J Flores


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Artist\'s Statement and portfolio consisting of work, details, exhibits, action, and workshops

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  • J Flores

    1. 1. PORTFOLIO Julio Enrique Flores Jr.
    2. 2. 5700 N. Artesian Ave., 3S, Chicago, IL 60659 • daytime (312) 344-8865 • evening (773) 275-9792 • jflores@colum.edu August 22, 2007 ARTIST’S STATEMENT In 1993, as my grandfather’s apprentice, I learned how to make paper kites by spending many tedious hours in his cramped apartment. My grandfather, Abuelo, who lived at Las Moradas Senior Residence in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, was amused by, yet skeptical of my hasty interest in kite-making. For him, kites were merely a childhood pastime. He hadn’t built a kite for almost 20 years. Thinking back upon my varied interests as a college undergrad, an observant mentor could have predicted that I’d slip into my own discouraged-artist-in-corporate syndrome. Feeling a sense of urgency to find an outlet for my creative ideas, an outlet that was both personally meaningful and important, I instinctively sensed that I needed to create that outlet for myself. I caught on that a key to understanding my creative “calling” was to understand myself, and I began that understanding by looking no further than my family. I recalled from my childhood my father taking me to Crickett Hill at Montrose Harbor to fly an Easter kite that Abuelo made for me. This is where my hasty interest in kite-making sprang, from a serious investigation of my immigrant family. Kite-making is a craft that Abuelo learned during his childhood in the North Coast town of Cataño, Puerto Rico. He and the other kids in his community learned from the adults and each other how to construct and fly kites of different varieties. It was a competitive activity like papier-mache mask-making or paper boat races in street gutters. Each activity had its time, and just like here on the “mainland,” springtime encouraged kites because of the consistent wind blowing in from Cataño’s beaches. For Abuelo, manufactured toys were scarce, so he was driven at an early age to be creatively resourceful by building kites from materials he found and saved. These recyclable materials—gift wrap tissue paper used to make the kite sails, stems from palm leaves used to make the spars, and home-made flour paste used to adhere the kite together—could be found around the government-subsidized housing project where he grew up. The kites of Cataño, nicknamed “chiringas,” are traditionally hexagonal in shape and a few feet in diameter. However, there are some amazing variations based on the design of the chiringa such as the “toros,” kites built for strength that can exceed ten feet in height, and the beautiful eight-sided “estrellas,” kites encircled by colorful paper buzzers. These are some of the designs Abuelo learned how to make and refine, designs that he ultimately taught my father and myself. It’s an activity that everyone in the family could participate in, then and now. Not only that, it encourages families in Cataño to get together. My father has told me stories about Abuelo’s intimidating toros, how they required the control of several adults. And there’s my family’s version of the story about kites flown with string dusted with powdered glass. These my father would fly in fighting competitions with his friends, each contestant skillfully maneuvering their chiringa to slash at the others’. I’m intrigued by the many kite stories told by my father, my grandfather, and other elders alike. These rousing stories compare and contrast surprisingly between the different Latinos who see and recognize my kites. And, it’s equally surprising to hear how long it has been since these storytellers last launched their skills to the sky. Today, even with competition from mass-produced kites, people are still making banner-like chiringas by hand with materials like discarded sheet plastic. Indeed, I’m amazed by how rich, and involved, and complex a mere pastime can be. In truth, the kites of Cataño are an ethnic arts tradition. I’ve embraced them as such, and I’ve shared my enthusiasm with thousands of excited students of all ages. I’ve picked up where Abuelo left off, using my kites as canvases for collaged imagery that combines my interests—Taino iconography (symbolic language of pre-Columbian natives of Puerto Rico) and American popular culture and consumerism (including contemporary comics and hand-lettered grocery store window signs). For example, a kite I made for an exhibit at the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Museum of Puerto Rican History and Culture depicts Puerto Rico’s beloved national tree frog, the Coquí, having grown a pair of outstretched wings representing “freedom” from the U.S. colonialism that Puerto Rican nationalists perceive as they struggle with bi-partisan “statehooders.” Perhaps I’m bridging a gap between Latin-American traditions and contemporary kiting today, which grows through a subculture of craftspeople worldwide constructing functional fiber sculptures that seem to challenge the laws of physics. Through my kite-making workshops, I invite families to continue their kite-making and flying traditions, and to exchange these traditions with other families. Having lived in neighborhoods with large Latino populations like West Town, Brighton Park and West Rogers Park, I’ve met many parents who recall childhood memories, and who are encouraged by the opportunities I bring to teach their children. If I haven’t discovered my creative calling already, kite-making has truly led me in the right direction. I’m unearthing my roots through connections I’m making within Chicago’s neighborhoods.
    3. 3. FLORES, PAGE 2 These communities have recognized the importance of my work through exhibitions, exposure through Spanish print and television media, and invitations to teach workshops for organizations as diverse as Association House, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, and Collage—a Wicker Park store that sold Puerto Rican crafts, including my kites (unfortunately, the propietor retired back to the Island). I’ve also been recognized by Chicago’s wider art scene through invitations to exhibit kites and teach workshops at organizations like the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. I share my rich Puerto Rican heritage with my students through innovative hands-on approaches that include music, spirituality, and story-telling—timeless aspects of the art that I believe are relevant to the lives of urban youth today—youth who are confronted by gaps between themselves and their elders, their racially-diverse neighbors and even their own, evolvoing self- worth. I believe that having this sensibility has helped me enjoy a long tenure with the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) here at Columbia College. I’ve balanced my work as an administrator doing marketing design with my work as an artist-educator, continually improving the way I support my artist-educator colleagues, myself, and our combined mission of integrating art with the education of our wide constituency base. The College’s All-Staff Arts and Media Award would boost my efforts and achievements as I promote my personal artistic work, greatly influenced by CCAP’s dedication to innovative teaching methods and education policy improvement. Print and web promotion, as well as continued research in Puerto Rico, are personal priorities that I look forward to pursuing in earnest. It will be through fortunate circumstances like this that I patiently hone my talents, gathering information, developing my ideas, and working in Abuelo’s memory to make valuable contributions to my community through my creative work. I’m confident that by reviving Latin American kites, Latino children and, importantly, any child would pursue their cultural family traditions.
    4. 4. Copyright © 2010 Julio E. Flores Jr.