For the past 25 years, I have balanced a career as a graphic artist, teaching artist, and an arts programming administrator. This combined experience brings me recognition for the cultural preservation of Puerto Rican traditions through my work promoting, exhibiting and teaching hands-on classes about the kites rooted in my family’s history. My decision to rejoin family in Amherst, NY, and continue my education through the Department of Art at the University at Buffalo, inspired me to meet Professor John Jennings and recent M.F.A. program graduate Stacey Robinson, at Sól Con: the Brown & Black Comix Expo. They confirmed that the power to rectify minority stereotypes in popular culture through influences like the entertainment industry continues to be held now by non-minority decision makers. Like John and Stacey, I am committed to accurately representing minorities and our varied life experiences through my artistic work.
Career advancement in three areas of my interdisciplinary art practice motivates my application to the M.F.A. in Studio Art program at UB. Cultural commentary, production and preservation through visual media like comic strips constitutes the first; teaching and mentoring comprises the second; and leveraging new projects with current colleagues in the field is the third. In addition, the opportunity to conduct scholarly research to develop my theories about how interpersonal relations affect social attitudes and behavior excites me. I want my research to strengthen my work’s potential for audience empowerment, as it strives to demystify differences among people while engaging their imaginations. I’m motivated to develop my grasp of contemporary social and political movements like Black Lives Matter through graduate work, and to expand the reach of my projects.
I hope for admission to the M.F.A. in Studio Art program because of its internationally acclaimed faculty, and the opportunity to advance as a practicing artist through their mentorship and constructive criticism. I’m drawn to the provocative paintings and performance art of George Afedzi Hughes paralleling violent colonial history and contemporary global conflicts, and to the labor-intensive, transformative drawings of Joan Linder addressing themes like sexual politics and power. Their range of interdisciplinary work resonates with me because I address concepts about public and private behavior through visual narratives, and I explore methods like traditional handwork that often repurposes mundane materials. I’m seeking the faculty’s guidance. Additionally, I’m choosing this program because I anticipate opportunities to exchange ideas and methodologies through collaboration, not only with graduate program peers, but also among the constituencies of education and culture centers throughout UB and the city of Buffalo. The Caribbean Research Center, the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York, and the Western New York Book Arts Center are all resources I want to collaborate with as I have with Columbia College Chicago and it’s community-based partners.
My 10-year tenure at the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College Chicago transformed how I perceive myself as an artist. Through collaborative strategies, CCAP develops and promotes sustainable models of arts-in-education programming that emphasize reciprocal learning between teachers and students. The students taught me how to teach with relevance to them, as long as I paid close attention. Partnering collaboratively enabled me to infuse a fulfilling genuineness into my work. I deviated from my marketing communications workload to draw and journal, often during staff meetings, and my coworkers noticed. As interdisciplinary artist-activists, they enjoyed and encouraged my practice of splitting my attention between agenda topics and my line drawing commentary on notepads. These illustrations were often incorporated into panels with hand-lettered titles, like vintage sideshow banners. I take calculated risks with a sense of humor, admittedly stereotyping myself at times to get audiences to lower their guard, to remind them that they’re not alone, and to assure them that they don’t have to fear each other or their own selves.
My sensibility is affirmed by the socially keen narratives of many 20th century culture producers and preservers. Favorites include visual artists Kara Walker, Pepón Osorio, and the Chicago Imagists; literary artists Zora Neale Hurston and Sharon Olds; and performative artists Laurie Anderson, Bill Cosby, and Afrika Bambaataa. I’m further intrigued by the direct and indirect influences of their respective predecessors, Bill Traylor, Booker T. Washington, and Lillian Anderson. Hurston’s essay, “Characteristics of Negro Expression” is especially influential on my work as it demystifies public interpersonal behavior among Blacks and makes a poignant comparison to the private interpersonal behavior of Whites. For me, her underlying message strives to unify the audience, since everyone experiences love and dysfunction. Truths like these inform my work, including a new bilingual comic strip concept titled, “Ruminations.” “Tío Chew” (his name phonetically plays on a common Latino nickname) is a socially refined Spanish bull who often finds the behavior of his subjects tiresome or ridiculous. He emphasizes this by side-glancing his audience in response to the irony he observes. The antics of a cast of animal characters are up for judgement, which, unknown to Tío Chew, includes him.
Of course, I’m drawing upon adult personalities as I experienced them as a child, along with children’s personalities I experience today. For sure, one Ruminations storyline will follow the tension that develops between a kid and his grandfather during a kite-making lesson. I crack up recalling my grandfather’s exacting methods, especially since I had to scrap them during my first experience teaching kite-making in a grade school classroom.
The fun and competitive craft of making and flying kites, or “Chiringas,” has passed through three generations of my family, and I’m hopeful this will continue with my son. I’m the first Flores to formalize kite-making curricula for the classroom, combining handwork with social studies, math, and science, for example. My methodologies, influenced by traditions, continue to evolve. I collect bamboo and palm leaf stems to build kite frames, salvage paper store window signs from dumpsters to make kite sails, and cook flour paste to use as glue. The bright red colors that often dominate the design of my sails originate from the massive hand-lettered advertising I cut from the dumpstered signs. I developed an appreciation for the limited availability and unapparent beauty of large, crumpled, and soiled paper signs as I rummaged for them. Such signs were needed to build the six-foot-tall “Toro” kites as I learned from my grandfather. For decoration, he would draw large faces on the kites so that they could be seen in flight. In this vein, I consider my kites as canvases for painted illustrations that often depict Native American Taino petroglyphs in the style of pop culture cartoons. My methods have led to new concepts, including my idea to reuse old sails, which are already repurposed, to create new sails. It’s a process that I’d like to repeat, analogous to the seemingly infinite reflection cast between opposing mirrors, or until the paper falls apart. The resulting patchwork kites I’ve made so far are especially significant because they depended on my longtime premeditative habit of collecting and saving things, which like traditions and humor, is a topic that I want to continue exploring in my work.
In addition to a huge collection of my drawings torn from the pages of notebooks dating back to grade school, I’ve saved the theater ticket stubs from every single movie I’ve seen since high school. These stubs have grown into a fascinating collected diary, as I’ve consistently noted on each the date, location, who I was with, and other circumstances that I thought at the time was worth remembering. This collection includes ticket stubs from other events as well, revealing overall my friendships, interests, and travels as they developed and changed along a timeline. I’ve realized that my intimate relationships and my fluctuating emotional and financial health are vulnerable to discovery as well. For a collaborative art installation, I created a visual narrative from enlargements of a few of the ticket stubs in my collection. The exhibit, “De Raices Cotidianas (Domestic Antecedents)”, featured installations by artists who use Latin American traditions of embellishing and transforming objects to push the boundaries of domestic and intimate storytelling. I’ll continue adding to my archives, as I aspire to create new work about collecting, categorizing, and archiving, for sure to define myself further, and importantly, to contribute to the ongoing national conversation about who we all are, Black, Brown or White.
I’m an artist at heart. And it’s with great enthusiasm and excitement that I submit my application for the opportunity to work with Professor Jennings as he continues to refine and produce his direction in earnest, authentically representing minorities in all their subjective circumstances, and teaching them how to do so for themselves. It’s what I’ve known I need. It’s what I’m proving I can do.