Spray paint was not created for people to express themselves on walls. It was developed in 1949 to demonstrate aluminum coating for radiators. But for David Flores, his spray can is a sword, his salvation, a plea to be known and understood. It’s eloquent, versatile, an expression of strength. He brandishes his paint can, spraying his way across buildings all over the world, as if his life depends on it.
The show at Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery, which runs through September 3, represents a homecoming for Flores. He has become one of the most preeminent, in-demand muralistas of our time, painting museums, stadiums, highway barriers, sides of buildings, racetracks, parking lots, and walls, interior and exterior, around the globe. Utilizing his “stained glass” painting technique, he appropriates popular icons and images and reinterprets them, blowing them up, literally and figuratively, in big public spaces, allowing the viewer, the public, to see those images in a new, emotional way. His murals transcend traditional styles and materials of paint, concrete, and canvas, emancipating industrial spaces, absorbing the geometry of walls.
Infused with contemporary ambitions and renewed passion, Santa Barbara’s Sullivan Goss gallery, under new owner/curator Nathan Vonk, has brought Flores home into the main gallery space at mural scale in an exceptional, groundbreaking show. It is one of the most high-profile exhibitions in the city’s history. The centerpiece of the show, titled “Downtown 81,” is a giant spray-painted mural of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat spray-painting a mural. Flores’s work takes flight in this stunningly designed composition as the movement of Basquiat emulates the movement of the spray-can brush strokes with which it was made, reminding us that Basquiat started as a tagger, spraying “Samo was here” through the streets of New York City before he became a well-respected gallery artist.
Flores’s eclectic multimedia show includes a hand-woven tapestry portrait of Salvador Dalí, matching molded plastic chairs bearing the images of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, a giant portrait of Kendrick Lamar, a Fiesta-timed likeness of Pancho Villa, and a unique stained-glass collaboration between Flores and Judson Studios, the esteemed 120-year-old West Coast stained-glass academy. The show’s packed opening on Thursday, August 3, was a milestone event for the city’s art scene.