American Traveler: Capturing Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Circumstances

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American Traveler: Capturing Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Circumstances

Michael Flohr

Capturing Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Circumstances

“Capturing Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times.” American Traveler: 42-43.


Artist Michael Flohr
Capturing Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Circumstances

Whenever they visit Atlanta, San Diegans Michael and Melissa Flohr park across the street from the Southern Company’s headquarters and gaze at the massive piece of art hanging in the lobby.

At 9’x15′, the oil-on-canvas Southern Rain is something of a mega-masterpiece – easily viewable from a block away. For Flohr it is also a personal triumph. “We sit and stare, and I can’t believe I did it,” the 33-year-old artist explained.

Southern Rain is the latest in a series of milestones for a young man who has wanted to be a painter ever since an astute teacher saw talent in a discouraged elementary school kid.

“I was diagnosed with serious dyslexia when I was five. I still struggle with it. All the way through eighth grade, I’d have to get up really early to go to tutoring. But my teacher was also an oil painter, and so I’d go to tutoring for an hour and then I’d get to do art for an hour. It was my reward. She let me use oils when I was about eight. I remember telling my mom I was going to be a painter.”

The goal didn’t seem within the realm of possibility. Flohr grew up in rural Lakewood, California. In high school he excelled in art, and little else. After graduation, like most of his friends from the blue-collar community, he got a job. But his love of art continued. He worked in a casino for two years before determining to attend San Francisco’s Academy of Art. There, his unique talent quickly attracted attention.

During his final year at the school he was accepted into the prestigious New York Society of Illustrators, joining the likes of Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish. Three of his student works were exhibited at San Francisco’s de Young Memorial Museum that year.

“People ask about my style. I can’t explain it. A lot of people paint what they see. I paint what I feel. I can paint these same scenes realistically and accurately because I’ve been classically trained to do that. But once you learn all the classical things, then you can take what you know and come up with your own style. Picasso said it; he came from realism to abstracting the figures. If you know how to paint it perfect, you can abstract it so much better.”

Flohr explained his unique brand of Impressionism. “I think it is as akin to facial recognition. If you see a loved one a hundred yards away, you don’t need to see their eye color to know who they are. That’s the way it is with my work.”

The artist likes to describe himself as someone with “greedy eyes. I can’t really enjoy things the way other people do. I’m always thinking about how to paint life. I am drawn to really ordinary scenes.” Much of his work is done from black-and-white photographs. “That forces me to make up my own colors. That’s why my colors are sort of exaggerated,” he said.

The Southern Company, among the nation’s largest generators of energy, conducted a nationwide search before selecting Flohr to create their lobby art. “My idea was to show that even though it was raining, people were out and having fun and that the lights were still on.”

The painting was created in a California warehouse using a 20-foot scissor lift and jerry-rigged brushes. “A good-sized painting for me is typically 3’x5′. I realized if I used my regular brushes on something of this size, the result would look like pointillism. So I went to Home Depot and got house painter brushes and nailed them together. Learning to use the scissor lift was a little scary too. I like to stand back when