Rhythms in light
The first time you see a Michael Flohr painting, you are apt to do a double-take. At a glance, the subject is familiar, the locale seemingly a place you’ve been before, the shadowy figures people you’ve encountered. It is then that your eyes begin to wander over the canvas looking for a sign of recognition. Is it a bar in your hometown, a restaurant you dined in with friends, a rainy street crossed in haste?Flohr’s paintings are places he frequents or has found to his liking during his travels. And although he manages to capture a moment in time, the technique and playful color palette he uses is what the viewer ultimately focuses on.Flohr recently visited Breckenridge to sketch and photograph inside of The Hearthstone restaurant. He plans to return to the Breckenridge Fine Art Gallery Dec. 28 for a special exhibition where he will unveil the finished oil painting.
Considering Flohr’s age – he’s only 29 – the body of work he has already produced and the awards and recognition he has garnered places him among those commercially successful artists whose work has become super popular. LeRoy Neiman is one artist whose work comes to mind when viewing a Flohr. The bar scene subject matter, the splashes of color and the nervous activity in Neiman’s work are evident in Flohr’s as well. But that is where the similarity ends. Born and raised in Lakeside, Calif., Flohr studied art at the San Francisco Academy of Art and had already achieved notoriety before graduation. Not long after graduating he was accepted into New York’s venerable Society of Illustrators and was soon awarded the Herman Lambert scholarship. Openly excited when talking about painting, Flohr said he cannot go on vacation without getting so caught up in the scenery or surroundings that he has been known to wander off in the middle of dinner with his wife Melissa, at a Parisian café to see the sunset and return hours later to find a note giving the address of the hotel where they were staying. In fact, he says he “loves those restaurants where the tables are covered with butcher paper,” so he can sketch to his heart’s content.
Having more fun than he likes to admit to, Flohr suggests having a studio outside the house would feel too much like a job. In order to avoid the 9-5 syndrome, he converted his garage into an atelier and can paint whenever and for as long as he likes, saying all he needs “is a few square feet in which to work.” His paintings demonstrate a confidence artists twice his age might not have. Assured brushstrokes fill the canvas with stabs and pats of color, and flashes of light silhouetting figures at a table, chefs in an open kitchen or a bartender holding court. The images appear to be frozen in time because according to the young artist, he can’t just paint a pretty picture – he needs a story. His technique eliminates details but skillfully caresses light and shadow. Though the viewer can barely make out the napkins holder and salt and peppershaker on a table, the red flowers in a vase are easily discernible. The lack of facial features on the people in his scenes make them more recognizable than anonymous, their postures and attitudes evoking much more than a precise portrait might. Influenced by the work of Monet, Van Gogh and Sargent, Flohr knew he wanted to be an artist at a very early age, and perhaps that head start provided him with the talent and skill he possesses today. When asked how long it took him to complete one canvas, his response was 29 years.
The strength of his earlier convictions is unmistakable when he remarks, “If my work didn’t sell, I’d still be a painter.” Truth be known, his work does sell, and quite well. With dozens of galleries around the world showing his oils and giclees, and a book of his paintings and drawings due out next year, Michael Flohr has found a very lucrative niche. It will be interesting to see how his art progresses and whether or not he listens to his muse and steps outside the fashionable realm he could so easily succumb to. It is a test many trendy, but lesser artists, have failed. Stew Mosberg is a freelance writer working out of Blue River. He is the author of two books about design and is the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He can be reached at email@example.com
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