Friday, August 23, 2013

Cosechando Juntos

Roel Sandoval Flores
"It was a hard life."

Those are the few words that musician-turned-artist Roel Sandoval Flores uses to describe a life of working in the fields. A brush, some paint and a canvas is all Flores needs to tell the story of the world he grew up in.

"I don't know how to write, so I do it with a brush," said Flores, 70-years-old, with a smile.

In 1995, the Weslaco-native was working for a local gas company and was under a lot of stress. One of his daughters said that it looked like he needed something else to do besides work.

"With no training, I just started with some paints that one of my daughters was going to throw away."

Flores, along with his family, experienced first hand what it was like to work on the fields. In 1955, after falling under the spell of Valerio Longoria's music, he picked up a bajo-sexto and started performing conjunto music. He became a part of several different conjunto acts, like Los Supremos and Los Originales. It wasn't about the money for Flores, it was a way for him to live his dream of being a musician.

"Music and field work, to me, go together," Flores said. "You can't separate them 'cause that's where the music was born. That's where I first heard it, doing field work."

Walking with Flores, looking at his "Cosechando Juntos" art exhibit, he would casually open up about his life when looking at his work on the walls of the Weslaco Museum. We stood in front of one piece — a dreamlike blue scene, with a flowing river and an accordion hanging off the moon.

"My mind goes back to when I was little, to when my dad would take me fishing," remembers Flores. "Actually, I always had the radio on, so it goes back to the music."

Another painting, titled "Historia De Tejas", caught my eye. Flores starts discussing the painting with me, remarking on his use of colors and symbols.

"The pink is like the hopes and dreams that we had then," Flores said. "The hills were like open wounds of all the times we had a lot of people die on the fields."

While his themes are consistent, Flores' paintings reveal a broad spectrum of styles that include portraits, landscapes, and abstracts. He likes to bring a new, fresh ideas to his paintings, some of which are inspired by dreams he's had.

"I don't know anything about styles, I don't know anything about paintings," laughs Flores. "I don't go by the rules 'cause I don't know the rules."

Flores hopes that young Tejanos and Tejanas are able to get an idea of their past from the art he has created.

"To me, it's real important that people don't forget where they come from," Flores said. "We should be proud of who we are and where we came from."

With the help of his wife of almost fifty years, Epifania, he's been able to travel around and expose his art to people outside the Valley. He's had his art displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., Texas Folklife in Austin and Houston, the University of Chicago, Mexico and many other places. When he makes appearances at schools, Flores tells students that his biggest regret was dropping out in the seventh grade. He hopes that they can learn from his mistake.

In the past twelve years, he's had to overcome a series of heart-related ailments. After a heart attack in 2001, he said he was given zero chance to live by his doctor. He feels lucky that he's been able to escape death on multiple occasions.

"Maybe why I haven't died (is) 'cause there is something I have to do," Flores said optimistically.

Nowadays, Flores keeps himself busy with a family that includes five adult children, fifteen grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren. Despite having his hands full with his family and his art career, Flores still finds time to practice daily on his bajo-sexto and guitar. While he stopped performing at bailes in 1985, he's been playing music at local area churches since 1986. He is eager to inform me about a project he's been working on with a granddaughter of his.

"One of my granddaughters, Priscilla (Renee Cardenas), she's into singing," Flores said. "We started doing a CD of gospel music but Tejano (style). Hopefully we'll finish it this year."

Looking back at his transformation into an artist, he's amazed at all the opportunities that he's received since he first picked up a brush. He's not entirely sure how it came so naturally to him, but he's grateful that he's been able to express himself in a way that he never even imagined.

"A friend of mine, way back in the beginning, said, 'I didn't know you painted.' (I said), 'Well I didn't know either,'" laughs Flores.

Weslaco Museum's Cosechando Juntos exhibit started on Aug. 13, and ends on Sept. 28. Opening reception is Aug. 24, from 6 PM to 8 PM. Admission is $4, adults; $3, senior citizens, college students; $2, children 5 to 17; free, children 4 and under. For more information, call 956-968-9142.

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