SAM FLORES…

December 19, 2007  |  art, Feature, San Francisco

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As the finale of SAM FLORES' new solo show "Senso to Heiwa" (War & Peace) at Philadelphia's LINEAGE GALLERY draws near, we take a moment to catch up with one of San Francisco's brightest artists for a closer look at the method to his madness. READ ON:

For this thematic show, Flores has filtered his thoughts on the current political climate through the lens of the ancient Samurai wars and his stylized rendering has been mated with the flat decorative elements of traditional Japanese Rimpa painters in an ambitious updating of traditional art from Japan's Edo period. In this imagined world, Flores' trademark heavy-handed characters don traditional Japanese garb (along with limited-edition Nike kix) and are set loose on an ancient countryside where the artist has memorialized them with heavy doses of vibrant color accented by swaths of delicately applied gold leaf. Now, in his own words, Flores-san shares some thoughts on his new work, the pitfalls of the modern art world, and his unending desire to paint on airplanes:

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This new body of work represents a big step forward for you in terms of depth and scope. Tell me about the theme of the show and your visual inspiration for the series.
My inspiration was from old Japanese woodblock prints and paintings of traditional samurais and geishas, but with my on style and twist. I wanted to showcase the balance of violence and beauty, the contrast of dark and light, war and peace. I'm always studying painting techniques, I've been studying the Edo period for a number of years now, this was just a little taste of some of the things I wanna do with that style.

The paintings in this show are very impressive; your drawing chops have really expanded and become hyper-stylized. Have you been woodshedding?
Yes, I've been trying to take everything seriously these days. If you discipline your life and surroundings, your work will reflect that. I've been treating it with somewhat of a boxers training: no booze, broads or gambling. I just lock myself in and grow a big beard and create.
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Working in such a graphic style it would be easy for people to simply label your art as illustration. Do you consider your work to be fine art or are you comfortable with a more commercial tag? Is there a difference?
I just like to make things; I don't really get hung up on names or titles of a certain style. My work is a mix of everything and I don't really care how people categorize it.

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Your style is very distinct and characterized by repetitious design elements like recurring poses and large, intertwined hands and feet. What inspired this imagery and is there some kind of meditative quality to the repetition inherent in your work? And what's up with the big hands?
I've been doing similar characters my whole life, in each painting they represent something different, but still have a comfortable recognizable style so you can tell your mothers leg from everyone else's if you get lost in the market. Big hands, growing up drawing hands and feet were always the hardest thing, but had the most expression. During that time I was doing a lot more stylized characters and whether it was on the streets or on canvas I always exaggerated the character's hands. I kept that when I started painting with more of a loose fine art feel and not as illustrative. I kinda mixed both styles but kept some of my old traits. I like that you can tell a story of how someone feels by the placement of their hands and communicate if they're uncomfortable, withdrawn, excited, etc. Also I just like how it looks

You live work in San Francisco and have therefore been mainly grouped into the so-called "San Francisco School" of modern artists that also includes Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, David Choe, etc. Do you feel like there's some truth to that label in terms of sharing a style and inspiration?
Of course I can say I've been inspired and influenced by McGee, as are so many artists that come to SF, but I think what relates to me most out here is just a passion to do what ever we want, with no category or rules. People are too quick to title things, put a tag on it and place it on a certain shelf so they know where everything stands and what to call it when there judging it. I like how so many artists out here are just doin and making their art, bottom line.
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What's your opinion on the state of the modern art world? Young artists are being catapulted to sudden success in a way never before seen with massive financial windfalls coming from nowhere. As a young artist in the early growth stage of a career, is it tempting to try to find a big dealer who will try to catapult you to fame or are you trying to grow your career more slowly?
Of course I'm trying to build slowly. I see so many flash-in-the-pans who play that “get rich quick" card, trying to be the new “it" artist. I'd rather be a slow burning sparkler then a quick bang firecracker. The money will come, but that's not what drives me. I'd still be doing it regardless.
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What artists do you find most inspiring?
Anyone who creates even when no one likes them or they're not applauded in those “cool" art circles. I also like classic illustrators like Maurice Sendak, Ralph Steadman, Moebius, and artists like Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, and Katsushika Hokusai.

What are you most compulsive about in life and why?
Making things. I think I'm the most happy when I'm by myself working, but I also really like being out with people. I love being social, so finding a balance is my compulsion.
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Who have been your heroes in life and why?
My moms, she had me very poor and struggled to survive with me, and now she spends her life taking care of and helping people.

What was your last exciting discovery?
Nothing hurts if I don't want it to.
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Do you think mankind is becoming more violent as time goes on or is the media just amplifying that trait?
I think we're becoming more violent, and it's not going to get any better anytime soon.

Have you gone through periods when you felt your life was getting off track?
Sure, but I've known since I was a young Gelfling that this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life, so even if I would veer off path a little I had the faith and confidence to help me get back on track very easily.
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What constitutes great art?
The person that likes it

Is art the object or the action?
It can be either one, or both.
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Merchandising has become an increasingly important aspect of modern artist's careers, from prints and T-Shirts to toys and custom shoes & cars. Do you think this has a negative effect on a fine art career in the long run? Does it cheapen an artist's work or vision? What influences your choices when working in a commercial sense?
My whole life I've always wanted to make T-shirts and skateboards and toys. So to be able to do that and also paint what I want and not have to get too caught up in all the politics and drama of "oh, you can make a few T-shirts and maybe a toy and still be able to paint in a fine art fashion and have people respect you. But if you do the shirt and a toy and a propeller hat and a yo-yo, well, that's too much, you don't deserve to be called a fine artist, that's my dream. I don't know, I just like to make things that make me happy and something that's just plain silly. I try not to get too caught up with all the bullshit, but at the same time I'm not saying you should sell yourself out and put your shit on every piece of merchandise. I guess you just have to pick your battles and not get too caught up in the politics.

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What's something you want to do before you die?
I wanna paint the tail of a 747 really bad, for some reason.

If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
Out of work porn star! Naw, I'd probably be a teacher. I still wanna teach art to kids...

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