The Flint Public Art Project has kicked off its 2022 mural season with artists coming to paint walls in Flint from as far as the United Kingdom and Guatemala, but this year there is a new local artist added to the roster, the city’s own Johnny Fletcher.
Fletcher, 36, was born and raised in Flint. Since he can remember, he’s always been interested in pursuing art in various mediums.
Ten years ago, he began his career as a tattoo artist, tattooing in Flint and surrounding cities. He started in the neo-traditional colorwork style and moved to black and gray realism.
In November of 2021, Fletcher met Joe Schipani, the Executive Director of the Flint Public Art Project (FPAP), at the filming of the upcoming film Half Dead Fred, which was filmed in various locations in Flint. Fletcher was an extra.
“He expressed interest in wanting to paint a mural, he was a tattoo artist. After looking over his work, we talked throughout the winter, came up with some different ideas, helped work with him so he could practice with a new medium, spray paint, and we just started taking off from there. We got him a wall, and he just keeps going.” Schipani said.
Fletcher, who was delighted to make an introduction to Schipani, said “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s a dream of mine to travel the world and paint large-scale art.”
Traditionally, Flint Public Art Project doesn’t train artists on how to paint large-scale murals. They typically bring on artists with prior experience doing so.
“I still have to work a day job,” said Schipani. “It has to happen before the season starts.” Adding that once the weather turns and the artists in the program arrive, he doesn’t have much time to train someone. Schipani’s role at FPAP is a volunteer position.
Fletcher’s first mural, a portrait of the late music artist Mac Miller, was the first mural done for the FPAP season. It took him about 14 days to complete.
“I learned a lot, like what not to do,” Fletcher said. The mural is located behind Julie’s Pawn Shop on the corner of South Saginaw Street and 12th Street.
While he was familiar with doing tattoo portraits, working with spray paint was different.
“It was a portrait, with two hands, it’s tough to do with spray paint,” he said.
He wasn’t on his own though. Local muralist Kevin Burdick, aka Scraps, stopped by to give him some pointers.
After the Mac Miller mural was completed, Fletcher wanted to do more. Schipani gave him a couple of small projects and offered him space on a wall alongside several different artists, including Sipros from Brazil, who specializes in portraits with large, cartoon-like ears.
“He’s amazing to watch paint, it’s crazy how quickly he makes things happen,” Fletcher said of Sipros’ work.
Schipani places importance on artists networking with each other. He brings in artists who coexist in Flint and creates space for artists to network with both local and national artists who work on murals throughout the city.
“It’s really good for our local artists to meet other artists around the world. We’re a small network here so we’re expanding it to a larger network,” Schipani explained. “It just opens up a whole new world for the artists and doesn’t just keep them local, [they] get more jobs and more money, and it keeps them busy year-round,” he added.
Recently, Schipani, alongside local artists Pauly Everett, Kevin Burdick, and Zach Curtis, was invited to Akumal Arts Festival in Akumal, Mexico.
Fletcher says he looks forward to the opportunities mural painting can present. Every time he paints, people come up and talk to him, or send him selfies with his murals.
“It feels good to have support from your community and your peers,” he said. “People stop and talk to you, they shout and honk their horns as they pass, people love it, it’s a fun, great experience.”
From June 26 through July 2, 2022, the Flint Public Art Project will host a mural festival on Saginaw Street from East Russell Avenue to 12th Street. Eighteen artists both local and international will be painting murals.
To find more information about the Flint Public Art Project, visit their website here.