NEON Artist: Michael Flechtner from Van Nuys, California
When I was a child I was fascinated with electricity, fire and colored light of any sort. It could be the stained-glass windows at church, my father testing the Christmas lights on Christmas Eve, the neon signage in my home town or local drive-ins and movie theatres.
I knew early on that I was an artist. Since I was young I used to spend a lot of time drawing and making things from stuff I’d find in the junk drawer: batteries, wires, little light bulbs, springs, rubber bands… I even built from scratch telegraph sets, crystal radio sets and radio transmitters.
I earned a BFA and MFA in sculpture and painting and during my undergraduate years, I was introduced to the work of Stephen Antonakos. He was using neon as an expressive fine art material and I was hooked! I had been attracted to neon because of the color and linear properties but hadn’t thought about using it to make art. I had looked for many years at neon signs and it looked like a very difficult skill to learn.
I designed my first neon piece, a lock and key, shortly after a lecture by Antonakos. I created this simple design, took my pattern to a neon glass bender and a week later, I got my tubes back. I then took them to school, hung them from the ceiling with a transformer and was congratulated for making such a great piece of art. Despite the success of the piece, I didn’t feel I was being honest: I had only done the drawing and didn’t actually fabricate the glass. The same thing happened again in graduate school during my masters. Clearly, if I wasn’t actually bending the glass, I couldn’t claim the work as my own.
I made a trip in 1984 to Los Angeles, where I discovered the Museum of Neon Art. I walked through the front door, looked at the work on the walls and surprised myself thinking that I had found my people.
Upon returning to Kansas, I completed a six-week neon glass-bending course and moved to Los Angeles. I found work in a sign shop making signs by day and on art pieces after hours. I’ve worked pretty much exclusively with neon now for over 30 years. My background in sculpture allows me to create 3-dimensional neon forms along with the usual lettering and flat graphic designs. I like to get neon to do things it isn’t typically known to do. To this end I create neon pieces with moving parts such as Clifford the little neon dog, and constructions where the neon works can hang and support their own weight. I have also created wearable neon works, relying on battery power such as Listen to My Heartbeat.