Richard Cleaver is a Baltimore-based artist who creates elaborate figurative sculptures full of hidden compartments to capture the lives and secrets of historical figures and personal acquaintances. The artist is fascinated by monarchies, mythology, and religion, and these themes form the subjects of his work. Constructing the sculptures in clay, Cleaver paints meticulous patterns and applies precious and semiprecious stones to create the sumptuously decorated surfaces. Tableau: The Art of Richard Cleaver, on view September 16, 2017-January 7, 2018, surveys 14 installations of more than 50 sculptures (2005 – present) and the private worlds they reveal.
“Queen’s Closet (1995), is a very popular work in our permanent collection,” explains Margaret Winslow, Delaware Art Museum’s curator of contemporary art. “The work explores Henry VIII of England, famous for divorcing or executing his wives when they failed to produce a male heir to the throne. When compartments are opened and knobs turned, the cabinet’s interior reveals portraits of Henry’s six wives. This work inspired Tableau: The Art of Richard Cleaver, and we are excited for visitors to experience more of the artist’s sculptures and the scenes they portray.”
The artist spent countless hours studying medieval and Asian art. The symbolism of these, along with Cleaver’s interest in Northern and Italian Renaissance styles and Catholic imagery, have served as inspiration for the artist.
“When I was very young I loved to draw. My brothers and I would draw together, coming up with stories informed by television,” remembers Cleaver. “We would create comic strips of new endings and then compare them as a competition of sorts. As a child I also made little dolls–usually kings and queens–and I kept them in shoeboxes under my bed.”
Cleaver began combining his painting and ceramic practices early during his undergraduate study at Maryland Institute College of Art. Experience as an illustrator, portrait painter, and later theater dresser supported the artist’s coalescence of elaborately painted surfaces and figurative clay sculpture. The addition of wire, pearls, semiprecious and precious stones, patterned mark making, and decorative stitches are used to enhance the surface and expand the forms. The artist often uses eggshells to mimic porcelain and fabricates architectural details, resulting in horror vacui, the complete covering of the sculpture’s surface with ornamentation.
“Cleaver’s sculptures traverse the fine, craft, and visionary art fields,” explains Winslow. “His personal vision is foremost in his creative act, and Cleaver incorporates other skills, such as woodworking, in a self-taught fashion.” Cleaver conflates his myriad interests and inspirations, creating figures that, with “staring eyes and glaring teeth,” reveal and conceal their hidden stories.
Richard Cleaver received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Maryland Institute College of Art and his master of arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The artist has been exhibiting in group exhibitions throughout the mid-Atlantic since 1990, and his work has been the subject of solo shows at The Noyes Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, and the American University Museum, among others.
Cleaver is the recipient of numerous awards and grants including several Maryland State Arts Council grants since 1992, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1994, the inaugural Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Arts Award in 2003, a grant from the Franz and Virginia Bader Fund in 2008, and the Mary Sawyers Baker Prize in 2010. Solo exhibitions of the artist’s work have been presented at the Steinbaum Krauss Gallery in New York, and Cleaver is represented in corporate, private, and public collections throughout the United States, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Crocker Art Museum, the de Young in San Francisco, and the Delaware Art Museum.