Latino art might be coming to your neighborhood soon. Cultural centers, small businesses, and non-profit organizations in large Latino communities are increasingly placing art in their prominent open spaces. Their exhibitions complement rather than compete with galleries and museums. San Antonio Latina artist Carolina Flores found a welcoming venue at the Overland Partners Architectural firm on Jones Avenue, a block from the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Tim Blonkvist, founding Principal of Overland Partners and an internationally recognized architect, invited Flores to exhibit at the firm’s headquarters. Blonkvist notes that his design work synthesizes art, architecture, and the use of natural light. His library is filled with art books, and he peppers his conversations with references to modern and contemporary art.
The firm has clients from around the world, and many who visit his cavernous office space, a renovated warehouse, admire and comment on the artwork of visiting artists like Flores. And importantly, the Overland Partner architects often recommend art they are familiar with for the buildings they design. Jenna Accord of Overland Partners curated the Flores exhibit.
Fort Stockton, Flores’s hometown, is known for its historical past when the U.S. Army fought the last of the Indian Wars. The U.S. Army established Fort Stockton in the late 1850s to open up West Texas to freight companies shipping goods from San Antonio to the Big Bend region and Chihuahua, Mexico. In previous centuries the Comanches and Apaches had made the surrounding area part of their territory, drawn to the region by a large source of water later named Comanche Springs. The Indian Wars came to an end in the 1880s with the capture of the great Indian Chief Geronimo, and soon after, Fort Stockton became a center for sheep and cattle raising. The Texas Writers’ Project noted that Fort Stockton with a population of 2,695 in the late 1930s was “half Mexican.”
During the 1940s when Flores’s parents Ramon and Josefina were young adults, the Texas Writers described Fort Stockton in this manner: “Adobe houses fringe the town, which spreads out from its limestone and red stucco courthouse. Fort Stockton is a retail center and livestock shipping point.” Carolina Flores recalls that in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Fort Stockton’s main street businesses were reserved for White merchants. Mexican Americans could shop on Main Street, but they were only allowed to operate their business in the streets adjacent to the main retail business center. In the 1950s when Flores was in grade school, Fort Stockton’s population stood at 4,444.
When Carolina Flores started school she knew nothing about art. Her dad, who worked three jobs to give his children a good life, bought her coloring books. But to her knowledge, no one in her community painted or took any interest in art. In the first grade, she demonstrated an ability to draw, a skill that surprised her and her classmates. Not having any art role models to emulate, Flores’s artistic talents lay dormant for the next few years. Fortunately, in the seventh grade, Flores enrolled in Ms. Mary Brown’s art class and her hidden talent resurfaced. Mary Brown took a special interest in Flores and provided her with individual painting classes at her home. For the next two years, until Ms. Brown remarried and moved to Los Angeles, that teacher greatly encouraged her to learn about drawing and painting with oils.
Flores’s high school did not offer art classes, so she devoted herself to music classes at school and created art projects on her own time. She excelled in playing the flute and won a scholarship to Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas. In 1968 she transferred to the University of Texas at Austin which had a highly recognized art department. There she met fellow art students Santa Barraz, Sam Coronado, Richard Arredondo, and Manuel “Chaca” Ramirez. The UT Austin art program had over 700 students, but only a handful were of Mexican descent.
Upon completion of her studies at UT Austin, Flores moved to San Antonio in 1974 to enroll in UTSA’s newly created art department. Her first classes were offered in the basement of the Institute of Texan Cultures and at the Southwest School of Art. Flores has fond memories of her classes with Charles Field at UTSA. When fellow students questioned her decision to paint about her culture and history, Professor Field came to her defense. She credits Professor Field’s exceptional mentorship with guiding her through her UTSA program. With a Master in Fine Arts degree [MFA], Flores found work as an illustrator with Dr. Jose Carderas’ IDRA program in the Edgewood School District.
Flores had a breakthrough year in 1989 when the San Antonio Museum of Art [SAMA] presented her work in an exhibit “Influence, Segment II.” She was selected by guest curator Lucy Lippard, a prominent New York art critic, for the Blue Star IV Exhibit. In 1990 Flores opened her Los Aura Studio at the Blue Star Art Complex and became a full-time artist. U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Oliver Garza saw her work in 2000 and chose her art piece “Amapola” for his official residence in Managua, Nicaragua.
More recently, Flores participated in an important exhibit at the MexicArte Museum in Austin, Texas. The art show, Chicano/a Arte, Movimiento y Mas: 1960s to 1980s, curated in 2022 by Museum Director Sylvia Orozco, demonstrated the wide range of creative activity during the early years of the Chicano Movement in Austin. All of the paintings by Flores in the exhibit were from her UT Austin years.
For the Overland Partners exhibit, “Vale Color,” Flores explained that her colors “are vibrant, pure, and fresh.” In her paintings, viewers are made aware of her West Texas roots which she describes as “images of family portraits, highway landscapes, and neighborhood scenes.” Her powerful rendering of a deep-green maguey plant that her father planted in their backyard is surrounded by homes in her neighborhood. The painting conveys nature in harmony with human development. The bright reds and singular portions of purple provide an ideal contrast to the long stems of Mexico’s most popular plant.
In the painting “Primos,” Flores presents her father Ramon Flores standing with several of his nieces and nephews. The family group, posed next to a wooden windmill, crowded together showing their closeness. The oldest boy wears overalls indicating the way farmwork is a large part of rural life. A deep blue sky and barren trees common to the winter months nearly fill the background. Flores notes in her artist statement that “In these portraits and landscapes are the stories I want to tell with an emotion of color and line.”
In many of her paintings, Flores celebrates life’s important events: weddings, quinceañeras, and special family gatherings. A large portrait of her 1939 parents’ wedding created from a black and white photo fills an entire wall at Overland Partners. In another painting, young girls involved in a quinceañera celebrate the special coming-of-age occasion. Adding a touch of humor, Flores includes a young girl in a white dress at a quinceañera outdoor dance appearing to look around while a young boy is fixated on his cell phone.
Carolina Flores reflects and honors her community in her paintings. She finds that family, culture, and tradition are more than enough to fulfill one of her beliefs– that life deserves color. Flores’s desire to find the right colors, themes, and designs continues more than forty years after she began her quest for beauty and story in her paintings.