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New Art This Summer

By Karen HudesJun 30 2020

If you've been missing gallery hopping in NYC, a rare opportunity to see new public art has arrived in Midtown. As part of Rock Center's ongoing Art in Focus series, produced in partnership with Art Production Fund, the work of Ryan Flores will be showcased all summer long in an exhibition entitled Low Lifes: An Upside Down Love Letter.

Flores, who lives in Brooklyn, largely works in the medium of ceramics, exploring how colorful, glazed forms attract the eye as they play with expectations. His three installations in the vitrines of 45 Rockefeller Plaza create beguiling environments, in which intricate mosaic surfaces hold ceramic vessels, lilies, fruits and other objects, suggesting luxurious, archaeological or even devotional finds.

Flores's art will also be on display through large-scale images of his pieces, which are photographed individually against backgrounds of alternating colors. The photos can be seen inside the Concourse and in other locations around Rockefeller Plaza.

Low Lifes: An Upside Down Love Letter is now on view at Rockefeller Center, and is free and open to the public. Read more about the Art in Focus series, and see a map of Rock Center here.

Photo by Dan Bradica, courtesy of Art Production Fund

Updated August 11, 2020:

Steps away from the flying banners of the Flag Project, Rockefeller Center offers even more public art to see this summer. Presented by Art Production Fund, the latest edition of the Art in Focus series introduces lush ceramic environments created by artist Ryan Flores, in an installation entitled Low Lifes: An Upside Down Love Letter, on view through September 2.

Set inside the lobby of 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Flores's pieces are composed of handmade tiles holding sculpted fruits, flowers, vases and other objects. The three glass-enclosed scenes are not only dense with varying textures and deceptively delicious-looking glazes, but layered with allusions, art history references, and signs that feel like their own hidden language. Some of the mosaic designs even point to the aerodynamic lines of Art Deco, while retaining their own hand-built character.

Among his most recent projects, Flores, based in Brooklyn, crafted site-specific work for a group show at St. John’s University. This latest exhibition at Rockefeller Center, which includes photographs of his ceramics throughout the complex, marks his public art debut.

We talked with Flores about the creation of Low Lifes, pictured in the slideshow above.

Front & Center: I'm curious about how your artwork interacts with its surroundings, such as the gold squares of the Michio Ihara sculpture, and Art Deco architecture. Did any of these forms influence the shapes that you used?

Ryan Flores: When I was originally approached about doing the installation, specifically working in the vitrines, I was really influenced by Art Deco in general, and I wanted to also play off the building.

Whenever I go in, the Ihara pieces glow throughout the entire space. The way the light expanded through the space was just so interesting, and when it came down to using the colored light, I think that was a conscious but unconscious reference.

Stained glass windows, when you look at them and the transparent light comes through... I can think of different buildings that cast the light and it fills the entire space, too.

The light in the blue installation actually feels like it might be stained glass, but then you see it coming from behind an opening in the structure. Were you playing with the illusion of stained glass when you were making it?

Definitely, it is an illusion of stained glass. It’s an influence, in the sense that’s there no glass and it’s more about the illumination of the light coming out of an object, or from an interior space to an exterior.

Some of the elements in the work felt archaeological, like findings or hieroglyphs.

I make references in the work, and what’s happening past that is my own thing, and it’s more of a playful thing. I can think back to a lot of Roman frescoes I’ve been looking at, then there starts to be a little bit of a blur.

One of the things I’ve been really interested in are window displays in New York and the history of that on Fifth Avenue. And so "low lifes," it’s a way of saying mundane, everyday objects and the idea of how these window displays, they're kind of an odd viewing space, and they have more to do with the showing of things.

So I was comparing that to bodegón paintings, which are specifically Spanish still lifes. They were very dramatic, and the things around that work had a lot to do with hidden religious connotations. That’s not what I’m saying I'm doing, but I was thinking about that in comparison to a lot of the consumerism in that odd space.

Some of the fruits look really luscious, and some look like they’re rotting a little bit… It opens up a lot of questions about what you're seeing. Then some of the drippings of the glaze also give you a real sense of the handmade process. Is that something you think about, the signs of the craft?

Yeah, the handmade quality of it, especially with the tiles, is that extra step that can make it very much mine, but can also counteract the architectural forms that surround it. The vitrine boxes are where the sculpture becomes the actual architecture of the space, on such a small level, but, just by the handmade quality of them, I don’t think that you would ever think they were manufactured.

Something interesting that happens is I’m forced to work in this really contained space, but it can become this really extravagant, chaotic space, and because it’s so small it can become really intricate, but when it expands out it works really well because of how pristine that space was.

When I’m working with the tiles, these whole pieces start at that point, this four-inch by four-inch state, and all of the tiles are responding to these ceramic objects that were made before... It’s very much an evolving work that starts from a really small single place and kind of overtakes my studio and I have to work backwards to make it work.

Right after I saw the lilies in your work, in the center display, I was in the subway station looking at a poster for the Whitney show of Mexican muralists that ran earlier this year, showing a young woman carrying lilies on her back. Were lilies in Mexican art an influence?

I’m definitely very aware of the Diego Rivera calla lilies, and there’s a heavy influence of calla lilies in Mexican painting… Mainly I work with fruit objects, but looking through paintings and the lushness of fruit, and moving into flowers, you can do the same things.

Personally I included them—I’m from California, I grew up up a little bit outside of Los Angeles. My grandfather is Mexican and he had tons of calla lilies around. I think I’ve been really wanting to incorporate them. So many things can be something that was in my life, but then it’s also very formal, the shape of the calla lilies and how I wanted to drip glaze.

If I were to look at this painting, and there’s this amazing brushstroke that happens, I can kind of imitate that with this blend of glaze that would merge the green color with the white, and then another white over the flower object. So it is so formal, but there are these connections. There are these histories that I think about too—they might not be at the forefront, but they’re definitely there.

Even talking to my sister about it, she was really happy that I featured the calla lilies.

Low Lifes: An Upside Down Love Letter appears at 45 Rockefeller Plaza, and throughout Rockefeller Center, through September 2. The exhibition is free and open to the public. See a map of Rock Center here.

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