Kate Fleming: Shadow and Light is all in Perspective

By Elsabé Johnson Dixon on April 2, 2018
Kate Fleming Front Porch. Image courtesy of the artist.

Amidst the busy Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) events in March and April, Kate Fleming’s installation meticulously takes shape in the main entrance gallery which you can see as you pass through to the left of the CHAW main door just off of 7th Street SE. The white gallery is marked with bright blue carpenters tape, brown paper and swaths of black velvet fabric. The installation has been clearly mapped out, and from a particular angle an  illusion of spectacular proportion becomes visible on top of the existing elements in the gallery – the floor, the bench, the walls and windows – as a strange film noir shadow appears to unfold in front of the viewer.

Fleming proposed a project to CHAW in which she would develop a single perspective installation over a period of several weeks while expanding ideas the artist explored in a previous installation for Artomatic 2017 titled Office 3501.  In this work Fleming set up a space as if it were a real office. She then projected a light into the room and painted the light from one vantage point in red paint across the space. Fleming says she wants to address the ideas of light as it affects our sense of place and of space. She is an avid technical draftsman and has been studying the sensory disruption caused by shadows in 2D works such as her Black Alley, Melbourne Alley II, and Two Chairs, 2017.   For CHAW,  Fleming’s drawing was completed by combining multiple sketches from her travels through Australia from 2015-2016.  The artist says she drew her inspiration from the way that a crack of light that shoots into a dark room from a brightly lit hallway, when the door is slightly ajar.  She set out to represent the shadows in her black-and-white prints with certain physicality and weight by not painting with red as she did in Office 3501, but instead using a deep black velvet fabric that encases the parts of the space that lie within a specific perspective plane. The finished installation culminates as an interactive artwork that visitors to the center, and community members, can physically walk through.

Fleming draws on the anamorphoses techniques first introduced during the 1980s by French photographer George Rousse.   The gallery’s architecture and its interior lines serve as a realistic basis, or infrastructure, out of which a vibrant shadow emerges.  This casts a graphic perspective that disrupts the viewer’s sense of reality within the gallery space.   The work that Fleming is creating at CHAW brings to the local DC community not only a fun interactive environment but also  implicates complicated concepts of visual theory and perceptual trickery.  Fleming’s deep black velvet shape coalesces from a single vantage point and creates a trompe l’oeil that momentarily disrupts the viewer’s senses. She generously shows how the deception is done and allows viewers to discover the history of light and shadow on their own terms. While transforming a particular space into a temporary canvas to create a dramatic abstract public artwork, Fleming’s site-specific work is both conceptually engaging and complicated, while also understandable by a broad audience.

Fleming works in solitude at CHAW but says, she is never alone. Above her and around her CHAW presents a vibrant platform for dialogue with performers, artists, dancers and instructors who come and go. Earlier in March a dark comedy directed by Lise Bruneau and performed by Madeline Burrows was staged in partnership with Taffety Punk in CHAW’s Black Box Theatre. On Friday evenings life drawing and painting sessions are conducted and during one evening there was a tap-dance rehearsal right above the artist as she worked in the studio below. These different groups have come through her workspace posing questions and offered perspectives that inform Fleming’s practice.  She says there’s a certain deep pleasure in being able to find your focus in the midst of it all, stating that she has made some paintings and murals in a number of challenging environments – on the side of a highway, in a remote mosquito infested swamp, in a kayak floating on a river. CHAW offers a building and a community full of life and art, and Fleming admits to being completely seduced by the beautiful space with its hardwood floors and giant, south-facing windows. Since 1972, the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) has provided arts education to thousands of children and adults in the Washington region and received the Irene Pollin Community Engagement Award in 2017 through the National Symphony Orchestra (A Kennedy Center Community Partnership). Fleming states that her main objective was to create work that would add to the vitality of the CHAW community.

I hope to challenge myself, get frustrated, and grow as an artist. I also just want to soak up as much of CHAW as I can while I’m here. The place is practically bursting at the seams with creative energy! Interactions with the CHAW community members constantly inform my work.

At the moment before Fleming was interviewed, she was strategizing how she would apply the black velvet fabric to an elaborate architectural element in the gallery – a beautiful filigreed steel grid – which covers an air duct in the wall and lies in the path of the shadow she was creating. During the duration of the spring CHAW Artist Residency, which runs from March 5th to April 14, Kate Fleming will complete this intricate installation and record the process as the project progresses. She will show this work alongside a group of linocut prints made from small sketchbook studies she made capturing the effect of late afternoon shadows in Australia where she traveled from December 2015 to June 2016 after graduating from William and Mary College in Williamsburg, VA.  Additionally, CHAW will host three separate programs associated with her installations. The first is a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window in the black box theater (March 19).  The second program is the opening on April 7 at 5pm.  A third program in conjunction with the youth Arts Program will take place on Tuesday, April 10 from 4pm -6pm and will have a hands-on education element for students from the community.

Capitol Hill Arts Workshop is located at 545 Seventh Street SE.  Visit their website at www.chaw.org 

This article was funded in part by a grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.  Visit their website at www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.com