Tulio Flores: The Avant-Garde of the Reused

Arturo Hilario /El Observador

With a fascination with nature and found materials for his artwork, local artist Tulio Flores has built up a substantial repertoire that includes painting, ceramics, sculptures and set design. His artwork flows from themes of nature, recycling and reusing, and the surreal.

Sketches, paintings and sculptures adorn the backyard studio of his San Jose home. Laid amongst the grass and reclaimed wood is pieces to his future art projects. “Everything in nature is grounded. I just feel like home when I’m in nature. I use a lot of elements that nature and people discard. I just bring it back to life.”

One piece sitting in his studio is immediately striking. Once a mannequin, now it’s a stoic rabbit sitting down and hunched forward, while its clean white torso is surrounded by a metal frame, almost like a vest. This particular piece was used for “Today’s Bride” magazine, yet in that iteration it had a type of fur coat on. The rabbit changed once it was needed for one of Flores’ gallery exhibitions.

He says it’s still not done yet. “I’m going to take all these things, it’s going to have a more surreal body. Painted human skin, she’s going to have tats. She’s gonna be more badass.”

The evolutions of his works are a method to his tinkering mind, always wondering how he can push the colors, the message, the attitude of a piece. While some of the pieces are more subdued, whether it’s for contractual work or for his own guest room, his avant garde style does dominate whenever he’s creating art for the sake of creating. He says of the rabbit, “I did her softer for the show and the magazine, I didn’t want to scare people, but I think for this year I’m just gonna go for it. For whatever I feel. I’m just going to do it.”

His mix of themes can be described as a blend of organic, industrial, steampunk and Mexican artisanal influences. Mannequins’ flowery dresses flow like water, made up of dyed coffee filters. Hearts are crafted from pieces of wood and ticking cogs from a long abandoned machine. A profile of a hummingbird with a woman’s torso is splashed with color and feathers.

“Why do I choose flowers, choose plants, choose all kinds of elements from the earth? Because I’m connected with that. I love plants, I love mother nature, I love earth. I like that flowing of using stuff that is dead, but it’s still alive for me, I can see the ‘alive’ coming through that.” His connection to the organic stems from his upbringing. As a child growing up in Las Varas, Mexico he would see his mother tend to what he calls an ‘amazing garden’ full of life, featuring not only plant life but hummingbirds and bees.

Flores is sometimes reminded of the freedom within nature because of the constraints of society and urban life. Sometimes I am surrounded by negative people and I just can’t be (there). This is suffocating me, this is bad, this is not my thing. People, certain jobs, that’s my cage. I get out, and I feel like a bird, I feel free. This is my freedom, art for me brings me out from anything and everything and it just feels like when I come here, I can do whatever I want. Sometimes people restrict me from doing a lot of crazy stuff, but that’s why this year I was like I’m gonna do it, if people get freaked out by it, their problem not mine.”

Flores has one idol in the art world, the late Alexander McQueen.” He’s a fashion designer. He’s avant garde, over the top so I was always following, I love the crazyness, how can he do something so beautiful in a piece of fabric. He wasn’t restricted.”

Flores started doing art 10 years ago. After coming to the United States he worked in construction and sales before really deciding to devote himself to the art scene. “I liked art for a long time, my mom is an artist. She always had classes in our house, and took classes. She always had people learning stuff. I never really got in it because it’s just not a world for a guy to do art in Mexico. It’s just machismo or whatever. When I was a kid I drew a lot. When I came here at 19 I came here and I started drinking. I was lost, came to another country, not speaking the language, not knowing anybody. Even though my sister was here the family is totally different. Family in Mexico helped each other, everybody lives with their mom and dad til’ you die, it’s a family thing. When I came here it was totally different, nobody is going to help you, you better put yourself together and start doing  your thing.”

“So I started exploring, I started doing paintings, just small stuff. It got to the point where my partner eventually told me, ‘dude, you better do something with this thing. You’re going to throw it away or have a show.’”

So for his birthday Flores was given his first show at  Works San Jose.  To this day, he continues to be a board member at Works, going on 7 years.

All he knew when he first started in the art world was that he liked certain things. Beyond that he says, “I had to learn about art. I had to learn about artists. I never went to school for it, learned all on my own. I like to see other artist’s work. See the strokes, the colors, the composition of their work. I didn’t know about surrealism, I didn’t know about sculptures, ceramics, metal. I didn’t know anything about art, anything whatsoever.” Flores supplements his learning of art with reading books dealing with anatomy, both animal and human.

Most recently he’s on another new adventure in art, set designing. His set designs stem from both his collaborations with magazines, creating the entire look and feel of a photoshoot, to a company he works with, doing event design for corporates such as Google and Facebook. Flores is very enthusiastic about the prospect of continuing to do this alongside his other art forms, mentioning a proposal to collaborate on house design work in the future. “I just started exploring that direction and I have no idea how it’s going,” he says with elation.

Flores’ next goal, which he has set for this year, is to have another show. This involves finishing any current projects, and create anything else he might want to showcase with his concepts. “I want to have a big amount of work that I can (take) to a gallery and say I have this work, this is the idea and this is the concept. And I want to go big. Going bigger, doing more weird stuff. Like really weird, mostly it’s going to be freaking weird and I just want to go for it.”

So it is this passion for the unknown, the melding of art, a connection to nature and respect for the earth that continue to drive Tulio Flores and his creations. Whether wood, metal, glass or paint, his pieces resonate with people because it’s simply an extension of his mind, full of thoughts profound and as complex as a flowers genetic makeup, but as simple as its bright edxterior hues.

“I just do it because I really like art. I love waking up in the morning and just thinking about pieces. It’s not about me showing it, it’s my satisfaction. I want to do this, and I want to do it forever, until I die. There’s still people that are 50, 60 still finding themselves. And I think I found myself 10 years ago and I love it.  Love every minute.”

“This is my element, that’s what I’m going through, I want to show weird, fashionable, over the top, avant garde sculpture. You cannot miss it. It’s right there, it’s in your face.”

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