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Upon opening the door to Luis Flores’ solo exhibition at Matthew Brown Gallery, the viewer immediately encounters a life-size sculpture of the bearded artist, with crocheted skin, sitting on the entryway railing and watching a video installed on the opposite wall. In this 10-minute video, the artist’s wife, Alexa, dutifully shaves Flores’ head and facial hair as a melancholic song plays in the background. Subsequently bald-headed, Flores begins to cry while his sculpted, bearded replica perpetually leans forward on his perch. The perceived object of self thus confronts the emotional experience of self: Lacan’s mirror stage literalized. In this new chapter of Flores’ ongoing life-size self-portrait work, he moves beyond the empty bravado of male exhibitionism to reveal the anomaly of masculine vulnerability, which, in Flores’s case, appears to only be accessible with the help of his wife.
Throughout the exhibition, Flores uses repetition and uniformity to subtly challenge his own heteronormative masculinity. To achieve this effect, he appropriates feminist and queer theories of labor, body, and material, adopting crochet as his primary craft and using his own likeness as his main physical and conceptual tool. In nearly each sculpture’s identical expression and basic uniform (a normie outfit of navy blue shirt, ironed jeans, and black Vans), Flores presents a caricature of himself that is soft and endearing, like an oversized stuffed animal. The generic suite of large-format family photographs in the exhibition feature Flores’ crocheted replicas of himself lovingly posing with his actual wife, who mirrors Flores’ attire. Where Flores’ doppelgänger rests his pliable yarn hands on his wife’s real pregnant belly, as in the photograph Family Portrait (III) (2019), it seems that the artist is employing a deflective tool—a dissociative body detached from the reality of impending fatherhood. In contrast to Alexa, who stands erect and grounded, staring back at the viewer with self-assuredness, her yarn dummy of a husband looks downward, poses awkwardly and frowns ever so slightly. Though Flores’ constructed version of himself is as the attentive and submissive husband, he is, in effect, emotionally absent. Alexa’s actual pregnant body in the context of Flores’ multiple self-portraits underscores the absurd challenge of the male ego to lay bare his inner life even as the responsibility of fatherhood approaches.
Flores’ self-conscious sheepishness reappears in his Dickhead series featuring repeated contour charcoal drawings of his nude body with a second head in place of his genitals. In each drawing, the full-bodied version of Flores imposes on his accepting dickhead various fraternal hazing techniques, smudging warpaint on his cheeks, shoving a phallic stick in his mouth, and pouring beer down his throat. The obvious adage about men thinking with their dicks aside, Flores’ self-portraits set up a pictorial dynamic rarely literalized by straight male artists. The pressure to feed his ego through self-aggrandizing gestures of masculinity here butt up against his desire to reveal the bare self. Of all the versions of Flores represented in the exhibition, only the crying one bears any resemblance to the self-work required to collectively redefine what it means to be a man. Predictably, in order for Flores to strip the facade of machismo, he must first be metaphorically unmasked by his devoted wife.
Luis Flores: Prende la Luz Que Tengo Miedo runs from October 26–December 7, 2019 at Matthew Brown Gallery (633 N. La Brea Ave, Suite 101, Los Angeles, CA 90036).