Carolina G. Flores

My work is about color and an energy field that is both compelling and seductive, reverberating with sound, movement, memories (past and present), and sensual form. I want my subject to be elevated to a heightened awareness through my use of all the formal elements, especially color and form, whether the size of a ten foot canvas or the tiniest four-by-four inch oil on canvas. Creating a soundboard of colors that vibrate to express my idea whether it is a portrait, a highway/landscape, or fruit on the table, is what speaks about who I am.

My subjects have covered portraits of my family (from black and white photographs) and fantasy landscapes (late '60s and early '70s), themes of the Mexican Revolution (Adelitas, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata), dance shoes, Stacy Adams, and Palmas de Michoacán in the mid '70s. Moving to San Antonio, Texas, for graduate school, I became fascinated by the ornate rooftops and window reflections of such an old and culturally rich city. Those images worked their way into many watercolors and a few oils. Starting my own family brought new subject matter. Portraits of my daughter developed in great numbers, as well as portraits of my students in the schools. The highway series began twelve years ago and is still emerging, as are landscapes of the surrounding area in San Antonio.

My work best portrays our Chicano culture in the portraits of the young people (from the inner city schools) and of family. They best depict the beauty if our features, both physical and spiritual. If a Chicana/o cares about her/his community and works towards the betterment and empowerment of the community, she can paint a yellow stripe or red dot, and to me it is the work of a Chicana or Chicano artist. The nature and intent of a person's life is important to me. The work(s) he does may be about a pure red canvas, but the awareness and actual work in the community must be there for me to swallow that red canvas.

Too many artist, poets, etc., have used the culture to launch and carry their careers. They have analyzed the art or literary scene and used it for their advantage. While the community longs for direction and the efforts of many, these cultural movers and shakers sit apart and distant in the comfort of their newly acquired success. I prefer a person who get down and dirty working on a mural outside with inner city kids or in a classroom, prison, hospital or boardroom, who goes to the studio and does a still life of mangos because they are sensual and the colors are amazing. To me that's commitment to art and community. And our commitment will spill over into our work. Our advancement should not come just from outside of us (political slogans, trendy images, programmed images that fit neat little cubed boxes of stereotypes). Real images and real feelings and a preparation that is solid so that we execute these images well, do great work, and serve the community. Give back what you have received, share information and be a Chicana in every way possible in the face of the oppressor. That takes courage, commitment, intelligence, perseverance, and integrity.

Influences

I came to learning my art form with an open mind and spirit that still persists today. I absorbed the influences of the direction from the white male instructors at the University of Texas at Austin. Having a difficult first year (1968), I choose my art professors based on a faculty show at the end of the year. Those choices proved to be influential and productive in my work. The artist/professors—Charles Field, Robert Levers, Richard Jordan—and the school in general pushed me to stretch in the execution of my work, to reach for a more expressive approach. Color was a natural, and observing the work of the "fauves" and the Mexican artists of the '50s fueled my love of color. I believe we need as Chicanos to not get bogged down with who we study (race or gender), but that we are able to absorb and better express in our art as a result of good influences. We should have an opportunity to study with Chicanos and women, a situation that is still not rectified. Women artists have historically been left out of the picture, and creating awareness of that issue and creating opportunities is vital to our survival and preservation as people and artists.

Women artists and their work has supported and reaffirmed my work in textiles and my ideas in my painting, and fueled new ones for work yet to be done. Frida Kahlo was a wonderful discovery many years ago but living Chicano artist who fuel my spirit and determination are people like Linda González, artist and educator, whose imagery and approach to art making strikes a chord of unspoken understanding and shared experiences. I like to follow a natural and unencumbered (with energy wasted against those who have or would oppress us) approach to art making. We must be beyond noble and absorb the art of the world and make our statement from an inner voice that speaks of our own truth and existence. Influences that come from without can become only political and not inspired. When you truly push out the truth in you via color, line, shape, and subject, your true Chicanismo will be exposed in all its glory.

The art process

My work has been traditionally in oils on canvas, stretched canvas that is primed with acrylic gesso and a white oil base. I don't like to draw out the image, but prefer to paint directly on the canvas making changes and adjustments as the work progresses. Sometimes in the middle of a painting, I will stop to do a sketch that will help me solve some of the problems in the piece. I like to work more intuitively, taking risks, and allowing the paint to move more freely, creating surprises under my relaxed but controlled wipings and brushstrokes. I have worked with children (as an artist in residence) in approximately seventy schools, and in pure colors from the inside of the head and working out. Students respond with incredible portraits of their own.

There are many works in watercolor, which are done even more spontaneously using a wet on wet technique. The pieces can range in size from thumbnail to life size.

Seventeen years ago, I added work on silk with Porcion H dyes. That media is still being explored. It includes hand painting the silk with several layers of paint depending on the silk type, steaming the fabric and doing multiple washes. Working with ready-made scarves solved the problem of time to cut and sew garments. I am still producing garments but envision an installation of yardage of hand painted silks, using mirrors, music, water, and other elements to create sensations and an era of our Moorish past. Work in clay has included primarily tile murals and three dimensional hand-built tiles, hand painted with floss glazes and under-glazes. This is an area still to be explored more in depth.

My experience in photography has served me well in capturing images. Having studied with Russell Lee (a contemporary of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange) in Austin, I have produced multi-media productions about being Chicana/o using slides, live music, and poetry.

Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Culture, and Education

It is interesting that the two paintings chosen for Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Culture and Education are approximately thirty years apart in execution.

The self-portrait was done in a loose style, expressive in gesture, with color influenced by the "Fauves," especially Matisse's Madame Matisse, with the green stripe going down the middle of the nose. This painting coincided with a series based on family portraits done from old photographs, while in undergraduate school in the late sixties and early seventies. The medium size self-portrait was done expressively in one sitting, using a mirror instead of a photograph. It was completed on a Friday evening in a small narrow room that contained all my possessions and essential living items. Besides being expressive and strong in color, the strength of the painting comes from the imagery of a struggle to survive in an alien world at the University of Texas at Austin; a university of 48,000 students, 99 percent of them being non-Hispanic and of a higher income level than myself. While the experience of studying art was exhilarating, the surroundings did not reflect my background ethnically or socially. Fighting the urge to quit on the painting, I completed it in one evening. This self-portrait has always symbolized the triumph of my spirit over a hostile and lonely environment, where I absorbed the teachings of a few excellent instructors through sheer "ganas" to be the artist that I am today.

Little Man, Mi Tío Cacho is a large oil painting (8ft x 5ft) completed in the summer of 2000, a series based on the family black and white photographs, a series begun anew along with other large contemporary portraits of immediate family and significant people in my life. My uncle was around twelve years old when this photo was taken, proudly standing in front of his new bicycle. The photographs document the everyday events in our lives. These calm and noble photographs are part of what our people are all about. It is a side of our Chicano culture that is not always captured in contemporary art depicting Chicanos, who daily are in the news media as if creating all the crimes, and portrayed artistically as one dimensional, violent, and exaggerated characters. While some of these images have their merit and are painted in an accomplished manner, I believe that as a people we are the sum of all the everyday events in our lives from childhood to our deaths. Our stories and dreams, our neighborhoods, our weddings; each captured moment unique to our cultural experience is validated on my canvas with inventive use of color and a freshness of line, contour, and gesture.

In Little Man, Mi Tío Cacho, I have tried to represent the nobility and dignity in a young boy's pride in his ownership pf a new bicycle: his undeniable manhood with his beautiful dark skin and features, and that relaxed but assertive stance that speaks volumes of the beauty of our stoic and rich culture, male and female. As Chicanas/os, this is the legacy we leave the world, our extraordinary talent and our more extraordinary lives.