As part of the Richmond Mural Project, David Flores came to RVA with his partner in crime, Olivia Bevilacqua, to paint the town. From the start of his career in the 90s with Shorty’s Skateboards to his recent work creating iconic stained-glass-style murals around the world, Flores has received many accolades in the skateboard, street art, and design worlds. He’s left his mark deep in many underground cultures, and in turn has influenced the mainstream of current culture. His work as part of the Richmond Mural Project indicated both underground and mainstream influences; his giant painting featuring Snoopy and Woodstock, Charles M. Schulz’s universally-recognized characters from the Peanuts comic strip, now dominates the downtown landscape. It was fun sitting down and asking him about it all, from his earliest work to the way he views his legacy. We covered a lot, and had to go a bit off script to do it, but sometimes leaving the beaten path is the best way to have a great coversation.
How did you get involved with the Richmond Mural Project?
Shane Pomajambo hit me up on email. It took me awhile to respond since we have been so busy. We started checking out the stuff that was already put up. Woes had stuff up and Aryz had stuff up, so I said, “Hey, let’s go check it out.”
What’s been your impression of Richmond?
It’s really old and really segregated. There is a lot of separation between races here. That’s what I am trying to do with my little bird. Trying to bring everyone together on the same playing field, as far as the art is concerned. Everything else, that’s not up to me. Viewing art should be free, everyone should have the opportunity. But my first impression–it’s really cool. It’s quaint, it’s old. You can tell there is a lot of history. If the rocks could talk… it’s not like that in LA. There is old stuff there, but everything is so temporary.
When do you think the transition from “graffiti” to “street art” happened? Blu and Os Gemeos were the originators of street art…
Os Gemeos were graffiti kids, break dancers, hip hop heads turned muralists–but they are street art to me. I don’t do street art, I do murals, because I don’t have a past of graffiti or tagging. [For me], it came straight out of skateboards, to paintings, to fucking walls… It just went bigger, bigger, bigger, BIGGER! “Now, what is the biggest canvas I can find? Oh, its a wall.” It birthed out of wanting to see my art big. I love doing [murals] so much, it’s a totally different realm. It’s totally trendy right now, but the kids are just so excited about something new that is going on in the world, and technology has a lot to do with it. Being able to reproduce your work, being able to project it, having lifts so you can go up and down – that’s new. We didn’t have that in the nineties. There is not really an excuse now–If you want to do something in America you can do it.
If you don’t do it then you are either are either lazy or scared.
[laughs] You are lazy or you are scared. We are out here, definitely not lazy. We are not scared to get up and on a roof. [Olivia] climbs out on god knows what kind of angles, on ledges and everything else. I’m holding her by her belt loop while she fills that last little spot in. Totally committed.
What’s the highest you could go without getting nervous? Nine stories? Ten stories? [Laughs] Tell the truth Dave…
It’s all relative. It could be two stories but [if] it’s super windy and I am on a lift, I’m going to be sketched out. It all depends on the situation. I could be eight stories [up] but on some firm shit, [and] I will be fine. You know what I mean? Let me put it this way. We are in New York City on 60 foot booms, one of them might have been 80–the ones with the big off road tires, the big heavy ones–and up in the air four stories and it was windy. I didn’t trust that boom at all. [laughs] I was turning around all slow, turning the knob real slow.
Don’t they give you a belt or something when you are that high?
What difference does that make? What’s that going to do? If you are in the thing when it falls… I am going to try to get out if I can. I mean if it’s falling, I’m going to try for the grass. I am going to try to jump as soon as I can.
[laughs] Obviously you have had time to think about this… he already has a plan.
I would jump in a tree if it would save my life.
Oh yeah, I think anybody would. You bring up a good point–obviously, if you are belted to it, you are going to fall together.
If you can get away from it and have a soft landing somewhere, it’s possible. It could hang up on a tree, and then it stops falling and you can go for that “oh fuck, now there’s my chance” moment, and you jump out and grab a branch.
[Laughs] You just glide off like a squirrel.
[Laughs] It’s like, “Splat!” And then you just hold on and wait for someone to come get you.
While yelling out, “Olivia!”
I don’t want to go down with it. You will get fucking smashed.
When did you know you were going to do art for a career? High school? Middle school?
I remember thinking, “If nothing happens with this, at least I will get a job at somewhere good from doing my own thing.” That was my mentality back in the day. If it fails, it will at least land me in some big corporation design firm and I will be all right. But it didn’t–I have been doing my own thing the whole time instead.
So you didn’t want to work for another company?
Well, I had to at first. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but I like doing my own thing.
You got started working with Shorty’s?
I met Tony [Buyalos, owner of Shorty’s Skateboards] when I moved to Santa Barbara. That was 1991. I was a hired hand in the skateboard world. All I was doing was skateboarding, hanging out, and having a good time. I wasn’t thinking about the future. Still not worried about it. I am a worried person, but it’s not any one particular thing, it’s all of it all together. Am I saying too much?
[laughs] Is he, Olivia? I don’t think he is.
Did I just say too much?
Do you remember your first wall?
I did one in San Francisco. It was a small wall, and I don’t have a photo of it. I have been doing bigger stuff for awhile. It was a natural progression since 2010, pushing four years. At some point, it was the next thing that I hadn’t done yet.
What has your year been like this year?
In January, we were doing a lot of murals in LA until April. Then New York. In LA, we put up six or more projects, starting with Dali in The Water, the [Nelson] Mandela [Foundation] piece, then coming back from Japan. I have a book coming out this year.
Does all this work give you any anxiety?
This anxiety of failing, and something going wrong. That is still an anxiety point for me. Not being able to finish [a piece], or it looking stupid kind of thing. Putting yourself in the public eye to fuck up miserably.
[laughs] Then you can’t hide it, right? If it’s messed up…
It can be anything. You can be painting and not know you are fucking up until later on.
Must be strange to have people that are really excited about you being there, and having to put on a show.
If no one else is going to do it, I will do it. Don’t act like your shit don’t stink.
Is street art too trendy? Is the bubble going to pop?
Here is the thing: I thought the whole new art disobedience happening back in ’02 was the end. I was thinking, “How is this going to keep going?” It kept going, and I kept going with it.
At one point you did a wall with Shepard Fairey. Is that when you started getting recognized for murals?
Probably. I think it was going to happen anyways, because my shit was strong. You can see my work from 3 blocks away. Strong images, strong economically, strong colors… Whether I did it with Shepard or not, it doesn’t matter.
Why did you pick Snoopy for the Richmond wall?
I didn’t, it kind of picked me to be honest with you. [It’s a] long low wall; Snoopy kept coming back to me. “Hey, use me and you can put a Woodstock at the end of it.” Plus, I wanted to keep it simple as far as the workload. We have been working so much, so a giant downtown piece and stencil throw-ups around town was good. Richmond is “big-little” and laid back. It’s been relaxing, and I am stoked that they let me paint what I wanted to paint.
How big can you go from here? A plane has already been done. Would you ever do a tank? You could go to Norfolk and paint a battleship; a David Flores piece riding into the Middle East.
I don’t want to do any military stuff. That’s the scary thing sometimes. [I] get asked to do stuff for big companies that… I don’t know what they are on, but they offer you a lot of money, and it’s this sell-your-soul moment all the time. [laughs] Like, one after the other, and I have to sometimes be like, “No, no…”
What’s the strangest request you’ve gotten for a project?
People are like, “Paint my garage!” And I’m like, “No.” McDonalds asked me about 6 months ago to do stuff for the World Cup, which would be coming out now. I would be a McDonalds artist right now. I had to say no, even though the money was good. Then I saw they used someone that looked like me and it was pretty generic. It didn’t matter who the artist was in the end.
The people that asked me, I didn’t like it. I just thought it was too much. When I see someone doing something with Billabong or RUCA, that’s even too much, you know what I mean? For me, that is the cutoff. Then you see people on Verizon, and I’m like, “Ehhhh…” Then it isn’t high end anymore. It’s whatever now. You lost it. You could have been like Bentley, but you ended up Ford Bronco. You got the money, but you don’t have the respect. When you don’t have the money anymore …
…you gotta do another McDonalds project.
You have to do more McDonalds, and soon you are all Mickey D’d up. Yeah, that’s the road.
Wearing the Ronald McDonald outfit, dancing, thinking, “Where am I?”
I would rather go the way we are now on our own merit. On our own dime, basically.
Do you think about legacy at all? I wouldn’t be surprised 20 years from now, cracking open an art history book and seeing a few of the guys from this era in there. Does it matter?
You will see it. That’s about it. I don’t think more about it than that. It doesn’t matter, I won’t be alive. Art is a continuing thought; it’s not something to just to be had, but something to hold and not dismiss quickly.
Do you feel your stained-glass technique is evolving? Is that something you are going to do forever?
I will do it forever, and I’ll do something else with it as well. It will always be something I do, because I love when it is all painted, or on a computer finished, I did that graphic, and I get so happy that it can be printed on a skateboard or go up on a wall. Talking about the art and the graphics, everything visual. That is something to think about. Why is this shit going on? Why are you doing it like this? Why is this big wall going up? There are certain [elements] to it–like the Woodstock thing. It’s the big Snoopy. It’s something that everyone can relate to – so BOOM, got you. Got your attention. Why do I keep seeing Woodstocks in all these different sorts of neighborhoods that are not all on the same societal tier? Well….
Art as a way to connect these different communities, get them talking.
Get them saying, “We have one in our neighborhood.” If I don’t finish them all, I will come back to do all 13. That’s how important it is to me to do them all, to do all 13. It doesn’t have to happen now. It’s not now or never, dude! More [like]–we got it started. Let’s take it next year and evolve it into something else.
This article is taken from the Winter 2014/2015 print edition of RVA Magazine, out now! Look for copies available for free at your favorite local Richmond businesses. To read a digital version of the full issue, click here.