CLEVELAND - Inside the Cleveland Museum of Art, priceless treasures in the museum’s collection are watched carefully by security guards in ties and dark sportscoats, headsets on.
Clevelander Dexter Davis has been working as a security guard at the museum for nearly two decades. Visitors might get a glimpse of his quick laugh and extensive knowledge about the museum, and directions to the nearest restroom. But Dexter is not only a caretaker for some of history’s greatest art, he is an artist.
Since earning his BFA at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1990, Davis has emerged as an artist with a unique style, vision and voice. Those in-the-know in Cleveland’s local arts community are familiar with his powerful images, sometimes frightening, haunting, violent –- or by turns dreamlike and poetic. The artist has his own methods for creating layered images, often recycling parts of his previous work to create something altogether new.
Davis has steadily gained a following, earning praise from local art critics and a home for his pieces in the prestigious art collections at the Cleveland Clinic and Progressive Insurance. His recent works are on exhibit at the Bill Busta Gallery on Prospect Avenue in Cleveland, where the creations of local artists are the focus. In January, Davis had a show at the gallery, selling every single piece.
“It was a big day, a very big day for me,” said Davis.
But things were about to get even bigger for Davis. Earlier this year, the Cleveland Museum of Art acquired one of his larger pieces for its permanent collection.
The work, entitled “Black Heads” is a multi-media work of relief prints, collage, found objects and paint.
“There were a lot of works to choose from and it was this piece that moved me the most when I was there," said curator of drawings Heather Lemonedes.
It is actually the second piece for the museum. An earlier work by Davis had been donated to the museum by a patron.
As for Davis, having one of his pieces purchased by the Cleveland Museum of Art is, “Incredible, something I’ve been working toward a long time. At one point it was a dream, now it’s a reality.”
He added that the achievement is also inspiring for his contemporaries.
“It lets everybody know there’s a chance it could happen,” he said.
There are, in fact, a number of security guards at the museum who are working artists as well.
“This institution is a beacon for artists. I think most people come to work, stay as long as I have, it’s because they’re artists. You can look at the collection, and it reminds you of the greatness of the institution. Of the power of art,” he said.
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