Linda Fleming’s Drawing Retrospective in Fallon

Installation View Left to Right, Template, 2003; Stone Stairs, 2006; White Cave, 2006; Puddle, 2012 on floor
Installation View Left to Right, Template, 2003; Stone Stairs, 2006; White Cave, 2006; Puddle, 2012 on floor

The Oats Park School in Fallon, Nevada was designed in 1914, retired and eventually placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1990, and then in 1995 repurposed as the Churchill Arts Council’s multi-discipline cultural center. The adaptive reuse design includes three handsome gallery spaces that since 2003 have hosted a series of excellent exhibitions by regional artists. The latest, running through 9th, is a 45-year retrospective of drawings by Bay Area artist Linda Fleming. Known primarily as a creator of massive yet elegant metal sculptures, Fleming’s three-dimensional pieces actually arise from rigorous two-dimensional drawings.

Fleming trained early as an artist, but by the early 1970s was so technically proficient that she came to mistrust the discipline and spent most of the decade focusing on sculpture. As her exhibition demonstrates, when she returned to the flatland of drawing at the end of that decade, she hadn’t lost her touch, but instead had added an intellectual vocabulary capable of sustaining a robust body of work for the rest of her career, which continues to see her push our notion of how a drawing can perform.

Fleming’s art, no matter how many dimensions are involved, parses the universe according to a mathematical practice that is both rigorous and intuitive. The largest piece in the show, Template, could as well stand for the artist’s state of mind as well as the design for cut steel deployed in a sculpture. Its radial symmetry is worked out in a way that makes immediate and visceral sense to the viewer, even as you realize that its method is far from simple. A bit like the universe itself, in fact. White Cave from three years later features a biomorphic tracery with some structural kinship to Template, but it’s layered over an entirely realistic depiction of a rock formation housing a central void. The figure hovers in stillness before the cave even as it appears it is about to explode into motion.

The most recent work, Puddlei, which was cut out of thick felt earlier this year, is a lovely nod to the relationships between the two- and three-dimensional works. Its geometry is related to both of the previous drawings, yet like a thick drawing it has sculptural qualities signified by the rumpling of the material on the floor. As Fleming admits in her artist’s statement, materials can never fully express thought. While her work evokes universal rules underlying the cosmos, the use of a mundane fabric such as felt (even with the inescapable allusion to work by Robert Morris) anchors the idea in everyday life, a tension made manifest by the ambiguity of the felt’s dimensional presence.

Linda Fleming’s show, even though the works are for sale (a valid strategy for a community arts center), has the kind of curatorial integrity we expect of a retrospective. It’s a worthy journey just over an hour’s drive through the desert east of Reno to see exhibitions at the Oats Park School, and Fleming work is the most recent addition to a very long string of excellent events in both the visual and performing arts presented there.

Linda Fleming, "White Cave" 2006, graphite on rag paper, 57"h x 67"w. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Linda Fleming, “White Cave” 2006, graphite on rag paper, 57″h x 67″w. Photograph courtesy of the artist.