Spotlight: A Focused Exhibition of American Painter Dean Fleming’s 1960s Abstractions Traces a Stylistic Transformation

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What do you want to know: The David Richard Gallery presents a personal exhibition of works by Dean Fleming (b. 1933) entitled “Fourth Dimension”. Focusing on a distinct period of the artist’s career, the exhibition takes a close look at works dating from 1964 and 1965, which together highlight a transformation in Fleming’s artistic style. During these two years, he moved from painting intricate geometric patterns to greatly simplified forms, relying on minimal yet bold color fields arranged in harsh vector angles. Although there were many inspirations for this change, the artist cited two main visual influences: the work of Josef Albers from the 1940s and 1950s and Al Held’s “Concrete Abstractions” series between 1960 and 1961. His involvement as a founding member of the artist collective and exhibition venue Park Place Gallery in New York also provided fodder, as he encouraged material experimentation and the exploration of literal, illusory space.

Why we love it: The exhibition superbly illustrates the profound evolution that Fleming’s work underwent in the pivotal years of 1964 and 1965. Pieces such as Tunisia (1964) employ an elaborate compositional strategy in multicolored patchwork that fits with the contemporary Op Art movement. But, when juxtaposed with a work like 65 Black Yellow Red (1965), the stylistic evolution is brutal. Using a restrained color palette and precise lines and angles, Fleming dabbles in both Albersian color theory and hard edge abstraction. Additionally, Fleming’s work consistently addresses the dichotomy between real space and perceived space. Here, the tapering red lines at the bottom and right of the canvas can be read either as a flat field of color or as a perceptual flat edge, delineating a foreground. The exhibition presents Fleming’s experimental aptitude within his own work, but also a testimony to the great milieu of art history of the time.

According to the Gallery: “The inspiration for Fleming’s shift to open, hard-edge, minimalist compositions in 1965 had been smoldering for some time. He had a deep interest in understanding the complexities and imagining multi-dimensional space on a two-dimensional canvas, and was fascinated by the concept and potential of the fourth dimension.… In a recent conversation, while returning to the art scene in New York around 1965, Fleming noted two contributions his then-recent paintings made to this “scene.” First, he said, “These paintings [from 1965] are not images or illustrations of anything else, they do not represent anything other than what they are. The paintings had to be complete and entirely contained within the perimeters of the canvas, anchored to the outer perimeter. There was no ground, no void, they weren’t floating in space. Regarding the second point, he said: “Another important contribution of these paintings is that they changed and dealt with illusion, but were simple compositions that oscillated between a flat, almost graphic quality one minute, then shifted to something optical and three-dimensional afterwards, depending on the viewer and their perceptions.This contrasted with minimalist artists, who sought no emotion, no illusion and no content.

See the works in the exhibition below.

Dean Fleming, orange line (1964). © Dean Fleming. Photo: Yao Zu Lu. Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.

Dean Fleming, Tunis (1964).  © Dean Fleming.  Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.  Photo: Yao Zu Lu.

Dean Fleming, Tunisia (1964). © Dean Fleming. Photo: Yao Zu Lu. Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.

Dean Fleming, Oran (1964).  Dean Fleming, Tunis (1964).  © Dean Fleming.  Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.  Photo: Yao Zu Lu.

Dean Fleming, Oran (1964). © Dean Fleming. Photo: Yao Zu Lu. Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.

Dean Fleming, 65 Yellow White Black (1965).  Dean Fleming, Oran (1964).  Dean Fleming, Tunis (1964).  © Dean Fleming.  Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.  Photo: Yao Zu Lu.

Dean Fleming, 65 Yellow White Black (353) (1965). © Dean Fleming. Photo: Yao Zu Lu. Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.

Dean Fleming, Black Yellow Red (1965).  © Dean Fleming.  Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.  Photo: Yao Zu Lu.

Dean Fleming, 65 Black Yellow Red (1965). © Dean Fleming. Photo: Yao Zu Lu. Courtesy of David Richard Gallery.

“Dean Fleming: Fourth Dimension” is on view at the David Richard Gallery, New York, through November 4, 2022.

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