by Terry Rogers
Recently, Milford resident Mike Fleishman received an Emerging Professional Artist Fellowship in Visual Arts from the Delaware Division of the Arts. Fleishman was one of 19 chosen out of 139 applicants for the grant. This is the second grant Fleishman has received from the Division, receiving the Artist Opportunity Grant in 2019.
“I can’t remember when I wasn’t interested in art,” Fleishman said. “My great love of comic books and cartoon strips, which persists to this day, put the creative wheels in motion. I drew comic books for my friends in first grade when I particularly loved The Flash. As I grew older, and my art education became “more sophisticated,” I got into painting, drawing and illustration. I only had one college drawing teacher ever encourage my cartooning, and while I love to paint and draw, I’ll always be that cartoon kid. I have an extensive art, design and illustration library, peppered with loads of cool books on cartoons and comics, illustrated children’s books plus numerous books on the guitar and about the Beatles. I am a big Beatles fan. Along those lines, I love music. I was the singer in rock bands all through high school and college. But it was only after my rock and roll days that I learned to play the guitar. I wish I played more!”
Fleishman was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is the youngest of three siblings. His mother ran the house while his father owned and ran a movie theater known as Regent Square. He said that he “just about literally grew up in that movie theater” which was purchased the year he was born.
“Cinema is rather in my blood,” Fleishman said. “Case in point: my wife and I were zombie extras in George A. Romero’s “Day of the Dead.” Actually, we weren’t married yet, so I can honestly say, I married a Zombie. I attended Taylor Aliderdice High School where I had a wonderful art teacher all through high school named Dianne Wichnich, a great art educator who not only informed but encouraged you to be you. She would’ve loved my cardboard work.”
Fleishman explained that he has “lived and scribbled” in many places, including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Columbia, South Carolina, The U.S. Virgin Islands and Houston, Texas, before spending 33 years in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He is a retired college art professor and freelance illustrator. He has been a guest lecturer at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and was a featured presenter at DesignWorld and ICON4. Fleishman also served on the Board of Directors for ICON6. He is a contributing editor at the Artist’s Magazine and has authored eight published books on creativity, illustration and design.
After earning his Bachelor of Science in Art Education from Indiana University of PA, Fleishman became certified to teach grades K through 12. He currently teaches art classes, including cartoon classes and a cardboard class, at Mispillion Art League in Milford. He also has a Master of Fine Art in Painting and Drawing also from Indiana University of PA. In addition, Fleishman is an English Department writing tutor for Delaware Technical and Community College in Dover.
“Teaching kids is and has always been a real hoot for me,” Fleishman said. “I’d say that 4th grade is kinda the sweet spot. My wife, filmmaker Joanne Caputo, is my constant daily inspiration as are my sons, Cooper and Max. Both are super talented and both great mensches. My work is in cardboard. Cardboard is a puzzle, a juggle and a statement. All boxed in a little pop (art) quiz. Does creating in this medium present an opportunity to explore unconventional materials or is it a visual metaphor for problem solving? I started out drawing and then painting figurative subject matter, I guess as most of us do. Cutting, manipulating and supporting cardboard is a distinct change of pace from my training and how my art developed over time. As a student, I didn’t dabble much in the sculptural or abstract. I was a painter. I loved to draw. Now, I get referred to as the Cardboard Buy and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Fleishman explained that, after college, more non-represenational, overtly conceptual motifs popped up and finds that his sculptural cardboard is a natural extension of his devotion to drawing and painting. He also finds a distinct flavor of the ductwork, robotic and mechanical things that captivated him as far back as his college days. He finds cardboard to be like a “charming, slightly strange and decidedly quirky aunt, who, by her very eccentricity is just plain fun.”
“Here I can fool with traditional boundaries, picture elements can bust out of the conventional limits of circle, square or rectangle, even act as the frame itself,” Fleishman said. “I can push my visual fascination with rivets, screws and machinery. I get to play with expensive scissors and purple people eating glue sticks. I indulge my serious addiction to brush pens and markers thick and thin. Cardboard is a lively curveball that, nonetheless, keeps me firmly rooted in my same old/same old, as style and technique are only the underpinnings to the creative event. Fundamentals are decidedly linked to all this – line, color and value, texture, contrast, repetition, position and proximity. Within limited space, by design, I can fake a sense of dimension and create actual depth. The character of this material, including imperfections and mistakes, works to amplify or clarify your concepts. I try hard to let the cardboard be exactly what it is and inform he resulting visual translation.”
In Fleishman’s opinion, art provides the fundamentals to someone’s vision of what life is all about. He sees it as the first step to revving up thinking and a place where ideas live. Fleishman believes that, without art, people are only examining the picture in a wide frame as it provides a chance to focus attention and promote strong communication, characterization and translation in order to expand boundaries.
Fleishman will use the grant funds to upgrade his studio, adding much needed lighting and construct interior wall space that he has been dreaming of for many years. The funds will also go toward art supplies and materials, including framing materials for the art in preparation for an exhibition this year.