By the time Jorge Flores, who graduated with a BFA in visual arts this May, began his studies at Rutgers University-Newark, he’d already started a successful career in fashion merchandising, working his way up from cashier to creating his own store windows and displays for Canadian retailer Le Château’s stores all over New York and New Jersey. But he soon realized he wanted to do something bigger.
Flores’ parents and siblings emigrated from their native Honduras to Newark when he was seven years old. He said the transition was made easier by supportive neighbors who became life-long friends. “I always felt protected in my neighborhood. It was very family-oriented.”
Flores remembers always being creative, but said visual merchandising was his first real taste of making art. In high school, he had studied architecture but realized it wasn’t his passion. “[Merchandising] flourished into something I wanted to pursue doing.” After five years of steady promotions, he hit a plateau in his career and realized he would need to go back to school if he wanted keep moving forward. After receiving his Associate’s degree from Essex County College, he transferred into the Arts, Culture, and Media department at RU-N.
Once there, Flores found he had a natural love of photography, and said Nick Kline and Anthony Alvarez at Shine Portrait Studio were his biggest mentors. “Kline taught me that it doesn’t matter how expensive the camera is or what camera you have, as long as you have lighting, your vision and the angles, that’s all you need.” Eager to learn more, Flores took every photo class offered and spent his last semester doing individual study and interning with Kline and Alvarez at Shine, where he said the two were integral to his growth as a photographer. “Anthony is amazing – he’s the technical guru. He’s also a blessing to the studio. Whoever gets to experience that duo is very, very lucky.”
Flores eventually found he also loved painting, but it wasn’t immediate. Initially, painting intimidated him and he found it a stressful process. “I hated painting when I came here,” he admits. But that all changed when he took a class with Jordan Casteel. “There was a nurturing part of her that allowed me to just become comfortable with the paint,” said Flores. “So this allowed me to just keep slowly exploring more and more how I wanted my visions to come into the canvas.” He went on take several more classes with her as well as an individual study, and now counts Casteel as an invaluable influence in his creative practice.
The large installation piece Flores created for his senior thesis shows clear signs of his merchandising experience and interdisciplinary art practice. “I knew ever since I got into the BFA program that my senior show would be some type of installation, some type of painting, but it was going to be something grand, something to make a statement.”
The colorful work, titled “Paradise”, incorporates painting, sculpture, garbage bags, and lighting to illustrate environmental issues. Flores says he encouraged visitors to the exhibit to become part of the piece by taking photographs in front of it. The culmination of his studies, “Paradise” is an addition to the earlier series of eight paintings he did for Casteel’s painting course, and he says, the end of an era.
“I want to highlight certain things within the world that are important, that should be spoken about. I’m driven right now with immigration, with people that are coming from my country in the masses.” He hopes that more people engage with the arts and wants to lead that conversation with the community through his art. “I want to do more work in Newark,” said Flores, “and it would speak volumes of my overall life here and how I came to flourish in the city.”
He may also pursue graduate studies, but not right away. “I’m really happy I get to do what I love. I get to create, and I think I’m always going to stay in that realm of creating.”