Dean Fleming

Dean Fleming skyped into the Visual Arts Center to discuss his gouache paintings Thursday evening. Fleming said that his North African travels inspired his art style . 

Photo Credit: Miriam Rousseau | Daily Texan Staff

Even hip replacement surgery couldn’t stop artist Dean Fleming from presenting his gouache paintings from 1964 on Thursday at the Visual Arts Center.

Fleming used Skype to tell the story of his work with gouache, a type of paint, and his travels in North Africa. Linda Henderson, curator and art history professor, said Fleming, who is recovering from surgery, lives in Colorado in Libre, one of the last 1960s art communities in existence. According to Henderson, Fleming had to go down the road to his ex-wife’s house to use a computer and the Internet.

“He was so disappointed when he couldn’t come,” Henderson said. “He is a storyteller, and of course, he doesn’t have a computer. [In Libre], he lives in this dome without email.”

According to Henderson, Fleming was one of the few artists in the 1960s who saw how the fourth dimension could be applied to art. Fleming said he was living in Pittsburgh when he began learning about the different functions of art besides just being a decoration on the wall.

“What I wanted to do was give geometry a liveliness that was not inherently straight lines, which could kind of be almost deadening to your spirit,” Fleming said. “That meant that if I made a grid [with] a specific form, the thing that would give it the liveliness would be the color.”

According to Fleming, by 1964 he was tired of dealing with Pittsburgh’s cold winters, so he and his friend decided to travel someplace warm. Fleming said they meant to go to India, where he would be able to paint and surround himself with spirituality, but they ended up in North Africa after taking the Yugoslav freighter to Tangier, Morocco.

“The first thing that I saw coming into North Africa was the brilliance of the light and the vibrancy of the color,” Fleming said. “The other quality that was immediately visible was that there was geometry. Geometries that were actually very close to what I was trying to deal with.”

According to art history graduate student Alex Grimley, it is a different experience to look at fourth-dimensional art compared to other dimensions.

“It takes time for the special ambiguity and complexity to read on my eyes,” Grimley said.

Henderson said she became familiar with the artist in 2001 when she was researching the fourth dimension of space.

“With the popularity of Einstein, everybody thinks the fourth dimension is time,” Henderson said. “Painting was supposed to be flat. Space was not supposed to be part of the deal.”

From the mountains of Libre, Colo., in his self-built dome home, artist Dean Fleming will be answering questions via Skype at the UT Visual Arts Center on Thursday. The exhibit, “Travels in North Africa and Greece,” showcases the artist’s work and allows students to journey through the paintings of his travel sketchbook. The exhibit consists of many different paintings of colorful geometric shapes and designs. 

Art history professor Linda Henderson is the curator of the exhibit and will host the talk with Fleming. Henderson believes Fleming’s art searches for another realm of space through shape.

“What we see in this exhibition is his discovery of the way, if he alters the grid or starts stretching things, the space will start moving,” Henderson said. “He would really like these works to shake your confidence in the 3-D world as you know it.”

Xochi Solis, director of events and public programming at the center, helped coordinate the upcoming talk with Fleming. 

“[Fleming] just had hip surgery, so it will be a Skype interview, but he’s looking forward to it,” Solis said. “Dr. Henderson flew in [from Berlin] for this event.”

Henderson and Fleming have worked together before in reaching out to students. Fleming lectured when his work was featured at the 2004 Blanton exhibit “Twister: Moving Through Color, 1965-1977” and also gave a lecture to one of Henderson’s classes a year ago. 

“When he talks to students it is so inspiring because he believes so much in the power of art and its ability to affect people in a positive way,” Henderson said. “What’s so great for art students and students in general is to hear about somebody who believes so strongly in goals.”

Studio art freshman Connor Frew enjoyed the Fleming exhibit, saying he appreciated the way Fleming’s art correlates with goals he has in his own art and related Fleming’s art to a project he did last semester.

“We were doing this project with foundations, where we were working with what [Fleming] was basically doing,” Frew said. “I’m a big fan of structural stuff, and that’s something I enjoy a lot.” 

Henderson said Fleming’s message to students is a positive one. According to Henderson, Fleming is interested in students and is always eager to speak.     

“He’s had really wonderful interactions with students,” Henderson said. “There’s so much for students to learn, but also there’s this larger message of believing in art and following your dream — that kind of vision, that belief in possibility is really important.”

Fleming has also inspired Henderson as an educator.     

“For me as a scholar, he’s really inspiring,” Henderson said. “His mood and his attitude say that art can change the world.”