The allure of neon is one few can resist: the inviting glow; the tinkering buzz of effervescent gas dancing within the glass; the power to elevate the simplest of ideas into magnetising text, shapes or animations. These qualities make neon both timeless and timely, and the medium of choice for both artists dedicated to the craft, to those who dabble.
Whilst countless artists, both past and present, have chosen neon as a medium to create sculpture or installation, few become masters of the craft themselves. The number of neon benders are few and far between and the number of artists who create their own neon work are even rarer. The Los Angeles based artist, Michael Flechtner is an anomaly in the sense that he is both the artist and the fabricator, as well as the performer, in his practice.
Showing his work for the first time in the UK at Neon Workshops, Wakefield, Flechtner presents Animating Neon. This is the result of the union of a revered neon artist and well-respected neon workshop, both of whom are the masterminds behind creating neon art works for the most famous artists living today.
Richard William Wheater, artist and founder of Neon Workshops, describes how social media led to the discovery of Flechtner as the artist often performs and animates neon, streaming this through the internet from his studio in America. The works selected for this exhibition document a snapshot of a career dedicated to hands on experimentation, invention and creation in Flechtners’ studio come workshop. It also shows how the artist has embraced and evolved his practice in line with developments intechnology. In the exhibition, three mobile phone screens play endless loops of Flechtner dancing around his studio in his wearable neon pieces. ‘Double Cross’, a denim jacket adorned with alternate flashing hands – one placed left, one right, one low and one worn as a headdress – endlessly repeat what seems to be the Christian gesture of blessing oneself, but what Flechtner is praying for we can only speculate.
Wearability and exhibitionism is a consistent theme across the works and is an important feature of ‘Hotdog Hat’, a comical rotating plastic hot dog complete with a bun that circles the wearers head like the rings of Saturn, and ‘Game Face’, a neon mask which comprises of colours and shapes that transform the wearer into a walking work of art. ‘Clifford’, the big red dog that many of us metaphorically spent our childhoods with, manifests himself as a kinetic sculpture lined with sizzling red light.
Humour and satire are the crucial underpinnings to all of Flechtners’ work, as well as his personality. Known to attend openings with his fully functional neon camera (witnessed in real life) the notion of performance and audience engagement is then associated with neon (a medium which is traditionally hung on walls or floating in shop windows) open up new boundaries for the medium to be participatory, wearable and interactive.
While this is the first time Flechtner has exhibited in the UK, unbeknown to many Flechtners work has travelled across the globe in the form of an everyday inanimate object. In 2010, the artist was commissioned by the United States Postal Service to create the only stamp featuring a Neon art work, which means you may already own a piece of his work without even knowing it.
Michael Flechtner: Animating Neon, Neon Workshops, Wakefield, 27 August – 29 November 2017.
Lisa-Marie Dickinson is an Artist and Writer based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.