Two artists take their spray paint to the streets of San Antonio

"We are basically performance artists, but we call ourselves freeform artists," says Flores, who, together with Salinas, comprises

Carlos "Niko" Flores and Cristina Salinas create their unique brand of artwork in Market Square within the confines of the special booth they created. Photo by Mark Greenberg
the Downtown San Antonio Freeform Artists. Using a dozen spray paint cans, cardboard circles, newspapers, razor blades, and a gimmicky but necessary ball of flame, Flores and Salinas paint elaborate images of sci-fi landscapes, surrealistic sunsets, and even fantastic depictions of the Cross (which, Flores notes, sell particularly well on Sundays). While the finished paintings are eye-catching art (immediately available for $25 once the work is completed), it is the process that draws attention.

"According to the side of the aerosol can, we have 12 minutes to finish a picture," says the 20-year-old Flores, who has been spray painting for over four years. Working with spray paint, the artists have to create quickly to complete the picture before the paint dries. "When you're working with spray paint you never know what is going to happen," adds Salinas, a two-year veteran of the art, "and you never have time to worry about the mistakes. We have an image in our head we want to create, but we are working so fast that sometimes we reach for the blue can and pick up the red instead, and we have to decide quickly, now how do I fix this?"

To keep their energy levels high, the two artists paint to the hyperactive beats of techno and dance music, which not only attract an audience, but also provide an appropriate soundtrack to the pair's fluid, dance-like movements.

Although Flores and Salinas draw a lot of attention during their weekend art shows outside the G/M Steakhouse or in Market Square, the Freeform Artists have greater aspirations than performance. "There is a bad stigma attached to spray paint artists, and we want to help the city change that attitude," says Flores, who was unable to obtain a permit to paint because there is no permit available for what he does. But downtown law enforcement and local businesses recognize the two as established artists, and support them in their activities. "The local cops even requested a special painting of a badge, which we did."

Flores and Salinas also created a special air purification system that uses an air filter similar to the type U.S. troops use in Iraq. They constructed a four-by-four cube that encloses the artist and prevents any aerosol fumes from entering the atmosphere. "We talked to several different companies to get the best filter, which not only prevents toxins from escaping, but also gets rid of the smell, which has always been a complaint," says Salinas. The two are campaigning the city to make it mandatory for all spray paint artists to use the system.

In the future, the duo hopes to work with youth groups in conjunction with the city to create murals and establish long-term projects. The two San Antonio College students understand the importance of art education, and hope that through their work they can continue to contribute to artistic growth in San Antonio. •


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