Joe Fleming is a Toronto-based painter. His paintings have a decidedly sculptural pull, representing the artist’s experimentation with form, texture, materiality, perspectival confusion and possibility. Fleming has exhibited internationally for over 15 years and lectured at various universities in Canada, the United States and South East Asia since 1993.Fleming has received recognition for his work in numerous publications including Design Lines Magazine, Azure Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Now Magazine, CBC, Chelsea Now and The Wall Street Journal Magazine.
I’ve been working on industrial polycarbonate for about fifteen years. Sometimes I use other materials, but rarely canvas. I’m interested in found surfaces. I started painting on plexiglass after a corneal transplant in my left eye.
Can you imagine having serious trauma to your eye? And then having it happen a second time and getting second corneal transplant? I can’t even talk about it. It was pretty crazy. Both times I had a great doctor. As a visual artist, if you lose sight, you’re worried you won’t be a visual artist anymore.
My show after the first transplant was called ‘Extra Parts’ (2011) because I had an extra part. I was seeing through someone else’s eye and wanted a surface that you could look through. The work was painterly graphic shapes, floating.
I’ve never had a job. After studying illustration, I worked freelance. I had an agent and got commissions but I was telling other people’s stories and I wanted to tell mine. I was doing the cover for the New York Times but still hated it. I wish I was making the money now that I was making then. I walked away from a great gig.
One of my illustration jobs was for Mean Girls. I did paintings for the film and they relocated stuff from my studio to shoot. At the end of the shoot, they destroyed one of my paintings. They painted over it, so I took them to small claims court. It was me against Paramount Pictures and I won. In my paperwork, I was doing work for them to use and not to own.
I learned a lot about how to protect myself, in the commercial art world. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and money, but intellectual property is everything. Know your self worth. Mark making, especially if it’s unique, is your property. You have to stand up for your rights. It ended well for me. I got to meet Lindsay Lohan, I made a bunch of cash, it’s all good.
Years ago, commercial art left a bad taste in people’s mouths. I don’t think there’s the same problem now, but when I first transitioned into the fine art world, it was difficult. I called my 2013 show at General Hardware ‘Thinking of Bush’ after reading about Jack Bush and finding similarities in our paths toward becoming artists. He was an illustrator too. I used graphic devices in my work to mimic the mark making of Jack Bush.
My mark making includes spray paint and brush strokes. Sometimes power tools, I use a grinder. For my latest show ‘Stockyard Rumble’ (2015) I was thinking about branding on animals. There’s a conscious application of thought to the marks. It’s not just random.
With painting, I’m making something that didn’t exist before. I want to explore and create something, to push my own body of work. I’m starting to see what my next paintings will look like. I’m making work and figuring it out. It’s like being a musician and just strumming. There’s going to be a shift where I offset the substrates. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before. It’s going to be more three dimensional.
—Joe Fleming, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Brittany Carmichael
Visit Joe Fleming’s website here.