Summer 1993

By Mia Kuwada

Michael Flechtner's work in neon impels the viewer to discard any conventional preconceptions about neon as a medium of aesthetic expression. Flechtner's artistic vision is represented by a diverse and dynamic collection of work whack is not only consistently well-crafted abut also rich in both personal and universal symbolism. 

Much of Flechtner's work reveals his inclination for spiritual reflection. For example, the animated Bodhisattva Self-Protrait (Finger Spelling Buddha) depicts a meditating central figure surrounded by the letters--represented in American Sigh Language--that compose, among other things, a Buddhist chant. Here the artist attempts for creat a ubiquitious work in shich prfound inner prayer is steadfastly used as a means of outward communication. Other pieces are more initmate and introspective. Bat Man! (Transmigrational Self-Portrait)  explores Flechtner's musings on his spiritual past through the use of direct visual symbolism. The poignanat Where'd They Go? deals with loss of his loved ones.

Flechtner's proficiency in neon is particularly apparent in his sculpture, for which he skillfullly manipulates flass tubes into extraordinarrily complex three-dimensional forms. One of his largest pieces,  Touch and Go,  depicts the take-off of the US Space Shuttle. The illusion of liftoff is created by fourteen expertly fabricated space shuttles that light up in rapid sequence over a 28-foot arc. The enchanting Seagoat is a glowing 7-foot shark that has swallowed an assortment of treats, including a boom-box, an airplane and (of course!) a human hand. 

The artist also employs technologies that create more interactive pieces. The large-scale Holo-Gorilla and Dinosaur Head  are triggered by sensitivity to movement around them, and small, wearable art pieces such as pulsing hearts or glowing 35-mm cameras run on miniature transformers.

Flechtner's facsination with the perplexing relationship between words and visual imagery results in a variety of intriguing and often humorous works which challenge more mucdane interpretations of verbiage. In Cat and Mouse (Say Cheese!) a large animated cat surrounded by blinking origami cranes toys with a computer mouse and alters its own portrait on the computer screen. And a large, radiant shark twists and turns as it shoots 14 feet into the air from a toaster in Pop Shark.

What is remarkable about Flechtner's work is that it demonstrates a diversity of applications for a medium traditionally ignored by critical attention, and clearly establishes neon as a basis for highly sophisticated art making. An encounter with this exceptional work is an experience that the viewer will find both delightful and (you'll pardon the pun) illuminating.