Art-loving San Franciscans, and Lower Haighters who have walked past the five-panel mural at 645 Haight Street, need no introduction to Sam Flores.
The illustrator, muralist, and painter is one of the best-known artists to have emerged from our fair city in the past decade, having built himself an international audience. But Flores is ready to re-introduce himself this Saturday, when his new solo show opens at FIFTY24SF.
Called “A Light In The Darkness,” it’s Flores’ first show in SF since 12/12/12. (His clothing company is called 12Grain—we’re sensing a theme.) Hoodline was invited by FIFTY24SF gallery director Trevor Martin to sit down with Flores and get the scoop on the new show, which Flores says is only the beginning of a strange new trip into the inner recesses of his mind that he’ll be taking us on next year.
Hoodline: How long has it been since your last show in San Francisco?
Sam Flores: "The last proper show was actually at Upper Playground as well, at Fifty24SF, and it was 2012. So two years ago. But before that it was a good seven. So we did a show on 12/12/12. I’ve had a studio in Oakland so I’ve been out there working on new stuff, just kinda creating a different world, and I thought it was time to come out of my little cave and show some new work."
H: Why now?
SF: "Some of the things I’ve been working on are just a lot of my thoughts that I’ve been turning into paintings. I just kinda picked. I just felt like it was time to bring them out now. It’s kind of a bridge to a lot of worlds that I’m going to start doing next year, so this is kind of a jump off to those. I wanted a little transition. So it’s going to slowly change into a new world."
H: Your artist statement talks about balance, light vs. dark, good vs. evil. Was there a particular thing that happened in your life that got you ruminating on these themes?
SF: "In a lot of my work throughout the years, I like to have balance, whether it's visual with negative space balanced with detail, or it's the themes of good and evil. It’s not any particular incident. It’s just kind of like how life is, and just how I watch everyone struggle, and it’s the main thing everyone fights every day, whether it’s an addiction or something you’re surrounding yourself with or just a person. It’s not anything that happened to me in particular, it’s more just what we all go through, and I had a lot of things to say about it, or images in my head about it, and so I wanted to create those worlds, show the balance, have people fight and also have people help each other get through things, and, you know, help show the right way or get back onto the right path when you’ve gone wrong."
H: You also mentioned that you’ve been lucky enough to have people shine a light for you in your life. Do any of those people figure into your work?
SF: "A lot of it is just my upbringing. I was raised by my mother, so she was kind of my shining light or my guiding light, and still is. So I guess I just take on a lot of what she’s given me and I try to help everyone else in my life as much as I can. There’s friends and family that are there for you, people who don’t really need to help out but will go out of their way to help you without getting anything in return. It’s just a comment on the things that people do and what people need to get through this world and life. It’s nice to see when people actually step up to help people. To find someone like that in your life is kinda necessary to get through."
H: Do you see these works as representative of this viewpoint of balance, or do you see them as inspirational? Do you hope they convey a sense of balance that will impact people’s lives?
SF: "I think a little of both. Most of my stuff, even if it’s not directly, obviously has something to do with me, just 'cause it’s coming out of me. A lot of it is just a commentary on what everyone goes through in life, so it’s my take on it, or my way to look at it, or just how to illustrate a certain situation or incident in someone’s life and what it looks like or how to get through it, to do what it takes to get somewhere better. It’s not one thing. Some of them were just a cool way of me representing something, some of them are a lot deeper with some inside commentary that I have going on. It’s a little mix. You have to go there to find out, find out what it says."
H: Are you experimenting with any different media or techniques?
SF: "Yeah with this work I’m just really taking more time to concentrate on the little details, it’s kinda what makes or breaks something and I’m doing a lot of hard, dark backgrounds and a lot of bright colors to contrast and have them pop. They’re going to glow and jump off the walls. I wanted to have this really extreme contrast of dark and light, within the painting and also having that as the message. Just rendering everything a little more deeper, going deeper into the detail and into my world. A lot of times in my past shows it’s just quick little snaps or little crops of some of my worlds, and now you’re getting deeper, going into it a lot deeper, and I wanted to show those details to make you feel like you’re really inside of my mind and my world."
H: You mentioned your mother earlier, and your work often features more feminine elements even though you’re coming from the graffiti world, which is more macho and masculine. Do you credit your mother’s influence for why those themes in particular resonate with you?
SF: "Definitely, she’s a big influence on everything. But just in general I feel like the female form is a lot more beautiful, so even if I’m portraying a thought or idea or emotion, it’s a lot more pleasing to see it in the context of a woman or having a beautiful woman’s form in the paintings. In this show there will be a balance of little cool kids and machismo little characters as well as some beautiful female characters. I just feel like it’s more appealing, the female form is so much more beautiful than to portray everything in this stylized dude character."
H: You’ve lived in Oakland for the past few years, but your career is tied up with San Francisco in a lot ways. Do you think the city has made its way onto the canvas?
SF: "Most definitely, all my work is kinda sponged from my surroundings. Wherever I go, whether it’s traveling to Asia, every place I go, I pick up stuff and soak it into my work. I’ve been in SF for a good 15 years and I was in Oakland for the last three and a half, but I’m back in SF now. So I’m excited to come back into my city and absorb new things. A lot of my characters you’ll see a range of different people and eclectic-ness, and it’s all a reflection of SF and how it’s a whole melting pot and we have so much different culture and life and color. It’s all kind of mirrored from that."
H: You mentioned this show was bridging your past and what you’ve got planned for the future. Can you tell us about that?
SF: "It’s definitely a surprise, we’re going deeper into everything. This is the first zoom in into my world. Next year the gallery is going to be my mind, you’re going to actually go into my body and see everything. That’s all I can say. It’s the first zoom in of the next level, the next world, that you’re going to see."
“A Light In The Darkness” opens this Saturday, December 6th, at 6pm at FIFTY24SF (218 Fillmore Street). Flores will be in attendance, Fort Point Beer Co. will be supplying the hooch, and some new t-shirts based on Flores’ artwork will be on sale.
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