A Brush with Art

Fleener draws the line

These days many North County residents are turning eagerly to Page Four of The Coast News to check out Mary Fleener’s latest “The Less You Know The Better You Feel” weekly political cartoon. The edgy commentary on local politics is growing an ever-increasing fan base.

Active in community issues since 1989, Fleener states, “Now I’m on the sidelines, as an observer and critic with my weekly cartoon.” She admits, “Since I’m dealing with local issues, I enjoy being provocative and the idea that I may be getting under someone’s skin … but only if they deserve it!”

Influenced by living in Canada during childhood, Fleener surmises, “I think moving to a foreign country… was critical in the way I look at the world. It was positive trauma.”

The cover for a new line of Popeye comics published by IDW Comics is Mary Fleener’s latest illustration project. The book includes all new material by current comic artists. Image courtesy of Mary Fleener.

Fleener, who is nationally recognized for her Lowbrow art, explains, “I am all about contrast and clarity. I like to use a design element I call ‘Cubismo,’ which is a kinetic, graphic type of abstraction which is very effective to show intense emotions.”

Cubismo grew out of her 1991 decision to reflect her comic style in her paintings. Since that time her paintings have been shown in venues including The Oceanside Museum of Art, La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles and Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum.

Also a performing bass guitarist, Fleener inherited “good art genes” from her mother who was a Disney studios artist in the 1940s. Beginning college as an art major, Fleener left during her senior year and asserts, “It was the smartest thing I ever did. I’m proud to say I am a college dropout, and the work I do today is self-taught.”

Soon after moving to Encinitas in 1981, Fleener was inspired by an article about the “new underground comics.” She reveals, “I had always harbored a secret desire to do cartoons … and was particularly fascinated by early underground comics from the late ‘60s … ZAP Comix and the work of Robert Crumb … ”

In the mid-1980s Fleener sold her own “mini comics,” which she Xerox printed and assembled by hand. She reflects, “That’s how I met most of the comic pals that I know today.“

Over the last 20 years, Fleener’s artwork has appeared in hundreds of anthologies, comic books and magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, Guitar Player, The Reader, Musician, Spin, Rolling Stone, Village Voice and Hustler, and has been featured in an Art Forum Magazine article.

Working concurrently on a 20-piece large scale “Scary Goddessess” painting series, as well as on a 300-page graphic novel which she estimates will take two years to complete, Fleener notes that the novel is based on her “initial foray into Encinitas local politics.” She continues, “Naturally, I am changing names and appearances, to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.”

No stranger to controversy, Fleener affirms, “I’m into telling the truth, and being honest, and if you find that disturbing, then good! I’m doing my job.”

Fleener’s work can be seen during the month of October at The Pannikin and at maryfleener.com.

Kay Colvin is an art consultant and director of the L Street Fine Art Gallery in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. She specializes in promoting emerging and mid-career artists and bringing enrichment programs to elementary schools through The Kid’s College. Contact her at kaycolvin@lstreetfineart.com.

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