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Interview - Daniel Fleming

Daniel Fleming is a Milwaukee artist who has been exploring issues of spying and privacy in contemporary society. In this interview Daniel talks about this newest body of work and his upcoming solo show at Greymatter. 

"Honk" (Detail), Ink on paper, 12x18"

First, tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

When I was growing up I was mostly exposed to art through my mom and dad, despite the fact that neither of them worked in the creative field. I attended schools which, largely, did not have an art program but, luckily, was brought to art galleries and fairs, shown documentaries, even spent weeknights drawing with my dad on the kitchen table...and though I really don't think I was ever pushed in any way toward a career in art, I've always been interested in something art-related. When I hit highschool, I took my "doodling" to the next level and, with encouragement from my parents, i continued exploring the world of paint, until I basically spent all my non-homework and non-sporting hours in the basement working on art. I have always drawn...but i didn't think about fine art as a career until I began spending nearly all my free-time working on it and, at that point, it was hard to think about anything else…

I can't say that this is a path that any other artist should plan, but I also don't know where I'd be had anything gone differently. The lack of structure taught me to experiment…the lack of a teacher made me self-critical…the lack of purpose taught me to relax and have fun…the lack of art being given to me forced me to search it out and that motivation is truly what carries me through my work today.

Your current body of work deals with the notion of privacy in contemporary life and how technology and politics factors into this. How did you become interested in this phenomenon?

"Going Somewhere" Ink on paper, 12x18"Privacy, or a lack-there-of, has been a hot issue in the last year and people across the country have very strong and very differing opinions on surveillance, it's need in society and it's effect on our lives…but I think the thing most people in the conversation are missing is that, no matter what side we are on, we are, in some way, taking part in the watching, the being watched and the distribution of that information. As we complain that the government is reading our emails, we click headlines that spread paparazzi shots of our favorite celebs trying to get away. While we cry that the NSA is taking our privacy, we sit behind closed blinds and secretly watch the argument develop in the apartment across the street. We fear that our lives are becoming too known at the same time that we constantly update our status, post the current song on spotify and freely spread our opinion across random website comment threads. I don't believe that I am as much interested in that actual issue of surveillance as much as I am interested in the ignorance of one's own participation in the constant circle of watching and being watched. For a society that seems to value privacy and freedom, it's fascinating to watch how we constantly infringe upon it when it comes to people, places and groups that don't include "I".

It seems like you typically use a very colorful palette, whereas in this work your palette is more subdued. Describe how this factors into the concepts you are exploring in "Peer."

The drawings in PEER arose from a multi-week hiatus from painting. I had just created and installed my largest ever piece, AERIALS, at Galerie M and, while I still felt the drive to create, the energy was a bit lacking. I was burnt out. AERIALS was one of the busiest and most energetic pieces I had ever done and the process of creating it mirrored that. I had figure out a way to get my mind on the next thing…even if that next thing hadn't yet been completely thought out. I took a step back from the large-scale paintings, left the brushes in the studio, sunk into a comfy chair and started drawing.

The initial reason for the black & white of the drawings was a simple rejection of the previous project. AERIALS was an experiment in excess of size and color and the drawings of PEER simply started as a way to move on. Early in the process, I realized much of my imagery lent itself to a black and white presentation and a few drawings into the collection, I began to see the promise and potential in the images paired with an emerging understanding of the surveillance discussion. The "black/white" of the images mirror the one-sided "right v. wrong" views of the conversation being had while the simplicity of the objects and graphics create an immediate familiarity and comfort with the viewer. These draw the viewer into the scene…and only then can we move the discussion forward into more complex thoughts and concepts.

You have spoken about the role of the viewer in this installation. Can you elaborate on this a little?

The artwork is essential to the show, but from a conceptual standpoint, the viewer is nearly as important. PEER takes it's name from the double entendre of "to view" or "an equal acquaintance" and the juxtaposition between the two definitions. If you are peering into someone's background, chances are you don't consider them a "peer"…likewise, if someone is spying on you or overseeing your actions, the chances of them seeing you as equal seems rather low….yet everyone, in some way, fills both roles.

"Spy Planes" (detail) Ink on Paper, 12x18"This show uses the viewer to investigate these relationships and create an understanding of our ability to constantly shift between peer and viewer, depending on the perspective. When you first enter the show, the small-scale of the drawings will give power to the viewer. They will stand over the work, view the entire scene and investigate it to their heart's content. The large-scale piece knocks the viewer down a few pegs. Here, you need to strain to get close to the highest points of the canvas, you'll need to shift your body as you try to move across the entire surface, and you give up some of that control as others move into your view, attempt to investigate the same image and jostle to find a place to stand. As you take yet another step back, you gain another perspective as the gallery itself becomes a distant landscape. The viewers, some dominating the smaller work, some enveloped by the larger canvas, all become peers in this view of the project as they shuffle around the small space.

In short, the viewer dominates, is dominated, and then is shown how it's all relative to where you stand. We are all part of a small distant landscape to someone…it all depends where the viewer is standing.

Tell us a little about any other projects or activities you are involved in right now.

I have a number of projects currently in the works including a one-night show at the A.C.E. Carriage House Gallery June 6th, for Bay View Gallery Night, I will be participating in the 5th Anniversary show of Indiana Green with Frank Juarez Gallery in Cedarburg and am in the process of creating a solo show of furniture work at the 88Nine Radio Milwaukee Headquarters. Also, I am creating a piece for the upcoming CultureJamMKE for July Gallery Night and hope to be completing my first outdoor mural in the area this year.

In the last year I have taken part in five solo shows, including AERIALS at the Intercontinental Hotel and a number of group shows including Branding Creativity from Plaid Tuba and Hanson Dodge. I was a finalist in the Tournavation project from Newaukee for my FACEbox concept and even had my first ever solo on the east coast, Loose Canvas, hosted by the Rochester Museum of Fine Art. I have sold work both nationally and internationally this past year and hope to increase the reach of my art through shows like PEER and further involvement in the local and outside art communities.