Local painter, gallery owner, and curator Denise Fleisch calls herself an “Arizona girl” since she has lived in Phoenix most of her life, moving to the valley when she was two with a stint in Cleveland after she married. Fleisch started painting over 20 years ago when she viewed masters such as Monet and Van Gogh and wanted artwork in her house. She says bluntly, “I wasn’t very good, but I didn’t care. I just continued to paint.” Over the years, she developed her abstract style which she links directly to the expanse, bright colors, and diverse textures of the Arizona desert. She also found that she had to be an artist, there was nothing else that fulfilled her like painting, whether it sold or not. So, she made it her career.
When Fleisch moved back to Phoenix from Cleveland in 2002, she found the Phoenix art scene and she fit right in. She showed at the Paper Heart Gallery for five years along with any opportunity she could find in restaurants, salons, offices, libraries, and even the Phoenix Art Museum on one occasion. She also found donating her work to charities for fundraiser events became a great way for people to experience and notice her art.
In 2008, she and another artist opened a gallery Grand Avenue. With a lot of support and encouragement, she kept painting and started selling really well, which kept her gallery in business. About three years ago she moved her gallery to Roosevelt and named it Lotus Contemporary Art. She currently sells her work, shows a few other artists each year, and has some group shows in the space.
She recalls a lot of rejection as she was establishing her art career, but she always had support too, especially from her fellow artists and gallerists locally. She learned to grow a thick skin and be persistent. In order to support her painting habit, she has to sell her art, so she has continued to build her knowledge by gathering advice from successful people around her to enhance her art business.
Fleisch’s advice to all early career artists is that even though they might not always want to run the business side of it, it is essential. She states, “It’s not just about painting. It’s about marketing, communication, social media, and having great people who love art and believe in the work. Also believing in one’s self-worth.” A key to her success has been to make sacrifices, surround herself with other like-minded, entrepreneurial artists and art professionals, and immerse herself in the local art scene. She makes a daily effort in marketing, whether it be social media posting, reading about the art business, applying for art exhibitions around the country, or sending information to other galleries.
She shared a great recent experience that shows follow up can lead to success. She booked artist James Hernandez to show at Lotus in April 2015 and decided she wanted to do some outreach to her contacts around the states. So she had some cards printed of her work along with information about the upcoming show and sent them out. Shortly after, she received a call from a gallerist in San Francisco who is interested in showing (and selling) her work at their gallery! She also was invited to a meeting that led to an opportunity to show in a showroom at the Arizona Biltmore soon.
Fleisch is a model of persistence, which will take her career to the next level for sure.