Beginnings on the bridge

Sam Fleming sold his first drawing last weekend, and he’s ready to take the festival circuit by storm.

by Sophia Vilensky

When artist Sam Fleming  traveled to Chicago last weekend, he wasn’t going to a show at Second City or taking a picture by the Bean — the 19-year-old was working his booth at the Wells Street Art Festival.

This weekend, Fleming — who sells his line drawings — will be closer to home. The Minneapolis-native is among the youngest artist showcased at the Stone Arch Bridge Festival June 17–19. This time, he’ll be at booth 20.

Because the festival features live music and takes place on Father’s Day weekend, it caters to a particularly young demographic. The blind jury that selects the festival’s showcased artists is always looking for work that will freshen up the event.

Sara Collins, the festival’s sponsorship and media coordinator, is also on the festival’s jury. Collins found Fleming’s work to be unique in the midst of repetitive entries.

When sending in applications, artists must supply a photo of their proposed booth. Fleming set up a makeshift booth in his basement with some sheets. His creation caught the attention of the jury.

“The value of the booth shot is to see the diversity and presentation of the booth as a whole. His was fun — he’s got a wide variety there,” Collins said.

Fleming uses a crosshatching technique in his work. His preferred medium is ink pen. While always a hobbyist, Fleming began working on art seriously after a trip to New York with his father when he was 14. Seeing all the street vendors, he thought to himself, “I could do that.”

Fleming’s works are self-described as realistic or grotesque — often a combination of the two.

“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing something,” said Fleming.

A 2015 graduate of De La Salle high school, Fleming now attends Macalester College, where he plans to study economics. He lists Pablo Picasso and Kehinde Wiley as artistic inspirations.

Wiley’s piece “Santos-Dumont — The Father of Aviation II” piqued Fleming’s interest when he saw it on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

“Wiley was the first artist I ever saw who put African Americans in a realistic portrait style piece. Everything I created before then, I used white people because I just saw Picasso and such,” Fleming said.

Today, Fleming’s pieces draw inspiration from political issues and social strife. A piece entitled “East to West” is a callout for peace between East and West coast gang violence. Fleming also contributes cartoons to the MN Spokesman-Recorder, the oldest African-American newspaper in Minnesota.

Fleming hopes to self-publish a book of cartoons.

“Every chance I get, I’m trying to make something,” Fleming said. And his youthful eagerness shows: “I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I know I’m really, really excited and really optimistic. I’m ready to dive in,” Fleming said.

Fellow Stone Arch Bridge Festival artist Kaitlyn Stock, 24, is not new to the festival circuit. As the owner and designer for jewelry company Cecelia Designs, Stock has come to realize that although she is no amateur, festivals can be unexpected.

“They’re so crazy, and there’s lots of stimulation,” Stock said. “In small towns people don’t want to be talked to. … It’s like an intrusion on their privacy. At the Edina Art Fair, if I didn’t talk to people they’d keep walking. They wanted to be tended to.”

Fleming is not fazed by unknowingness.

“I’ll know a lot of people who will come and support me, and knowing that a lot of people get to see my work is a feeling I’ve never had before,” Fleming said.


Stone Arch Bridge Festival

When Noon – 8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday

Where Stone Arch Bridge, 100 Portland Ave., Minneapolis

Cost Free