As I walk into the Salong Gallery sitting on the edge of Wicker Park, everything is quiet.
Besides the few hushed voices that fall and roll along the edges of floor, there is a reverent stillness that remains, lining the narrow hallway. The walls hold up the latest work of Chicago artist, Cleveland Dean – canvases that at first are only seen for their black, glossed backdrops. The dark spaces echo. They are the only sound heard reverberating against the walls. The echoes are each one of us who have walked up to, looked inside of, and dared to see not only the deceitfully uncomplicated images etched into the matte, but also our reflections left imprinted in the gloss. Cleveland Dean’s latest collection of work, entitled The Black Series, becomes more than just a continuation of Dean’s constant exploration and exploitation the human dichotomy, the self-prophetic experience, the pursuit of intellect. It is a series of shadowed mirrors in which we are asked to become lost and found.
Escape route (48” x48”, acrylic, enamel on masonite)
From a distance it appears there is nothing, but the closer one gets to the painting the more visible the hand becomes. Its smeared print is pressed into the solid shine of the blackness surrounding it. It is pushing out. There is a face hidden behind the glass of the canvas, the window, the locked door. Standing before it you feel compelled to pull it through – to save it – but you quickly realize you cannot hold onto the smudge of a ghost of a hand. Are we useless? You will walk away from this painting slowly, disheartened by your inability to action, still desiring to rescue a hand that has no face.
Leaving behind a career in interior design, Cleveland began working as a professional artist in 2006. “I started painting feverishly,” says Dean. Although a painter for only four short years, he is by no means an infant before the canvas. With over 1,000 works created, various awards, and collaborative showcases, Dean has accomplished more in this short term than some artists have completed in lifetimes. When painting, Dean explains that he goes into a trance he may not come out of for days. Known for his live art shows in which he goes into these trances amidst large crowds, he is completely unaware of any presence other than that of the blank space before him, including his own. Inside of these zones, he himself is oblivious to what transpires. What results is compelling works of art, the punctuation to a portion of an on-going conversation.
To tell us our own individual stories, Dean looks only to abstract art to write the tales. “Abstract always made more sense to me because it challenges the brain…it gives you something to think about, figure out, and it gives you an interpretation of your own.” In The Black Series this is no less the case, and more of an absolute truth. Using only the color black, Dean seduces us to risk reading our own dusted chapters.
“There’s mystery in the color black,” says Dean; and it is the mystery of ourselves we are asked to pursue in the pieces lining the gallery halls. “If you go into a room devoid of light, a black ass room and bump into something, you have to then navigate your way through what it is you remember of those dimensions, objects, etc to find your way…you have to call on your memory to recall your bearings.” In the shadows of these paintings lies our inner closets; we must remember what we can of those unlit rooms in order to find our way out of the darkness.
Tao (48” x48”, acrylic, enamel on masonite)
This painting hangs as the only piece in the collection containing the color red. There are snake-like images mingling with black, but it is not a snake you fear or suspect. It is one you welcome, maybe even seek out for it wisdom it exudes in it curves. The snake is a path continuously winding away from and into itself. The red is not a sign of caution, but a map giving us directions for entrance and revolutions.
Walking up to each piece requires a willingness to engage in a previously eschewed conversation with our long-avoided relatives – our true selves. It is in the silences and singularity of these particular works that call us to retrieve the old unopened letters we’ve left piled inside the back of the kitchen drawer. We must live in their shadows and navigate our way through the darkness.
The presence of the work demands that we stop and become vulnerable to the experience of looking into the matted mirror. In this way, Dean left even himself open while viewing Jackson Pollock’s “Lavender Mist” at the Museum of Modern Art, an artist he greatly admires. Dean confesses that as he sat before the painting he could nothing more than sit and cry. “Everything made sense and didn’t make sense” says Dean. The Pollock painting’s affect on Dean is the same affect he hopes to have on those engaging with his own work. He wants people to be able to feel the art, and let it speak to them.
I still fantasize about you (68”x77”, glue, salt acrylic, enamel on canvas)
The conventionally shaped heart defies the convention of its nature. This heart bleeds in still life, slipping into distortion as it falls into the base of its ‘v’. It is rebellious and it is exposed, inescapably suffering and over-protective. Its concrete armor stops the dripping before it bleeds to the edge of the canvas. It transcends itself to you, sharing the load you didn’t ask to carry, but whose weight you are all too familiar with.
For Cleveland Dean, the fascination with the duality of life and the human intellect will render itself through other art forms. Dean’s passion and hunger for his craft leads him to explore new artistic realms. Specifically, he plans to continue the exploitation of the pursuit of the human intellect through installation pieces. The Black Series, however, will not be the only set of mirrors Dean will put before us. When coming into contact with works to come, we must expect to come back to the table, sit opposite of ourselves, and humbly say, “Hello.”
These works and more can be seen at Cleveland’s Upcoming Show, “I Heard He’s An A**hole: Works by Cleveland Dean” this Saturday, February 19th,2011 at his gallery located at 1643 N. Milwaukee 6PM – 10PM. After party at Lokal, 1904 W. North Ave.