There is a modest detachment to Stuart Fleming’s work. Exquisite and jewel-like, they are made with French inks and a nib pen on what is called ‘Claybord’, a panel carefully covered in gypsum. Earnestly, Fleming repeats a small circle of ink, one after the other. Fleming is a monk, but this time its Pop equivalent, writing his illuminations in front of the TV. In the Jewish tradition they call the ritual scribal arts sofrut, regarding the ‘transmission’ of God’s word through the Torah. There are rules regarding the surface (a similarly talcum powdered hide), the inks and even the righting of mistakes; all these aspects are present in Fleming’s work, self-imposed. In CRT 2 (standing for Cathode Ray Tube) it is as if Fleming has perfectly copied another sacred text, the coloured dots of the TV screen.

How involved is Fleming in the direction and outcome of these works, are they formalist or conceptual? The repetitive, systematic approach, removing the personal expression of the artist, recalls the tenets of Minimalism. The work of Agnes Martin, a hermit herself, is a close counterpart to this work. But unlike her geometric constructions Fleming allows chance to play its part. It begins with a small ‘o’ and moves out from there, ending up wherever the form goes and each ‘o’ is like a compressed gesture. The ‘sui generis abstraction’ of last year’s Turner Prize winner Tomma Abts was described in these terms, ‘[It is a] rigorous working method that pitches the rational against the intuitive.’ Fleming’s approach is similar in that it seems to foreground the painstaking process of ‘making’ over the finished form. The high Conceptual Art of Roman Opalka is an interesting comparison. Opalka in his unfinished work 1965/1-oo, has attempted to paint every number; he is presently up to 4 million (as shown in the Venice Biennale 1995). Or perhaps Fleming’s work tends toward a psychological disorder, as in Yayoi Kusama’s work, with titles such as Dots Obsession or Dots Infinity.

Fleming’s work defies easy categorisation and in this way can be seen as perfect post-modern abstraction. The works have the intimacy of a love letter but seem to be at the same time a strong, dogmatic body of work. The circles are each one small atom or cell but, interrelated, become components of the whole. The works look like the skin of plants or animals as seen under a microscope or at the other end of the scale, the movement of stars in a galaxy. Finally the works have presence, like a fetish, though they seem to capture abstract aspects of ritual and the elusive subject, time.

Oliver Watts
September 2007