+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by Alison Harbaugh
Jo Fleming Contemporary Art is a study in paradoxes. Two- and three-dimensional avant-garde pieces are displayed in a historic building located on historic Maryland Avenue in the Annapolis Boutique District. The cobblestone street runs alongside a brick and concrete sidewalk. In the gallery’s front picture window, a whimsical whirligig suspended from the ceiling twirls. It’s a playful nod to the subject of the recent exhibit, “Concentric Circles.”
The studio gallery is airy, all clean lines and bright space. Cozy and inviting, it’s as thoughtfully designed as the living room of your most elegant, artsy friend. The exhibition’s pieces are arranged to complement one another, enticing the eye to stay and explore further. The current two-artist exhibition evokes time and space, their symbiosis crackling with energy.
On a wall, tucked into a side alcove, are one artist’s kinetic sculptural pieces. A flick of a finger creates interactive movement that contrasts with the other artist’s static display. The sculpture’s circles, resembling a clock’s innards or a bicycle’s gears, are a mimicry of the shimmering, circular-design pieces hanging along the two longest walls, where they capture and reflect the light. Stand-alone and interconnected circles in bas-relief, adorned with glitter, present a sophisticated and sleek rendering as precision-defined as its sculptured metal counterpoints.
Stand back, zoom out, and again take in the whole effect. There’s a sense of familiarity—these pieces conjure our shared stardust genesis.
The number of exhibition pieces doesn’t overwhelm, but engages. As does Jo Fleming, the gallery’s owner, who turns off the overhead light to demonstrate the works’ brilliance in natural light. Next, she points out the quilted effect one piece has at close proximity, wanting the observer to come close.
Fleming’s desk is nestled just behind a wall partition in a back alcove—the work area of a person in motion. One of the exhibit’s pieces, a stylized imagining of the sun, hangs nearby. This piece has competition—Fleming’s exuberant, sunny disposition. An artist herself, Fleming creates works that are artistic overlays, fresh and cerebrally provocative, with inspiration drawn from the contrast between and intersection of urban spaces and nature. With a background in fine art—she graduated from Baltimore’s Maryland Institute of Art—and work experience with large architectural firms in Washington, DC, she provides art consulting and design for commercial interior projects in addition to her work as a gallery owner.
Like the outer bands of a rotating galaxy, Fleming sweeps artists into her orbit. She works with Annapolis-based and other Maryland artists. Every two months, she curates a new show. Since opening the gallery, in August 2017, she has had eight shows, each featuring one to three artists whose works span a variety of mediums, such as collage, pastel, or three-dimensional installation, and include mixed media, sculpture, and photography. The shows often include her own paintings. When multiple artists are featured, each one uses different materials to create their works. Fleming notes, “One type can elevate another.”
Fleming also consults with artists to produce works and often includes them in her commercial projects, creating a professional ripple effect. She gets to know the artists she represents at her gallery professionally and personally to provide an informative presentation of their work and to foster those additional opportunities for working relationships. For example, to one artist who loves bicycles, Fleming suggested he create works around them. Placing a print image on the table next to her desk, she shows how it displays the fruit of his creative envisioning. The image is of two bikes positioned on what appears to be a meeting of sky and water, and Fleming is enthusiastic to have a potential theme for a future show.
The gallery’s furniture also pays homage to artistic expression. A small table against a wall appears to have been hewn from a log, engendering a vibrant interaction of primitive and modern—a sophisticated tongue-in-cheek that reflects Fleming’s personality. Her ideas electrify the air as she talks and guides among the works, discussing her business ventures. Her creative antennae are always up, open to ideas, and she trusts that the universe will deliver. She once rented her gallery an art curator who wanted to host a private birthday party there; her willingness to oblige displays her enterprising mindset.
One of Fleming’s recent exhibits, in late spring, featured abstract landscape paintings and water views to coincide with a maritime-themed celebration in Annapolis. Sigrid Trumpy, one of the featured artists, is a painter with deep ties to the area’s maritime culture through her family connection to the historic yacht building company John Trumpy & Sons.
Fleming believes in speaking to an area’s community and neighborhoods using art, an approach she applies in her work with commercial clients as well as her gallery’s exhibits. She’s trying to show something not typically seen while addressing the community.
“I’m inventing an exciting way of life for myself through the gallery and the interactions with the artists and work,” says Fleming. “Working with each artist to develop their strongest work and method of presentation has become my creative endeavor.” One could think of Fleming as a gravitational force that facilitates solidarity between an artist, the artist’s work, and the environment in which the art lives. █