Photo by Chuy Benitez, taken at the unveiling of the artist’s murals at the Station Museum in Houston, Texas in 2013.
You may already know Skeez181, even if you have not met him face to face. His aerosol murals dot the walls at points of interest in our city. His masks, which gained a reputation all their own, hang from the walls of numerous galleries as they’re displayed in local art shows. If you frequent the Houston art scene, chances are you’ve already caught sight of him: a bald, tattooed head dodging around a corner, unmistakably adorned, bearing tribal patterns and an ink replica of the Aztec calendar.
People want to know if his scalp tattoo hurt. Skeez smiles and says, “My answer always depends on my mood.” The genuine answer might be tied to his theory of the freedom of expression: emotion cannot be contained, it must be released. Thus, whatever pain the artist felt while receiving his emblematic head tattoos would have been converted, released as countless creative expressions – a natural move for someone as artistically inclined as he.
Skeez, whose surname is Flores though he’s more widely known by his graffiti handle, established himself as a local icon for his artistic accomplishments. He grew up in Houston’s North Side as a first generation Mexican-American, and his arts education stemmed among the train yards, hip-hop, and house parties of that culture. He recalls designing flyers for his older brother’s parties as a boy.
A few years later, he was accompanying neighborhood friends, aerosol can in hand, on ‘bombing’ trips – as the act of throwing up graffiti is known. The excursions provided the young Skeez with a time to unwind, explore, and push his skills. He pursued this education with such fervor that it eventually landed him on the wrong side of the law. Graffiti, after all, no matter how elegantly done, is illegal. The encounter only deepened his commitment to his craft. “I suffered the consequences for this name,” he says. “It’s a part of me and I’ll continue to build it up.”
And indeed he has. Recognized as an artist in the local community for many years, Skeez was featured a couple of years ago in The History of American Graffiti, a comprehensive account of the art form in America. More recently, Skeez ventured into curatorial projects. Notably, he organized the Summer Street Art Festival, a yearly event that features the work of artists, musicians, and fashion designers. He also serves as a teacher, working with groups from students to inmates.
His current major project, which he’s excited to divulge, is a videographic series of creative women in Houston. Ballerinas to bellydancers, fire breathers to women held in suspension by hooks, are all featured in the footage he’s recorded. He states that he feels lucky to be in a position to capture their artistry from his perspective, as it allows him to share with others one of his greatest inspirations – women as talented as they are beautiful.
His murals, which Skeez is largely known for, are dense images with pronounced visual patterns. His masks, which he constructs from clay and then displays in black shadowboxes, are haunting and often described by the viewer as tribal. “I love anything tribal,” Skeez says. “It’s natural and it’s been with us a long time.” The influence is apparent in his pieces, which display the symmetrical balance that typify the tribal aesthetic. If one digs deep enough, he suggests, triggers might be found in the tribal imagery of one culture that make it appear as another. The basic similarities of prototypal visual languages from around the globe speak to the durability of certain symbols, and to the fundamental commonalities of the human experience as well, he explains.
“I’m influenced by my roots,” Skeez states, when asked about the role his heritage plays in his exercises of creativity. He was born to parents who are creatives themselves; a range of art forms were practiced in his household. But the connection runs even deeper. “Art is in my blood. It originated from our culture,“ he continues, referring to the Mesoamerican civilizations. “Consider the fact that their written language was visual.”
Skeez credits a years long friendship, more brotherhood, with two local danzantes for teaching him about his origins in a manner that thoroughly transformed him. Now, everything Skeez works on is a communication of his culture. “In hip-hop, you know, artists sample songs from decades ago. The formula is the same with me. I draw elements from my culture and sample them – re-mastering the symbols into new work.”
Follow Skeez181 on his social media platforms, linked below, to keep up with his work – his style is continuously evolving, and his projects are more encompassing each year.