Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cleveland Dean in the Prudential Building

In direct opposition to what I wrote last post (about posting updates to my novel-in-progress), I'm going to write about an artist I've been encountering just about every day for the last few months. Cleveland Dean's work is hanging in the Prudential Building here in Chicago, and it's really great stuff

I had a chance to talk to Dean while the installation was going up. I asked him to give me his five-minute schpeel - it's terrible, but that's what you have to do when you get a chance to talk to someone about your art... I know it as well as anyone... Okay maybe not anyone...

He told me that his work was related to ink-blot tests. I think that's pretty clearly reflected in his work. Being that he is of African descent, the black on black images take on an additional meaning which I'm not sure I like. But that's a factor which is beyond his control, so I'm not sure if we're allowed to put that observation on him.

The image above has a certain frenetic energy which is kind of ironic in its medium, being this thick tar. I like the many different textures Dean gets here from the layering of this tar substance in the central application, and the thinness we see as the tar radiates outwards, especially in the implied circle in the upper left hand corner of the canvas, is really nicely balanced.

The problem with photographing these is that I'm only able to capture a single perspective (a problem I have with my own work). The play of textures and the almost disorienting experience of perceiving black on black are lost to an extent in the photograph. In person, the imagery of the canvas itself is not so obvious and requires more interaction with the painting. Which can make you look a little silly, but hey, we're artists, everyone thinks we're silly. It's an effective and interesting tactic to engage the viewer beyond a surface glance.

There is a single red painting in the series. I'm not sure if it was meant to stand out amongst the other black on black paintings or if it is left from another series, but I don't find the red on red as interesting visually. The mysteriousness and depth the glossy black background takes on with a similar finish is flattened by the saturated red. We're also getting into this kind of oh-gross-blood-dripping horror kind of space, which, while I don't think was Dean's intent, was certainly something which came to mind while viewing. It's not an unsuccessful painting, but I do find the darker paintings more interesting.

It's a great display, and there are a few wonderful paper and graphite installations (I haven't caught the artist's name). Highly recommend a stop by if you're around Michigan and Randolph

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