It may or may not be a coincidence. In either case, the modestly proportioned but powerful exhibition Rick Flores: Labor Art, on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, speaks to some of the hot topics of this election time: questions about the economy and our place on the world’s stage, the rights of those who have and those who have not. As curator Julia Muney Moore puts it, “America enjoys premier status among industrialized nations for its high standard of living and culture of comfort. Much of this status is due to the contributions of manual laborers, whether in the building trades, working in factories or toiling in agricultural fields.”
Ricardo (“Rick”) Flores grew up in a family of migrant agricultural workers. Born in Kerrville, Texas, Flores’ family was close-knit and knew the hardship of not always knowing where their next meal would come from. Flores moved to Gas City, Ind., at the age of 19, and continued to live in the state, working at the General Motors automotive plant nearby until his retirement in 2003. Sadly, Flores did not live to realize his dream of focusing on his artmaking full-time; the artist died on June 8, 2004.
The Flores exhibition, organized before Flores’ death, both captures and memorializes the artist’s lifelong commitment to the American worker. Flores was known in part for his labor cartoons; a handful of these are on display in the exhibition. His paintings, though, get to the soul of the issues Flores concerned himself with more poignantly, in that the artist was able to delve into the richness of his own experiences and observations as well as tap into the creative muse to express images of beauty. Painting and drawing in a cubist style, Flores incorporated stylized images of workers and families, placing them amidst imagery that suggested their primary concerns: home and family, primarily, set against the backdrop of work.
One gets the sense, though, that Flores did not consider laborers victims; but rather, individuals who, like everyone, regardless of economic status, share the same values of wanting to provide for their families and preserve the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and freedom from oppression. As today’s politicians continue to debate the means of protecting such freedoms, Flores’ message could not be more relevant.
Rick Flores: Labor Art is on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., 255-2464, through Nov. 7. All are invited to attend a reception with the Flores family in the gallery on Sunday, Nov. 7, from 4-6 p.m., which will mark the close of the exhibit.