Studio Visit Interview: Luis Flores
Craft Contemporary Director, Artist and Curator's Circle members had the chance for a private studio visit with artist Luis Flores, whose exhibition Because of You, In Spite of You is on view in our second-floor gallery.
Flores graciously allowed the museum to record some of his conversation with our members regarding his process, materials, and themes throughout his bodies of work.
Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity or to respect the privacy of Flores' in-progress works in the studio.
How did you get into crocheting?
So, when I was in college — I got my bachelor’s degree from UCLA — Barbara Kruger was somebody that I worked with a lot. She encouraged me to go see this show that was up at MOCA at the time, and it was the WAC show — Women in Contemporary Art, I think that’s what it was called. When I went to go see that show, it fascinated me with all of the different materials that were being used because they weren’t materials that I was seeing in galleries and museums at the time. For me, after seeing that show, it became a really binary question of asking, “Well, what would it mean for a masculine man to utilize feminine craft and materials to make work, what would that juxtaposition manifest into?”
That was kind of how it started, but my mom used to crochet when she was younger, when she was a little girl — never with me, like when I was growing up I never saw her doing it. It was later when I told her that I was interested in crochet that she started to share with me. “Oh yeah, my grandma taught me to crochet,” she said, “I don’t really remember anymore.” That made me more interested in learning to crochet, and so I taught myself how to crochet.
Had you worked with those materials before?
With like, knitting? Or with yarn?
Yeah, I would work with canvas, like sewing canvas together — a lot of soft materials, yeah.
You were used to soft materials, then.
Kind of. I was at UCLA for two years, and that’s where I started exploring with soft materials, including crochet. The interesting thing for me is that back then Youtube didn’t really exist, so I didn’t really have anyone to teach me, so I had to buy a book at Joann’s and l didn’t understand anything, and so I tried and I couldn’t — I just couldn’t. But eventually, just like messing around, understanding how to do a chain, I basically just elaborated on the chain and I taught myself how to crochet using my own sort of made-up method.
I didn’t know at the time, but I had an assistant later on in my time that was like a master of crochet, and she was like “I have no idea what you are doing or what this stitch is, show me,” and so I had to teach her what I was doing. I guess I kind of made up my own method to do the things that I was interested in doing. So, I think that it’s great, but I think it also takes so much time, because the way that I crochet — even the way I hold the hook — is not typical, and I think that I made more work for myself by not learning how to do it properly, and the stitches that I do take forever. Like, I’ve been working on a piece for 6–8 months, on and off. There was a period of two months that I was working on it every day, but it takes a lot of hours.
Do you change — do you do different stitches?
No, it’s all the same. Or there is a difference in the direction. So, for one it can all be a spiral, but in another part it can be back-and-forth. That’s why the stitch looks different, but it’s not a different stitch — it’s a matter of changing the direction that it’s going in, versus a continuous spiral loop.
So, you have your own style.
You should copyright it!
Yeah, I guess I could do that. I never thought about that before. It’s my own distinct style and labor. The way I add loops and detract loops is also not at all what people normally do in crochet. I don’t know, I just figured it out. I had a problem that I needed to solve, and that’s just how I solved it.
I was curious about what you stuffed them with because they’re not hollow.
So, there’s different kinds of foams that I use inside. There’s a Styrofoam — like these peanut Styrofoams that I put inside — but I also use liquid foams that expand to sort of help build a form. Some of them are soft, some of them are more rigid — it just depends on what I need. [gestures to sculpture] Like, this head is soft foam, but his arms are hard. They have a hard foam. It just depends on what I need for any given figure.
And do you crochet around the form, or do you crochet and put the form in?
It depends on what it is. With the heads, it’s a little bit of both. With the arms, they’re sleeves that I just slide on — which is actually really helpful because sometimes the foams will leak, and when they get on something they will stick, and it will just ruin everything. So, I can just set up the figure and slide on those skins.
It will leak?
Yeah, because it’s a liquid foam.
It’s a chemical foam where they come in two parts. I have to mix it quickly and drop it down inside wherever the funnel is. Then, if there’s a leak somewhere, or a tiny hole that I just missed, it will just leak out and will get all over everything and will ruin hours and hours of work.
So, having this sort of system makes it better for that reason. Sometimes the more complicated a form is, the more contorted it is, the less flexibility I have with how I can cast the form or hold it in place. Then it’s just making sure that I take the proper precautions, like taping up everything with plastic or something so that if I do have a leak it won’t get on any of the materials.
So, fatherhood and masculinity are themes in the show currently at Craft Contemporary.
Could you speak a bit about how they play a role?
So, a lot of the work that I’ve made in the past tends to deal with a lot of traumatic experiences that I experienced growing up, experiences with family, friends, a lot of what we qualify as “toxic masculinity” — but I have a really big problem with the way that the term gets used, but for the sake of conversation “toxic masculinity” has been my interest — and sort of contending with my sort of struggle to find my own identity within masculinity that rejects a lot of the stereotypical notions of what masculinity is from a cultural context, from an American context.
I’m really trying to find a balance between them, because I still consider myself to be a masculine man that enjoys a lot of sports, like boxing and football and things like that — but finding a balance between that and not being afraid to be vulnerable, not being afraid to be honest and tender and loving, especially now that I have kids, is something that I’ve thought about a lot — and also just the relationships that I have with friends and my relationship to art school and how that changed my perspective on what can be possible. So yeah, my work is typically focused on all the bulk of things that I went through and trying to sort of hash my way through that.
Now, being a father — and knowing that I was going to be a father — really expedited the urgency that I feel with how I want to embody masculinity and how I want to teach my kids about what masculinity is and can be. I have a son and a daughter, my son is three and my daughter is two. So, these are things that I am very actively thinking about.
The relationship that I have with my father is one that’s very cold and not loving at all — when I go and visit my dad, just looking him in the eyes is very uncomfortable for me. It’s very strange.
For me, I want to develop a relationship with my kids through action with loving them everyday, hugging and kissing them everyday — just how I can change the perception of what a father can be, what a masculine man can be. Not just with my kids, but changing the relationship that I have amongst my male friends as well, like being honest with them about things. I have a really great core group of friends who are able to communicate with each other, and say when things we don’t like happen — but say it in a productive and safe way, where we don’t feel like we’re being attacked or feel like we need to fight about it — and having a group of friends that is also not in the heterosexual normative spectrum, so being able to have these types of conversations in a queer context as well is really important to me.
So yeah, I’m just trying to figure out these new definitions, and how to not be so cyclical so it’s just the same shit over and over again of what it has typically been to define a man. That’s the overarching idea of my work in general. It’s always been about masculinity and masculine identity.
I don’t know if I made any sense or —
Yeah, that was beautiful.
Has everyone here seen this show up at Craft? I noticed in the corner [of the studio] these cans that are also in the show. Do you want to talk about the process behind those?
Yeah! Sure. So, they’re crocheted cans that I made that then I made a mold of so that then I could cast them in bronze, but there’s multiple different materials that I was sort of playing with when I was making them. The bronze ones are in the show and so are those darker blue ones — those are more like an epoxy resin, technically — but I was also interested in cement. I’m very interested in materials and how they function within an art context, because of the hierarchy that people typically have, like “this is bronze, and bronze is kind of at the top,” and then you have marble and stone, and then you have maybe wood and then you have plastic. So, I’m really interested in how materiality can change the way a work is perceived.
I typically try to make objects where the hierarchy is not what it usually is. So, for example, in the past I would make an object and it would be made out of something like yarn or something soft, that would then then sit on a more “elite” material, so to speak, of bronze or plated silver, or polished marble — lots of different types of materials, where the plinth that it sits on is not the topic of interest but rather the object that’s made of these non-precious or cherished materials. I’m still exploring that and materiality is something that I’m very interested in.
I have a lot of different ways of how I’m viewing the material, but I really like the connotations of the masculine that the material has that then holds these very feminine or very soft mediums, and the depictions that those mediums convey. So, I like that juxtaposition of the hard and the soft — or the masculine and the feminine — in the work, and it’s something that I am constantly playing with, but I am still figuring out how I’m going to use the material right now [for upcoming works].
It should be the exciting part, but it’s also the scary part.
Yeah, it’s exciting because I love to play, but it’s not so exciting when you have deadlines and you need to meet them, because I’m like “Oh, my god,” there’s a sense of urgency where I have to finish and get these things done. I don’t always get as much time as I’d like, but the urgency is also something that I relish in. I really like having deadlines — I really work well under pressure. It’s when I work the best, I think, and I have the best ideas. The experimentation and play is definitely very fun.
Luis Flores: Because of You, In Spite of You is on view at Craft Contemporary from October 2, 2022 – January 8, 2023.
Craft Contemporary thanks Luis Flores for his time and his welcoming of our members into his space.
For more information about becoming an upper-level and attending future artist studio visits, click here.
Edited by Rudy Falagán.