Colorado printmaker and paraplegic inspires students with his story of resilience
Alumnus Javier Flores wouldn’t be slowed in his journey to success as an artist, not even by the accident that left him unable to walk.
This story appears in the winter 2022 issue of RED Magazine.
Javier Flores’ story, from his origins to his art, is a testimony to resilience.
At 19, the then-budding graffiti artist had an accident with a gun that left him with a bullet in his lower back. As a wheelchair user, he had to relearn how to live and grappled with anger, confusion and depression. He also had to rethink his approach to art.
“When I got injured, it just cemented how much I needed to be a part of the art world,” Flores said. “I couldn’t do graffiti in the same way anymore. I needed to find a new way to express myself, and that came through the world of fine art.”
That realization led Flores to Metropolitan State University of Denver, where the 2008 Fine Arts graduate found the supportive community he needed to flourish on his journey to becoming the successful artist, activist and educator he is today.
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Primarily a printmaker, Flores was showcased in the Denver Art Museum’s “Untitled: Creative Fusions” series, which featured talks and exhibitions by local artists. His art was also part of a recent exhibition at the Arvada Center called “One Sheet.” In the coming months, he will turn his focus to a solo show scheduled for display at Regis University in 2024. His work is always available on his website.
Art from the start
As a 4-year-old, Flores would watch his uncle, whom he describes as a “blue-collar artist,” stitching denim jackets and etching designs onto glossy lowriders.
“I was just awed by the fact that he could create something out of nothing,” Flores recalled.
But his passion for art also came out of necessity. Growing up as a non-English speaker with immigrant parents, he found that drawing was the only way he could express himself.
He recounted a story his mother often shares about a parent-teacher conference in preschool. His teacher was frustrated because Flores was always drawing in class. His mother had to explain that he was engaging through art because English wasn’t his first language.
“That just shows how I’ve always handled everything,” he said. “That was my form of expression.”
A community affair
Years later, after the injury changed his life, Flores discovered a sense of belonging at school.
He remembers his time at MSU Denver as a transformative experience and describes the community among other Art students as foundational in shaping him as an artist. He continues to surround himself with the artists he worked with then and take inspiration from them.
“It was the era right before the internet really took over and social media took ahold of people’s lives,” he recalled. “We were always in the studio, always working together. We’d eat there. We’d spend the whole day there.”
Flores also credits his professors and mentors at MSU Denver for the guidance that has gotten him so far. He cites the late Eldon “E.C.” Cunningham, director of the University’s Printmaking program, and the late Barbara Hale, an affiliate faculty member in Printmaking, as two of his most profound influences.
But perhaps the most resounding impact was made by Carlos Frésquez, professor of Art and renowned Chicano painter, whom Flores affectionately refers to as his “art dad.”
“My mom and dad were immigrants to this country,” Flores explained. “My mom was the glue that held us together. But a lot of her time was spent working, trying to support the family. In that time, Carlos was a constant.”
Even after Flores graduated, Frésquez continued to champion Flores’ work and recommend him for available opportunities — which is how Flores ultimately found himself back at MSU Denver as an affiliate professor.
Inspiration for future artists
Now a full-time professor and Art faculty lead at Front Range Community College, Flores serves as a guide for the young, hopeful creatives of the next generation.
He tries to create the same sense of community and camaraderie for his students that he found at MSU Denver and encourages them to lean on one another to start building their network from the campus studio.
“The biggest thing I hope I’ve imparted on my students, whether it be spoken or nonverbal, is you need to have a passion for this,” he said. “Art is not easy; it’s not easy living. I try to talk to them very openly and honestly about my career and its trajectory.”
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Of course, there is also the lesson he teaches simply by being himself: the power of resilience.
“I’m very stubborn when it comes to my art practice, and that stems partly from being in a chair,” he said. “I want to prove to everyone that my wheelchair is not a limitation; it’s just a part of who I am.
“Even though my legs were taken from me, it’s not inhibiting me creatively.”