Weâ€™ll start this off the way weâ€™d think the artist himself would least like us to – with the words â€œstreet art.â€ Sam Flores thinks the word has been diluted, and here at Format we canâ€™t say we disagree. However, you canâ€™t erase the roots from a tree without denying its birth. Flores himself has, however unknowingly (but more likely, consciously), helped to define the term. Where street art once purely meant â€œart on the streetâ€, today it means vinyl toys, sneakers, a special paint job on a street bike, and an endless list of even newer additions. Yes, its’ development has been bittersweet (as the transition from underground to mainstream often seems to be) but for an artist like Flores, who has personally touched all of those fields and more, what else could he have expected?
Regardless of the state of street artâ€™s definition, the fact remains that Sam Flores has played an enormous role in its evolution. And no matter the outcome, Sam still gives us the one thing that perhaps matters most of all; a reason to keep paying attention. [Ed’s Note: Check out Sam’s upcoming show Ego, Addiction and Other Bedtime Stories, at Subliminal Projects Gallery,1331 W Sunset Blvd, LA, opening May 2nd!]
“My imagination is pretty bugged out, so I love going inside it and seeing what it can create that day.”
Format: Youâ€™ve explored so many mediums within your work â€“ canvas, furniture, statues, toys â€“ are you trying anything new these days?
Sam Flores: I wanna do more sculptures, huge installations, and animation. I want to create whole worlds, moving worlds where we see the insides and behind the scenes of where all my creatures and characters come from.
Format: â€œWhole worlds,â€ sounds like you should find a killer interactive artist to collaborate with. On that note, I havenâ€™t see a lot of collabs involving you. Am I looking in the wrong places, or do you prefer to go solo?
Sam Flores: I love collaborating with people. [At the start of] my career I did a lot of group shows and stuff. Iâ€™m stoked to be able to do solo shows and to convey my own vision, but I also love to work with other artists and feed off each other.
Iâ€™ve done quit a bit of traveling with other artists around the world doing murals and installations. Dave Choe and Jeremy Fish are great for that; theyâ€™re really cool cats and itâ€™s been fun to collaborate and mix our styles together. Itâ€™s also great with sculptors and designers, making vinyl figures, you start with a vision and drawings, then work with others to create a 3-D model of your work for molds. So, that too is cool. I like to see how others take my ideas, add their thing to it and create a super, super world.
Format: If you walk into San Franciscoâ€™s Urban Playground, you canâ€™t help but notice how much the work of you and Jeremy Fish seems to just dominate those shops. Can you tell us about your relationship with that company?
Sam Flores: I met Upper Playground about nine years ago. Back then they had a small catalog of about ten t-shirt designs. We decided to do some designs together, it worked out, we did more, then about four years ago I started my line called 12Grain. Itâ€™s now grown into a huge monster of a line thatâ€™s taken over the world.
Itâ€™s been really cool to grow and develop as a designer with them, traveling and seeing the world with my line. We now have stores in LA, SF, Berkley, Portland, Seattle, New York, London and just opened a store and gallery in Mexico city.
Format: Vinyl art toys are awesome in theory; they give everyone the chance to have a piece of (likely) limited edition art without having to shell out too much cash. However, some people maintain that itâ€™s a worthless cause, because the real satisfaction in owning art comes from owning a piece of the artist, which can only be truly found in the original. What are your thoughts on that?
Sam Flores: For me, I just really like making things, to see an idea come to life weather it be a painting a vinyl toy, a coffee table or anything else. This is all a childhood dream and I havenâ€™t totally grown up yet. I love making little figures and toys. I donâ€™t put too much thought into who gets more satisfaction â€“ original art owners, print owners, toy owners â€“ if people like the things I make thatâ€™s cool and a plus. But my true satisfaction is just being able to have a chance to make and create things.
Format: I was talking with Ghost not too long ago, and he gave me the impression that the gap between street artists and writers seems to be deepening these days, perhaps because some writers still arenâ€™t warm to the recent development of this kind of art taking to the gallery. Have you noticed this same line-drawing happening on the west coast?
Sam Flores: I donâ€™t care for the term street artist, itâ€™s silly. I think graffiti came from the streets, and will always be in the streets. There are true writers that do their things in both, and if it works, do it, everything is a hustle out there. The rest of them are just hopping on some mainstream bandwagon crap that is so watered down, â€œMTV Street Art Cultureâ€ crap.
I grew up painting and drawing, started writing in â€˜91, did some time on the streets and now Iâ€™m pursuing my art career. I might be combining a little of my old styles with some fine art techniques and whatnot, but I donâ€™t like the term or categorizing everything as â€œstreet art.â€
Format: You did some amazing work for the Hope Gallery at this yearâ€™s Democratic National Convention. The energy in that place was insane. What was it like to be on the creative end of it?
Sam Flores: It was very fun; a lot of the artists I was meeting for the first time. Iâ€™ve met the Heavyweights before, and Iâ€™m old friends with Dave Choe, but everything else was new. It was pretty cool living in a house with them for five days. It was like the real world house for artists.
Format: A lot of artists are primarily inspired by the things around them. Some are primarily inspired by whatâ€™s going on in their head, and some would say theyâ€™re motivated by a mix of both. Where do you fit in that spectrum?
Sam Flores: Itâ€™s everything for me. I know thatâ€™s very broad, but everything in my everyday routine â€“ music, walking to the store â€“ I take things in and soak up inspiration. Traveling is a huge inspiration; I love traveling to new places and seeing their architecture, colors, smells, sounds.
I grew up pretty poor, so I didnâ€™t have toys. I was forced to develop my imagination young, which Iâ€™m very grateful for. My neighbors were throwing out a huge refrigerator box one day, and I asked them if I could have it. Iâ€™ve never seen a box that big, so each day it was something new to me. It was a spaceship, a castle, an army fort, a time machine.
My imagination is pretty bugged out, so I love going inside it and seeing what it can create that day. The best way to do it is just trust in your imagination and not force it; the best ideas come out when youâ€™re not trying to think about them.
Format: You have a solo show coming up in LA, is there a story behind the collection youâ€™ll be showing there?
Sam Flores: Hereâ€™s the write up Lainya Magana wrote for the show:
For his show, â€œEgo, Addiction, and Other Bedtime Stories,â€ Sam Flores will tackle what is perhaps one of the most pervasive themes in human existence: the struggle between light and dark. Through color and contrast, Flores will address those parts of our selves that seek to hide behind the protective mask of acceptance while our inner demons claw at us from the inside. There is a constant war being waged in the fight for balance â€“ to determine which side of us, good or bad, will win out in any given moment. And still, there is always the potential for beauty to shine through â€“ even in our darkest hours â€“ as Floresâ€™ work always so reverently reminds us.
Format: So your new show pairs light against dark, and focusing on that as an overall theme is new for you. But you do frequently seem to paint chaotic things happening around a character that looks genuinely peaceful? What are you hoping to share through that?
Sam Flores: I always incorporate a level of balance, whether with a lot of detail and open negative space, or light and dark, itâ€™s part of peopleâ€™s everyday life and a constant. Itâ€™s in most of my work, more than people might think.