Jon Flaming paints big but dreams even bigger. The latter, he believes, allows him to pursue full time his passion as an artist, a craft that piqued his interest when he was a five-year-old in Sunday school, watching the young boy next to him draw a jet airplane.
“This was in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War, and planes and tanks were on little boys’ minds,” said Flaming (pronounced Fleming) of Richmond, Texas. “I looked over at it and thought, ‘Oh, that’s really cool you can draw that way.’ From that moment on, I‘ve always wanted to draw a cool jet airplane. Even at 59, I’m still working on that idea.”
Flaming has so many ideas that he will never get to all of them in his lifetime, even at his current frenetic pace. Moreover, the demands for his work–sculptures and paintings that depict the Western cowboy and ranching heritage–are such that he no longer showcases it in galleries, instead choosing to conduct the business of art and the art of business.
“These are great, very reputable galleries and people who have helped me build my career, but I was at a season where I wanted to do this myself,” Flaming said. “Social media, especially Instagram, has really leveled the playing field for a lot of artists. It’s been the one social media element that has been the biggest boost for my work in terms of getting it out to not just a community, region, or state, but the world, so people all over the globe are seeing it and buying it. Lots of great galleries have represented me over the years, and museums continue to collect my work, which I’m super grateful for.”
Flaming has become renowned for his unique style, a blend of folk art, cubism, and graphic design that is both primitive and contemporary. “I’ve pulled from a lot of different places [for a style] that’s hopefully fresh, especially when it comes to the western art genre,” he said.
It is a culture Flaming knows well, having grown up visiting his grandparents’ 2,000-acre ranch east of Fredonia. “My earliest memories were of being around ranching, cows, crops, small towns and small-town merchants, oil workers, and blue-collar America, so that really influenced me in my art,” Flaming said.
He observed how hard his parents and grandparents worked and knew that whatever career he chose, he would give it his all–and then some. “There’s a saying: ‘Inspiration exists, but it must find you working.’ Lots of people want to be artists, photographers, filmmakers, songwriters, but they don’t understand the workpiece,” Flaming said. “If I’m not working, I’m not moving forward, and inspiration does not come, and therefore does not move to the next stage of a project.”
More than a Career
Though Flaming did not become a full-time artist until his children were grown with families of their own, art has been the common thread in his life ever since he first decided he wanted to draw like his classmate.
“In high school, I played football, and sports were big for me,” he said. “I was a musician as well. When I graduated from high school, I went to Texas State University to study design and advertising, and I got my degree in that, and for 25 years, I had a design and branding studio. All throughout that time, I was building this fine art business because I knew at some point in time I wanted to go full-time fine art. About six years ago, I had a little more margin with time and resources, so that’s when I took off painting full time.”
He works in a studio above his home’s garage, which overlooks the backyard. It is a veritable treasure trove of old photographs and Western artifacts that, with its sheer volume alone, astonishes visitors.
“It’s filled with things that influence me: old pictures of ranches, old pictures in general, lots of very interesting pieces I’ve collected over the years, whether it’s for the color or the texture or the image,” Flaming said. “I’ve got saddles, ropes, cow skulls, and old Navajo rugs.”
After a day spent responding to messages and staying on top of orders, then dinner and time with his wife, Flaming retreats to his studio without his phone for five to six hours of distraction-free creating.
“Before I ever put paint on canvas, I typically have the composition worked out on paper or in my head,” he said. “There are always happy accidents that happen along the way, but I’m a big advocate of having a plan and seeing where it goes.”
This is Fleming’s work routine, his way of life. He probably would have become the very subject of his paintings were he not the artist, but Flaming knew the hard work and physicality required of such a career just from watching his grandparents. He would much rather wrangle a 4- by 5-foot canvas in an air-conditioned apartment than cattle in the Texas heat. Art, he said, is a career he can handle the remainder of his life.
“Retire is a four-letter word to me,” Flaming said. “I hope I physically retire at my easel. Other than loving on my wife and kids and grandkids and spending lots of time with them, I just don’t have any desire to do anything else than create in all of its different forms. I truly believe God has given me a gift, so I have a responsibility to steward that gift the best way I possibly can. My ultimate goal is to get up every day and do I what I love, and hope that people continue to love it as much as I do.”