With a poetic imagination and a mastery of several artistic languages, Enrique Flores re-creates daily life at his hometown, the village of San Pablo Huitzo, in Oaxaca, Mexico. In the process, he crafts a personal cosmogony made up of animals, plants, crops, constellations, the countryside, and female presence. Through a colorful, oneiric imagery, his work is an homage to the central role of women in rural communities.
His artistic backgrounds
Flores is part of the first generation that graduated from the Rufino Tamayo Visual Arts Workshop in Oaxaca, in the early 1980s. He recalls: “It was a free workshop, where people who felt like drawing and painting just did it. Before the Tamayo Workshop, anybody who wanted to make a career in visual arts moved to Mexico City or to other places; so this was the first generation educated in Oaxaca”. Several of the artists that conform it embraced an aesthetic that depicts local traditions/idiosyncrasies, and echoes Mexican and international modern arts at the same time. After studying under artists such as Juan Alcázar, his work has been transitioning from painting to printmaking. He was a student and a friend of Oaxacan artist Rodolfo Morales, whose work resonated with him a lot, since they both came from similar backgrounds.
Flores feels lucky to live in a place where the urbanization process hasn’t arrived yet. “I come from a rural community in Oaxaca, which is very similar to communities all over Mexico, and Latin America as well. My village is a very quiet place, we can still see a lot of animals for agriculture”. The village of Huitzo is located 19 miles from Oaxaca City. It has a large forest and grassland area, and the agricultural land is larger than the populated zones. In this municipality, corn is the most important crop, and it is one of the main elements in the piece Agarrando chicatanas (Capturing chicatanas), in which we also see the Atta mexicana specimens, a leaf-cutter ant that flies around during the rainy season, in various locations of central and southern Mexico. This insect is part of the ancient cuisine of the Oaxacan communities. Some other aspects of Huitzo’s culture and history are clearly represented in other works of Flores, such as the columns of the Dominican ex-convent built in this town during the 16th Century.
People in Huitzo are hard-working, but, in Flores’s words, the work of women is always the most important: “it is what keeps this village and many others moving”. Since the beginning of his career, they have been crucial in his art, as he explains “I consider that they play a very important role in society, in all aspects, from motherhood to the academic, political, and scientific arenas. We have to stop overlooking this. They have had a great relevance which has been invisibilized, or which we have wanted to remain unseen”.
In Mujeres (“Women”), a set of fifteen prints, the female characters appear grand, strong, brave, and wise. It is inevitable to think about the sculptures of Pre-Hispanic Art or Classical Antiquity; their gazes, without pupils, are looking into the infinite with aplomb, somewhere between equanimous and stoic. An imagined matriarchy lives in his art, reminiscent of the one that his teacher Morales painted: sisters, cousins, mothers and daughters, linked up with each other, and with nature, the cosmos and the origin of life as well.
Flores’s women can fly and communicate with spirits and ancestors. In the Mujeres set of prints, their bodies are part of the landscape, and vice versa, as in Madrugada (“Small Hours”), where a giant woman emerges from the soil, as a hill, with a full moon illuminating her face. In Mujeres del río, Mujeres del mar, and Mujeres del viento (“Women Of The River”, “Women Of The Sea”, and “Women Of The Wind”), the fruits of the soil and the sea are symbols of their creative force. In their hair, skin, and clothes they carry the hues and patterns of animals, plants, and stars.
Birds, dogs, and constellations
In Flores' work, we often find several types of birds. To him, they symbolize freedom, the desire to go any place you want, or at least the illusion of being able to do so. He also emphasizes the importance of birds as wildflower pollinators, like the hummingbird, which has been commonly associated with fertility since old times. They also represent music and joy to him, but, above all, they remind him of the fact that we share the same earth, water and air with them: “these animals live with us everyday”, he says.
In some pieces, animals, plants and women overlap to conform a single unit, almost like some mythical figure: in the piece Amigos (“Friends”), the woman’s hair merges with the grackle’s feathers, while her skin blends with the dog’s hair, which is another animal that frequently gives company to Flores’ women. We could safely say that a lot of his art comes from the observation of his surroundings, for instance, he loves to watch the nocturnal sky: “It’s mysterious. I don’t know anything about constellations, but I like to think about the shapes that the stars suggest to me”.
Techniques and colors
Although Flores is experienced in many visual arts techniques, lately, he has been working much more with printmaking: “I paint with oil, watercolor, gouache, acrylic; but one of the techniques I am more passionate about is printmaking, for many reasons. First, because it has its own language, and also because it’s easier to share with more people. I love all the printmaking techniques, I’ve tried to learn as much as possible about them”.
He plays with textures, and colors sometimes even dictate the direction of his compositions. In his lively landscapes, we might encounter an indirect influence of Mexican painter María Izquierdo, whose vivid palette highlights a dreamlike feeling, but the fact is that colors have always been part of his life. “In Oaxaca, most of us love colors from a very young age, because our communities are very creative, people make a living off popular arts and textiles […] festivities, costumes, even food is colorful”.
Dreams and imagination
During turbulent times, Flores aims to offer a more pleasant place through his art: “I’m more interested in people looking at something less aggressive. That is to say, if you’re living a reality with so many problems, when you look at a print or a painting your mind distracts a little bit. However, any citizen has to leave a record of the times they live in, so I also have addressed some social issues”. To him, dreaming and imagination are not only kinds of escapism, but also methods to solve problems: “I think imagination is a part of the human being, and not only in the art field, it is something we have to use in all activities, whether it be science, education, or technology. As much as one masters a profession, you always require a certain dose of imagination, dreams or illusions, to overcome trouble”.
Enrique Flores’ Graphic Art Studio
After studying in Oaxaca City, Flores returned to Huitzo to open his own studio. “At first, it was only for my personal work, but then, as the years passed by, friends started to come over, and we started a collaborative work. We make other artists’ editions here, the space is well-equipped to have other creators working with us”. They also offer courses and exchanges, recently they had one with The Experimental Graphic Art Studio in Old Havana.
He hopes that Covid cases decrease, so that they can resume their free summer courses for the people of the community, especially for children. “We’re considering expanding the space to involve more people in more activities, not only in visual arts. We’ve been based here for many years, so the mission is to socially contribute to the community”. In addition to their work with printmaking and painting, currently they are setting up a bronze casting studio, and they are working on resin sculptures. “This space is open to anybody who wants to learn about our artistic processes, or to just watch. Everybody is welcome”.
Graphic art as a way of living
When asked about his current main motivations to make art, he replies: “It’s something I’ve done since forever, and I didn’t learn to do anything else. It became a pleasant habit that I haven’t been able to change, and, at this point in my life, it would be very difficult to stop seeing or imagining things without placing them on a piece of paper or canvas”.
To Flores, printmaking is everything; a vocation, a way of making a living, but also an activity that keeps him in the game: “working in printmaking and lithography has helped to keep me involved in the arts”. He considers that the proliferation of printmaking collectives and studios is something very positive for Oaxaca, as it is one of the poorest states in Mexico, but also one of the most rich culturally and artistically.
* Karina Ruiz Ojeda has a MA in Art History, is an independent researcher, art and music curator. She also teaches Spanish as a second language. She lives and works in San Andrés Huayápam, Oaxaca.