Flaco Waters: Celebrated Artist Creates Incredible Series for 100th Anniversary of Harlem Renaissance

In 2016, Flaco Waters wrote the date May 22, 2017 on the back of a vanity license plate with the words “Dream Big” on it. He ended up moving to New York on May 21, 2017 – one day before that date he had manifested. Waters always knew he wanted more for himself and had a passion for the creative arts. From that fateful day in 2017 he has built friendships, grown as a creative and following a commercial collaboration with Steve Madden his future is only looking brighter! We sit down with Waters and get into his inspiration, what inspired this series and his exciting journey thus far.

Upon welcoming us into his studio with a warm smile we immediately took a liking to Waters. His richly colored jewelry and the warm and cozy tones in his studio reflect his positive persona and charisma. This warmth carries into his art pieces as well. The golden and saturated tones of the pieces highlighting people dancing and playing jazz instruments put up on easels around the room radiate a fun and bright energy. Water’s most recent series commemorates the 100th year of the Harlem Renaissance.

For the past six years Waters has been based in Harlem, a neighborhood steeped in cultural history and artistic vibrancy, which has undoubtedly influenced Water’s work and this recent series. Harlem has long been a crucible of African-American art, music, and literature, from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to the contemporary art scene. “That [the Harlem Renaissance] was what my idea of New York was – very glamourous, very fun, the essence of dancing, music, the glamour in the clothing and how they moved in the 1920s was so perfect to me” says Waters. The saturated colors in pieces depict scenes of jazz ensembles, dancers and outdoor street scenes. The one he has on the easel is of a man getting his groove on and woman in a sexy dress with headpiece dancing in front of a crowd. You can feel the emotion of the couple and the movement through the paint and sparkles on the canvas.

Waters wants viewers of his art to feel emotion and tell a story. Music from this time especially has inspired this series. Waters further states. “Jazz music has always been an inspiration to me. Jazz made you feel. It made you feel love, anger, sadness and it told stories. As a painter I always wanted to tell stories and help people see themselves in that story.”

Highlighting historically important figures is also part of Water’s series. One piece highlights Josephine Baker, an American-born French entertainer, activist, and French Resistance agent who became a cultural icon in France during the 1920s and 1930s. Known for her energetic performances, often in risqué costumes, Baker was also a civil rights advocate who refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States and used her fame to support the French Resistance during World War II. These paintings serve to educate the younger generation on these icons from the 1920s who should be celebrated for their work in pushing culture forward.

Last year, in 2023, Water’s talent received significant recognition when he participated in the Harlem Festival of Culture design challenge. This event invited creatives based in Harlem to showcase their work, celebrating the neighborhood's continuing role as a hub of artistic innovation. The challenge was a platform for artists to not only display their skills but also to connect their art with broader cultural narratives.

Water’s submission to the challenge stood out, earning him a win that speaks to the compelling nature of his work. His entry likely exemplified the qualities he's known for: the interplay of textures, the resonance of personal history, and that bold, primary color palette. These elements, combined with the cultural relevance of his work, evidently made a strong impression on the judges.

The win led to an exciting collaboration with Steve Madden, a prominent name in the fashion industry. Water’s vibrant, primary-color-driven aesthetic seems well-suited to the vibrant world of fashion. His textures and patterns translate beautifully into fabric designs, while the personal narratives in his work might resonate with consumers looking for products that tell a story

This collaboration leads us to the story of the teddy bear, Water’s signature. In 2019, he was trying to find his way and the Gift album by Beyonce had been released that year. The song Brown Skin Girl inspired him to create a painting called “Daddy’s Little Girl”. It was a scene of a little girl with the oversized clothing of her father on innocently holding a red balloon and a teddy bear. It turned into a series of the little girl going through her imagination. Halfway through the series Waters realized he had much more of a connection to the bear and the works evolved to include the bear as the main element.

In Water’s words: “The teddy bear represents the imagination. As kids we give them names, a storyline and as we grow older we forget them… so I rewrite and paint their journey. The three colors are the primary colors in which are the foundation of art and without which we would leave the world black and white.”

Water’s collaboration with Steve Madden and most recent series underscore a growing trend of cross-pollination between art and popular culture. Brands are increasingly looking to partner with artists who bring unique perspectives and authenticity to their products. For artists like Waters, these collaborations offer a way to make their art more accessible and to engage with their community in new ways.

It's also worth noting the significance of a major brand like Steve Madden choosing to work with a Harlem-based artist. This decision shines a light on the vibrant art scene in neighborhoods that are often underrepresented in mainstream art narratives. It's a testament to the talent thriving in these communities and a step towards more inclusive representation in the intersections of art, fashion, and commerce.

Flaco Waters emerges as a compelling figure in the contemporary New York art scene. His self taught journey, his authenticity, and his distinctive style marked by texture and the teddy bear, all contribute to the unique voice of his work. His win at the Harlem Festival of Culture design challenge and subsequent collaboration with Steve Madden not only highlight his individual talent but also underscore the vibrancy of Harlem's creative community. As with any rising artist, it will be exciting to see how Water’s work evolves and where his distinctive vision takes him next.

More of Water's work is available on his website: https://www.flacowaters.com

More of Water's work is available on his website: https://www.flacowaters.com

Contact Info:

Unbelievable Shows not to be missed in the New York Art Scene this Week!

Abigail MacFadden • June 6, 2024 •
4 min read

Junyi Liu: Painter, Performance Artist on the Rise in New York City

Abigail MacFadden • June 5, 2024 •
10 min read

Art Show Roundup: Memorial Day Weekend and Summer Exhibitions in NYC

Demi Dubois-Moreau • May 23, 2024 •
6 min read

Art Fair Dressing Guide

Art Fair Dressing Guide: Stylish Guidelines for Men & Women

Demi Dubois-Moreau • May 16, 2024 •
7 min read

May Shows in NYC not to be missed!

Demi Dubois-Moreau • May 9, 2024 •
3 min read

Fashion Trend

Mob Wife Fashion Trend And The Sopranos 25th Anniversary

Demi Dubois-Moreau • May 2, 2024 •
7 min read

May Art Show Roundup in New York

Demi Dubois-Moreau • Apr 25, 2024 •
7 min read

Western Fashion and Baseball Caps: Some Looks From Coachella Weekend One

Demi Dubois-Moreau • April 19, 2024 •
3 min read

art shows in New York

5 Art Shows to Attend this Spring in New York

Abigail MacFadden • April 10, 2024 •
5 min read

The Taylor Swift of Painting

Abigail MacFadden • April 1, 2024 •
3 min read

The Whitney Biennial
The Real Thing is Coming Back

Abigail MacFadden • March 15, 2024 •
3 min read

Exhibition Review: Fashion on the Move

Jocelyn McEvers • March 13, 2024 •
3 min read

Runway Trends: Paris Fashion Week Fall / Winter 2024

Jocelyn McEvers • March 9, 2024 •
7 min read