For over 30 years, the Huntsville Museum of Art has presented a series of solo exhibitions highlighting regional contemporary artists. These Encounters exhibitions show how creative inspiration combines with subject and materials to convey a unique artistic expression. The upcoming installment of the long-standing series focuses on the works of John Cleaveland, a critically-acclaimed realist artist who lives and works in rural Georgia.
John Cleaveland is known for his breathtakingly expansive oil paintings. He offers viewers a timeless glimpse into iconic Southern scenes as well as vast pastoral expanses of the United States and Europe. The artist enjoys conveying perspective and qualities of light in remarkable detail, allowing for total immersion in his works. Standing in front of one of Cleaveland’s large-scale oil paintings, you may feel as if you could walk right into the landscape before you.
Born in 1963, Cleaveland received his BFA from the University of Georgia and held a graduate assistantship in the study aboard program in Cortona, Italy. “Before Italy, I was an abstract painter,” he observes. “It was in Italy that I realized landscapes were the best way to convey emotions.” Cleaveland’s paintings are all about emotion—the passage of time, the harsh yet beautiful reality of nature, or the cycle of life and death. It is not unusual to see an old house falling down from neglect, a steam engine from another era, or even a deer lying dead by the side of the road in one of his canvases. “Nature dies, but it also rekindles itself,” he says. “What I sometimes see is like Mozart’s Requiem, in part really sad, but also very beautiful.
Now a landscape painter for over 25 years, Cleaveland is deeply dedicated to his craft. “The muse won’t come if the door is not open and the door won’t open if you’re not working,” he says. “What motivates me to paint is finding a place that I’m pulled into because of specific light, or the fact that the landscape bears witness to great events or conflicts. When light resonates from inside a painting instead of just sitting on top of the canvas, that’s when a painting becomes real for me.”
Cleaveland has exhibited his work at the Albany Museum of Art, the University of Georgia, the Missouri State Botanical Gardens, and in several Red Clay Survey exhibitions at the Huntsville Museum of Art. His paintings are in the permanent collections of the Asheville Art Museum, the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Combat Art Collection at the U.S. Marine Corps Museum, and the Morris Museum of Art, among others.
Encounters: John Cleaveland opens in the Grisham gallery of the Huntsville Museum of Art on December 11, 2022, led by an artist gallery walk and presentation at 2 p.m. that afternoon. Access to the opening presentation will be included with the general price of admission and free for members. Tickets can be purchased at the front desk in the lobby of the Museum or online here. The exhibition will be on display until April 2, 2022.