Enrique Flores: Philanthropic Oaxacan artist has the golden
Rodolfo Morales influence
Artist Enrique Flores is one of the most prolific Mexican
artists of his generation. Of course having been mentored
by the late great master of contemporary Mexican art, Rodolfo
Morales, hasnt hurt; nor has the fact that two of Oaxacas
most prominent art galleries, Indigo and Arte de Oaxaca, were
his patrons for many years. But theres no substitute
for hard work, talent, and vision, each characterizing Flores.
Flores has been exhibiting his work throughout Mexico and
the United States since 1985. By the early 1990s he
began receiving global recognition as a significant force
on the Latin American art scene, with exhibits in Japan in
1992, and Holland the following year. Heineken commissioned
him to paint two murals for a US promotional campaign aimed
at attracting Mexican-American consumers. His stylizing of
indigenous Mexican women, as well as the distinctiveness of
his work were brought to the attention of art aficionados
in the 1994 publication, Arte y Alma de Oaxaca (Art and Soul
of Oaxaca), supported by the Fine Art Gallery of New York;
and in the 1998 landmark book, Imagenes y Colores de Oaxaca
(Images and Colors of Oaxaca). He illustrated a well-received
childrens book, published in both Spanish and English
by The Childrens Press, Pájaros de la Cosecha
(Birds of the Harvest).
Flores was born in Huitzo, in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca,
on July 1, 1963. He started painting during his junior high
school days in the late 70s. By 1980 his formal training
had begun, studying drawing with Jesús Vásquez
in Oaxaca while attending high school. In 1981 he entered
Oaxacas highly respected School of Fine Arts. The following
year he was off to an art college in Mexico City: But
my goal had been to get into La Escuela de Pintura y Escultura,
Flores recounts. Even though I had a recommendation
from Rufino Tamayo, I wasnt accepted because I didnt
have all my high school credits. However, all worked out for
the best because a friend introduced me to Rodolfo Morales.
They developed a close relationship. Flores would regularly
go to Morales studio in Coyoacan to chat and watch him
at work, while Morales was pleased to have a young protégé
upon whom he was able to impart technical advice.
Upon his return to Oaxaca from the nations capital,
Flores entered Taller Rufino Tamayo (Rufino Tamayo Workshop),
where he was able to live in one of the small studio apartments
while enrolled in a two year apprenticeship. He then studied
under Maestro Juan Alcázar. Not wanting to commute
between Huitzo and Oaxaca, he found a flat in downtown Oaxaca.
In 1988, after studying under Alcázar for three years,
Flores returned to Huitzo, and has remained there ever since.
When Morales moved back to his hometown of Ocotlán
in the late 80s, the friendship was rekindled, with
Flores meeting with Morales in Ocotlán, and periodically
when Morales would be in Oaxaca.
Sure Morales was my primary mentor over the years,
Flores readily acknowledges, but his work has provided
a significant stimulus for well over half of the artists in
Oaxaca. However if you examine my work carefully, it should
become apparent that Im a student of a number of the
impressionists, in particular Monet and Gauguin. I consider
them to be very strong influences in my work; just look at
my use of color. But ask Flores for a single name, and
enigmatic Flemish painter Hieronymus (Geronimo) Bosch (c.
1450 1516) immediately rolls off his tongue. Enriques
extraordinary melding of influences then becomes apparent.
Despite the elements and styles which some of his works have
in common with those of Morales, the impressionists, and certainly
Bosch, as a student of the human condition Flores clearly
derives his inspiration from a much broader array of sources
studying cultures both past and present in his homeland,
and contemporary society elsewhere. For example while studying
in Japan he began experimenting with oriental forms and indicia
of culture such as Eastern deities. He incorporated this knowledge
and his own continuous personal growth into his Oaxacan works:
I did a fair bit of pencil and watercolor sketches in
my notebooks during that era. And even today I still occasionally
refer back to those drawings when looking for something a
bit different or while Im struggling with how to express
myself in a particular work. At times Ive juxtaposed
constituents of Japanese society with Mexican themes and traditions.
Over a period of about ten years Flores spent two or three
months annually in Montana, using the break from his home
environment as a means of both rejuvenating and advancing
his creativity. But its been his constant presence in
the Mixteca which has been his most significant ongoing inspiration.
He explains: Huitzo was historically the frontier between
the Mixtec and Zapotec cultures, so we have at least three
distinct groups, the Mixtec, the Zapotec and right here in
Huitzo theres a combination of the two. The implications?
In this basket of cultures there is the richness of three
worldviews, customs including dress, dance and other manifestations
of culture, and perhaps more importantly for an artist such
as Flores, differences in physique --- facial structure, stature,
hair texture, comport, etc.
Flores recognizes the debt of gratitude owed to those who
have shaped his creative forces, and in turn his success.
Its shown in how he returns to the community all that
he has received, and more, through his philanthropic gestures.
He regularly donates pieces to benefit art auctions. While
occasionally requesting a percentage of revenue of sales of
his pieces to help defray costs, on a regular basis he outright
donates his works: If a city or town has what I consider
to be a charity extremely worthy of assistance, and I know
that the particular market wont support lucrative sale
prices at auction, then I have no hesitation in simply giving
my works to the organizers.
In acknowledging his profound indebtedness to the likes of
Morales, Alcázar and others who have generously provided
their time and counsel, Flores responds in kind, giving of
himself in whatever way he can to the younger generation of
Oaxacan artists. There are regularly between four and six
students from the School of Fine Arts working and studying
with him in his workshop: Theyre welcome to come
to my facility to work on their own projects, ask my advice,
and simply observe how I work, and pitch in. In many cases
since theres insufficient equipment at the university
relative to the number of students enrolled in the fine arts
program, and since most of the students are of modest means
and simply dont own what they need, I let them use anything
I have. My only rules are that on Saturday afternoon at the
end of the work week, my shop is left clean and in order,
and that my equipment is kept in good condition. While
Flores water colors and oils dont generally require
high end or expensive tools of the trade, the same does not
hold true of the costly machinery and other products needed
to produce lithographs and engravings.
The Flores golden touch is more than a lucky lot in life as
a result of having been tutored by the masters, the exposure
hes received through art books and in excess of one
hundred gallery exhibitions, and for close to a quarter of
a century his knack for producing what has been attracting
the buying public: Enrique Flores has always had a clear vision
of what he wants to achieve.
At only 45, most of Flores career has yet to unfold.
His workshop has been a long-term project, started in 1998.
In true Oaxacan fashion, construction has progressed in phases.
But hes already managed to build a modern, high-ceilinged
domed complex where most of his work is carried out. Although
larger and better equipped than most such workshops in the
state, Flores intends to proceed with further expansion, clearly
a labor of love. He plans to add a building exclusively for
ceramics, since while a gifted ceramicist in his own right,
without a kiln and other equipment he must travel to Oaxaca
to use a colleagues facility. He also wants to expand
his relatively new lithograph operation, which will require
building out from the existing structure.
But it will be Enrique Flores final two projects, already
on the horizon, which will set him apart from most, and contribute
to the legacy he will leave to the next generation of Oaxacan
artists, and ultimately art collectors everywhere. Flores
proposes to build small apartment units to house art students;
and to open a gallery on the premises showcasing his own,
but more importantly the works of talented and promising young
artists struggling for exposure
once again giving back
in the same way he received.
by Alvin Starkman
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
Alvin Starkman, together with his wife Arlene, operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.oaxacadream.com), a unique bed and breakfast experience providing the comfort and service of a downtown Oaxaca hotel, with the quaintness and personal touch of country inn accommodations. Alvin has written over 200 articles about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, takes tourists to visit the usual sights as well as for more off-the-beaten-track experiences, consults to documentary film companies working in Oaxaca, and together with acclaimed chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo, runs Oaxaca Culinary Tours (http://www.oaxacaculinarytours.com).