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Old School Artist Cleveland Dean

This Saturday the Silver Room located in Wicker Park will hold its sixth annual Old School Block Party. The event features local artists and musicians and is free to the public. Artist Cleveland Dean will show his works and paint live at the event.

Cleveland Dean describes himself as a painter, businessman and hustler. Even though he has been painting for only three years, he is scheduled to be named one of the Chicago Artist’s Coalition’s artists to watch this fall. He says he has no formal training. In fact, he’s not really sure what he does.

DEAN: The vast majority of the time when I paint I black out. I don’t know what the hell is going on. When I saw myself paint for the first time I was like I might need some counseling or something. I’m going through these motions and bobbing and weaving like I’m a boxer or I’m in some kind of a fight.

We are standing in his Humboldt Park studio. Dean and his faithful companion Kofi, an eighty pound American Bulldog/"Big Baby,” are dwarfed by the emotions screaming off the canvases. He calls his body of work Interpretable Chaos. Think a Jackson Pollack-type Rorschach test fueled by house music. He sees his artist self as a separate being.

DEAN: The vulnerable artist is standing there covering and the everyday me stands in front like don’t worry I’ll take care of this.

The strokes are broad and forceful. The work is so volatile I can feel the canvas struggling to contain it. I imagine paint all over the floor once I leave the room.

DEAN: What’s extremely to me it to express that moment in time. Encapsulate that moment in time. My attitude is Hip Hop my demeanor is Jazz and my soul is House. I paint my pieces with my soul. That’s my soul speaking.

Dean works primarily in black and white.

DEAN: I use black and white to convey those polar opposites but how in society they must intermingle. They must work together in some kind of harmony, even if it’s a discombobulated harmony.

Dean is prolific. He can produce up to twenty paintings in one day, some taking only thirty seconds. There are also works that take up to thirty hours, during which he neither sleeps nor eats. When he does sleep, he dreams of painting. The piece hanging above his sofa must have been a nightmare. It’s thick paint on canvas with a forked tree branch glued to it. From the branch hangs a noose. Everything is painted black. Below the branch is passage composed of newspaper clippings, ransom letter style.

DEAN: This was just basically me being pissed off. I’m tired of our kids dying. There are so many minds out there that can be cultured and cultivated to be brilliant but there’s like no outlets for that to happen.

Dean wears black jeans, burgundy gym shoes and a white t-shirt all splattered with paint. On the coffee table sits a plastic container half full of black paint. Dean is ready for battle.

DEAN: Someone asked me the other day why do I do this. I told them because I don’t have a choice. This is my calling. You can liken it to Moses getting the tablets or Mohammad getting the dreams. This is what it is I’m supposed to do.

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