Conversations with the Artists: Felix "Flex" Maldonado Jr. / by Place Lab

Felix "Flex" Maldonado Jr. is one of six finalists chosen to make a full proposal for ArtHouse's public art commissions. Maldonado will propose a work for the commission Surface. The artists selected for ArtHouse's public art commissions will be announced in late May 2016.

What motivated you to apply for the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge at ArtHouse? If you have a connection to Gary, what is it?
What motivated me to apply was the fact that I wanted to take on the challenge of such a great project. I have direct connections to Gary in the sense that I grew up working with my dad at U.S. Steel, and having family and friends from there, I felt it was my duty to represent the region.

The Chicago Picasso, an untitled monumental sculpture by Pablo Picasso sited at Daley Plaza in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by J. Crocker.

The Chicago Picasso, an untitled monumental sculpture by Pablo Picasso sited at Daley Plaza in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by J. Crocker.

Are there examples of public art works that have had an impact on you?
Although I feel any successful public work should portray some sense of inspiration, I first felt the impact of such success when I first started art school and saw Picasso’s Chicago sculpture at the Daley Plaza.

Does your approach to a public commission differ from the approach you take to other work, such as for private clients, exhibitions, galleries, or targeted audiences? If so, how? If not, why not?
My approach to any public commission does not really differ too much from my clients or private work because I take every project, commission or body of work with the same quality, pride and work ethic— anything less is unacceptable.

Why do you feel that public art is important to communities?
Having done numerous public art projects, I find it a very important vitality to any community. Aside from the visual inspiration (or just seeing something more beautiful than what was previously there) It creates a platform for dialog within the community.

Portrait  by Flex Maldonado. Image courtesy of the artist.

Portrait by Flex Maldonado. Image courtesy of the artist.

Should your proposal be chosen as the winning artwork, how do you envision the Gary community would be involved in bringing the work to fruition?
If my proposal is chosen, God willing, I plan to incorporate the community into the mural; literally. I would like to keep my vision as genuine as possible by holding a “call-for-models” photoshoot and invite the people of Gary to model for the subjects that I have lain out in the mural.

What do you want to convey about cities in your commissioned work of art (or in the process that leads up to its installation)?
I want to convey the fact that Gary has not been forgotten but is rather very alive and actually progressing. I believe in the people of this region, they are very resilient by nature and have no plans on giving up. but I also want to convey that change is good and that it starts with one’s self.

Anything else you’d like to add, or tell ArtHouse fans?
I just want to thank everyone at ArtHouse for the tremendous opportunity to represent my region and if chosen I promise to not let the people of Gary down.


Felix “Flex” Maldonado Jr. is a native of East Chicago, IN, Maldonado is a self-taught artist with more than twenty-five years of experience in painting, drawing, and graffiti art. He received his BFA in Advertising with a minor in Graphic Design from the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He has worked with several ad agencies in Chicago, and has directed and produced commercials for companies like Culligan Water, Peoples Energy, Roto-Rooter, Head Tennis and ATA Airlines. In 2003, Felix helped form CISA Studio, LLC., a creative services company producing local and national work in various disciplines, including murals, custom paint and airbrushing, advertising, design, and multimedia. Maldonado’s history of solo and group art exhibitions include exhibitions at the South Shore Arts Center (Munster), CISA Gallery (Hammond), The Mexican Fine Arts Museum (Chicago), Art Expo (Chicago), Swope Museum (Terre Haute), SOMArts Museum (San Francisco), Armory's Fountain Art Fair (New York City), and the “Paint, Paste, Sticker”/ Street Art show at the Chicago Cultural Center.