Lion and the Lamb, the current solo exhibition by artist Sam Flores at Fifty24SF Gallery, is eerily timely. In the wake of current events—violence, political upheaval, talk about the end of the world—the dichotomies of lightness and dark, and the biblical reference to the Book of Revelation that pervade Flores’s most recent body of work seem utterly prescient.
The drawings and paintings of local artist Sam Flores, who moved to San Francisco from the southwest in the mid-nineties, fall within the lineage of the street-art inspired by Mission School and Pop Surrealism movements spawned here in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles. While artists’ interpretations of the visual style of the Mission School are ubiquitous in San Francisco, Flores stands apart in both technique and content. The strong contrast between light and dark he has skillfully achieved in acrylic paint are as much a nod to Renaissance painting as to murals in the Mission District. Meanwhile, the content in this exhibition marks his consideration of age-old themes, including one which feels particularly poignant at this moment: good versus evil, and a loss of innocence.
Although there are a few standout works in Lion and the Lamb, including a diptych titled Saber, a collaboration with Joseph Martinez, Flores’s narratives really unfold when the exhibition is viewed as a whole. Several characters appear again and again, including animals that are almost human and humans (almost exclusively young women or girls) with claw-like appendages, often held in the embrace of a dangerous creature.
The use of repetition brings the viewer closer to these young goddesses, lions, lambs, and creatures as we view them in various scenes of adventure, or floating alone in white space, eyes closed to the viewer. While the lack of an outward gaze in almost every work might result in the viewer feeling cut off from this world, the expert use of warm glowing light and the slight tilt of a head toward us invites the viewer inside. Although all works are from 2012, it is tempting to consider which are the most recent; in particular with regards to two paintings, Ascension and Jellyfish Heaven, where the goddess character appears to be growing into womanhood.
The evolution of the artists’ work is evident in the contrast between the drawings and sketches in pen and pencil on one wall, facing the array of brilliantly hued acrylic paintings on another. Expertly crafted, a few drawings do feel more like sketches than finished works, but nonetheless provide a welcome peek into the artists’ process, where line and shadow is built up slowly, layer by layer.
This sense of growth also applies to the artists’ work as a whole: Flores seems to have grown beyond his beginning as a graphic artist and illustrator, resulting in a mature and emotionally rich body of work in Lion and the Lamb.
Lion and the Lamb, New Works by Sam Flores will be featured through February 12 at Fifty24SF Gallery.