A Layered World

The first time I tried to meet with Nahúm Flores he was unavailable because he was installing a show in Chatham. The second time I had to cancel due to a friend's illness. They say that the third time is a charm and indeed, it was our third attempt at meeting up that finally worked out. It was well worth the wait.

Nahúm was one of the individuals I met at the Artist Project. His work immediately caught my attention. The tiny delicate white wooden boxes with minimal, spidery line drawings were the pieces that drew me in to have a closer look. These littles boxes were so inviting and yet so lonely – drawings captured in boxes forever separated from each other.

359Tiny White Boxes Nahum FloresUnpacking "Odes to the Anonymous Passengers" by Nahúm Flores.

363Odes to the Anonymous PassengersOdes to the Anonymous Passengers by Nahum Flores – images provided by Nahúm Flores

I introduced myself to Nahúm. It is so wonderful to have the opportunity to speak with an artist especially when the artist so compliments their work. Nahúm was very soft spoken, very quiet, like his drawings but I knew there was more to the story. The paintings that were hanging beside the tiny white boxes weren't so quiet. Haunting faces

staring back at me. One face on a decapitated head had a tear out of it. The flies that buzzed around at second glance weren't flies but little books. These were disturbing and beautiful images that appeared quiet at first glance and then shouted loudly when they had your attention. The depth in the actual media was astounding. In some of the paintings lines were suspended between layers and layers of transparent acrylic polymer, like ancient DNA trapped in amber. I didn't want to occupy too much of Nahúm's time at the show so I left him alone but made sure to grab his card.

365The World I share09" x 11" mixed media on wood.jpgThe World I Share by Nahúm Flores. 9" x 11" mixed media on wood – image supplied by Nahúm Flores.

I looked at Nahúm's website a few days later and discovered he was born in 1974 in Honduras. The unsettled political situation in which he grew up has had a great impact on his work. He immigrated to Mexico at the age of 14  and finally to Canada when he was just 17. When we met to chat about his work it was close to Easter and he wistfully shared a memory of the Easter customs that he remembers from his childhood. The Honduran customs are a mixture of indiginous and western beliefs and a lot of these hybrid customs work their way into Nahum's visuals.

One of the myths that Nahúm told me about was that of the Cadejo. The Cadejo is a spirit that looks like a dog. There is a good one that is white and an evil one that is black. Nahúm said that this duality of good and bad is a theme that continually surfaces in his work. He is interested in commenting on how things may not be as they seem. "We constantly talk about the beauty of nature." Nahúm explained. "But nature can be very ugly. Like what is happening in the world with the natural disasters."  Nahúm went on to say that "human nature is also ugly: what we are capable of doing to ourselves, to each other and to nature is not so beautiful.

Nahúm's work is an attempt to get to know the dark side better. "If we can know this side better we might be able to know each other." But he ended this statement by saying that this was almost impossible.

Looking around Nahúm's studio, a bachelor apartment he lived in while attending OCAD, it was very easy to become inspired. Paintings were everywhere.

368OrchidOn a table in Nahúm Flores' studio.

When I arrived Nahúm met me at the front of the building and brought me up to his studio where he partially opened the door and squeezed inside. I followed. The door could not open all the way due to canvasses stacked against the wall behind the door. The canvasses were huge and, due to Nahúm's penchant for layering, weighed a ton. Every available space was occupied. Shelves were stacked with found boxes and frames for future ideas. The window ledge was packed with traditional items from Latin America and Mexico along with a pine cone, dried grasses, twigs and jars of shells. A brlliant pink orchid sat amongst papers, sketches and a voting form for the upcoming election. Walking was hazardous as I was afraid I may step on something at any moment. Canvases were tucked under tables and leaning against book shelves and boxes. I had to chuckle to myself. The women whom I have spoken with urge me to come the following week because the studio is a mess and they want to clean it up before I come and snap a bunch of photos. This room was wonderfully honest.

367window ledgeA window of discoveries in Nahúm Flores' studio.

Aside from his independent works he is also a member of an artists collective called Z’otz* Collective. Z'otz*  Collective is a group of 3 artists: Nahúm Flores, Erik Jerezano, and Ilyana Martínez. The group meets weekly and collaborate on multi-media works. Every drawing is worked on by all members, each adding new ideas and taking the piece into new directions. Nahúm expressed his excitement on seeing how these pieces evolve. The website explains the Collective's initiatives further: "their quirky and often outrageous images explore, with humour, ideas of transition, displacement, containment and evolution. Their stories depict totemic mystical creatures and hybrid beasts that portray visual synonyms to tell complex and surrealistic tales."

366Fenestral Distractions, Durham Art GalleryFenestral Distractions, Durham Art Gallery. By Z'otz* Collective – image taken from zotzcollective.blogspot.com)

The name of the collective "Z'otz*" is the Mayan Word for bat. I asked Nahúm the reason behind the name. His explanation was simple and yet summarized everything we had been talking about that afternoon. "Bats live as a community and survive better as a group than they would on their own".


Nahum will be showing his work in November at the Spence Gallery, here in Toronto.