Written by: Sheila Yusay
As a child, Michael Flechtner was always drawn to colored light. He was fascinated by Christmas lights, stained glass windows of churches and stared at the large neon signs of the Midwest, where he grew up.
It seems inevitable then that Michael would set out to learn the techniques of glass bending right after Art school, where he finished with a Masters Degree in Sculpture and Painting.
It’s been 32 years, since Michael began drawing images that he transforms into sculptural renditions using glass and colored light -- a fragile medium that implores absolute focus. “The process of heating glass becomes a meditative work, almost a Zen activity, where your only focus can be on the glass”, he says. This highly technical art requires serious skill not only with shaping glass, but also knowledge of electrical components along with rare properties of gas – or, as Michael adds, “things can result to chaos”.
Yet his work, spanning from 1993-2015, radiates with playfulness and affection, very unlike neon’s sometimes-seedy reputation. The piece entitled “Clifford”, features a three-dimensional neon animation of a dog on four wheels that one can actually pull by its cord. Such whimsical motifs are what Michael hopes would elicit joy in the viewer. “Neon can be glaring and obnoxious at first glance,” he explains, “and I try to be playful with it to invite you in”.
With this intent to cast humor into his creations, Michael juxtaposes his visual art with word play, a concept that results in light-hearted, alluring neon symbols and characters. “Humor has always been a part of how I process -- how I live”, he says, “It helps diffuse any bad feeling I might have. When people discover the humor in my work, it becomes a cathartic process”.
Flashes of inspiration come as “seeds”, derived from societal icons and the seemingly ordinary learned experiences. The piece called “ A Real M.F.” was borne out of a custom that tells us not to speak with our mouths full. Ideas for the piece break out intuitively, one thought rolling to the next, like a stream of consciousness, flowing and boundless. The sleepy monkey, with radioactive irises, eating a turkey drumstick, all appear like random, conflicting minutiae.
“It’s that sort of ambiguity that lets you interpose your own interpretation on the work”, Michael says of his subjects.
It is within that ambiguous world of glowing tubes where Michael’s genius lies: mingling image, humor and wit, with the delicacy of technique that is neon art.
Michael Flechtner lives and works in Van Nuys, California.
In 2010, Michael was commissioned to design a postage stamp for the USPS known as the Celebrate! stamp.
His public works can be seen in Tokyo, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.