Chicago-based artist and designer Kyle Louis Fletcher first began to consider incorporating action painting into his practice during his battle with cancer. The diagnosis forced Fletcher to consider exercise as a key aspect to quality of life and the wall between physical activity and art crumbled.
He tells The Creators Project, “I kind of filed the two things separately before,” he says. “Exercise is for, like, meat heads, and art is for intellectuals, or something. I created two silos, and they weren't allowed to mix.” But in the pain and exhaustion of his exertions—exquisite, and different than the creative fatigue of an artist and designer—Fletcher found a purity he wished to apply to his practice.
His work in tennis imagery—mainly courts, whose pleasing lines and beautiful functionality appealed to him—helped to soften the divide, and his need to work out to help fight cancer diluted the false binary between artist and athlete. The 2013 documentary, Cutie and the Boxer, about Japanese boxing painter Ushio Shinohara, spurred him to action.
A longtime, if relatively poor golfer, Fletcher had gravitated to the golf swing after bypassing tennis, dismissing the idea of smacking balls against the canvas or something as potentially too corny.
In the golf swing, with its myriad of tiny details and obsessive alignments of angles and planes—the lines of the shoulders, arms, feet—Fletcher found an action which appealed to his design aesthetic and his interest, a la Michelle Grabner, in exploring the effects of repetition—in this case, muscle memory—on art. “That's been something I've been so fascinated by,” Fletcher says. “Creating habit and muscle memory. I'm just really curious in exploring that.”
To create the paintings, Fletcher prepares two canvases, one on the floor—his tee box—and another on the wall; these are placed in what he call his “kill room.” The opaque box made with plastic sheeting, clamped to the overhead light fixtures via silver alligators, drape down to the floor like ghostly kudzu. Fletcher steps into a Tyvek coverall, drapes his mask around his neck, and picks up his implement of choice, an Illinois-made Tommy Armour “Big Scot” 7 iron, to tackle the par 3 opening of his second series. It takes about an hour to set up each painting session. “As I'm doing it I can't help but think of Dexter,” Fletcher laughs.
He fills balloons with his paint of choice—mostly tempera paints, chosen for their solubility and ready color mixing, sometimes with a hint of enamel thrown in for a marbling effect—and proceeds to drive them off the canvas. He takes 72 strokes—roughly analogous to an 18 hole round—and fills his balloon between each drive, so that he can react to the painting as it comes into focus.
The golf swing series conflates perfectly with another obsession of Fletcher's, the by-products which are made in the process of making art. The sheets of printing paper which he wipes the club head off with paint stand as works on their own; the gentle swipes evoke falling leaves and flying knives. The plastic walls and floor of the kill room, with their brutal crime scene splatter aesthetic, could easily be an installation of its own.
The canvas works are violently prismatic; the juxtaposition of a nuanced and complicated action result in an orgasmic explosion of color. The myriad of slashes, flashes, and smatterings on the target reveal infinite possibilities contained in the trajectories of each swing. The tee box painting is more directional, dominated by a hole ripped into it, a negative-space comet with a peacock's tail. He points down to the tee box, at the colorful layer he will inevitably bury, and admires the marks made by physics and muscle memory.
“When the swing is mixing the paint like that?” he smiles. “So satisfying.”
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