by Anita Davidson
A monumental sculpture by Colorado
artist Linda Fleming was recently installed
in the outdoor space at Max Hutchinson
Gallery. Fleming constructs with trees,
lodge pole pine saplings that she cuts
herself. Her work is about color and movement, bridges and connections. "I like to
build something and then sit back and
look for all the connections that the piece
suggests," says Fleming. "It's like life,
you look for the ways things interact."
Roller Coaster spans 40 feet with 120
lodge pole pines threaded on steel cable
and draped in graceful swoops over trees
9 to 17 feet tall anchored in metal springs.
The effect is deceptively light, and the
piece has a lacy quality that belies its 700
pounds. Fleming strips and colors her
trees before she begins to build. Using oil
paint and oil crayon, she achieves a
weathered coloration that reacts organically to the changing light of day.
Fleming was first a painter. When she
began to attach things to her canvases she
dealt with problems that became increasingly more sculptural, and eventually her
work evolved into freestanding sculpture.
"I like being able to walk through or
under and around a piece, literally climbing into the work," she says. "A painter
must do this visually, of course, but I
like being able to do it physically."
Fleming was a successful painter in
New York 10 years ago when she realized
that the pressure of success was channeling
her energies away from growth and development. She began to look for a place
to live and work where she would be free
to direct the course of her art. That place
turned out to be about 300 acres nestled
within the southern Rocky mountain
range near Faracitas, Colorado. Fleming
and her husband, a painter, built their
own home and lived off the land as much
as they could.
"We felt so good about what we had
done, and we went on a lecture tour to
talk about it," Fleming says. "A lot of
people were ready to come back with us.
We told them to just come and look a
while and then decide. Many came and
some stayed. There are now about 20
families in our community, which we call
Libre [free]," says Fleming, then adds,
smiling, "that's a goal, not yet a true
Libre is not a commune, it's a community of settlers—poets, doctors, writers
—individual families with as much diversity
as any other small town. "We have a community theatre where almost everyone
has some part in the production of each
play," says Fleming. "I enjoy making
scenery and costumes. I like working
back and forth in different mediums. It's
a way to reach out, broaden."
One drawback to living in a small and
isolated community is the limited opportunity for such reaching out. With neither
telephone nor television, Libre is free
from the daily impact of outside distractions; but it lacks a variety of informational input and exchange. "That's why I
go to New York every four months and
spend three or four months just being
with people, watching television to see
what people are being bombarded with,
and talking." Fleming grins, "I've been
talking ever since I got to Houston."
The move from New York City to
Colorado's vast and isolated beauty was
overwhelming in the beginning. "I could
not work at all the first year." When she
began working again, she looked for ways
to relate her art to the environment. Her
sculptures are closely attuned to the land.
She builds with young saplings that must
be weeded out to allow for growth of
larger trees, creating an ongoing and symbiotic relationship between the artist and
nature. Seen in its natural environment,
with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, Fleming's work mutes the difference
between art and nature. Transported to
Montrose, Roller Coaster achieves that
delicacy of balance that occurs when the
organic beauty of the materials reinforces
a firm artistic statement.