Cleaster Cotton is an African American painter and photographer, who was born into a large, close-knit family and lovingly raised by southern parents, in the heart of Brooklyn, New York. Cleaster fell in love with art at age five when, inspired by her mother, she created her first line of greeting cards. During that same time, she fell in love with photography, when she peered down into her grandfather’s camera and discovered the magic of refraction. Exposure to world cultures and travel abroad, during adolescence, influenced how Cleaster views and creates art.
African heritage, exposure to world cultures, and travel abroad, during adolescence, influenced how Cleaster views and creates art. Cleaster works in several media, including mixed media paintings, collage, prints, drawings, pen and ink, hand-rendered and computer illustrations, textile design, installation art, assemblage, photography and sculpture. Her genres include Contemporary, Primitive, Figurative, Narrative, Exo, Folk, Outsider, Pop, and Fine Art Photography. Cleaster is the planet’s premier Exo-Political artist.
It was in Brooklyn, New York that Cleaster attended public, middle school, ‘Youth in Action’ (Arts In Education summer sessions at Pratt Institute and Long Island University,) and Uhuru Sasa Shule (after school cultural arts program.) She attended the High School of Fashion Industries, Interboro Institute Business School, and Fordham University in New York City. During an extended externship with the Primal Art Center (New York City,) Cleaster traveled to Africa, Europe, and various islands in the Caribbean buying art for the collection, learning about the people, folklore, culture, art, and nature of these lands.
In 1975, Cleaster founded SETSE™ (Self-Empowerment Through Self-Expression,) a creativity-based academic curriculum and hands-on learning methodology.
Cleaster Cotton became a professional certified Teaching Artist in 1998. Her work in Arts In Education (AIE) reaches across the USA and abroad. Her service includes the Westchester Arts Council, High Museum of Art, Georgia Council for the Arts, Museum of Design Atlanta, University of North Carolina Asheville, Asheville City Schools Foundation, LEAF in Schools and Streets, and several Boards of Education. Cleaster has taught thousands of (K-12) children, facilitated professional development workshops for hundreds of teachers and community professionals. She was Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Arts District Task Force, in Mt. Vernon, New York. Cleaster serves on the Board of Directors for LEAF as a cultural conservationist, artist, and advocate for children, STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education, and the arts.
In 2002, Cleaster invented ALNUGE (Alphabets Numbers Geometrics,) a visual language (for K-12) STEM and STEAM (STEM+Art) core curriculum.
Cleaster attended San Diego City College, in California.
She enjoys dancing, cooking, yoga, exploring, sailing, flying, film, theatre, and fine dining. She is an advanced open water scuba diver and holds a 4th Kyu in Aikido martial arts.
EXHIBITS & COMMISSIONS
• Asheville Area Arts Council Emerald Ball and Art Auction (River Arts District, Asheville, NC ~ 2013) (featured artist/contributor)
• The Blind Pig Dinner Event (Asheville, NC ~ 2013) (solo exhibit)
• The Junction (River Arts District, Asheville, NC ~ 2013) (solo exhibit)
• Pink Dog Creative (River Arts District, Asheville, NC ~ 2013) (photographer)
• LEAF (Asheville, NC ~ 2013) (commissioned artist)
• The Gallery @ Studio 375 Depot (River Arts District, Asheville, NC ~ 2012-2013) (exhibited artist)
• CityMac CityMug (Asheville, NC ~ 2012) (World’s First Exo Political Artist’s Premier - Signs & Symbols)
• Desert Moon Designs Studios Gallery (River Arts District, Asheville, NC, 2012) (featured photographer)
• AnTHM Gallery (Downtown, Black Mountain, NC ~ 2012) (Monte Vista Hotel featured artist)
• Gourmet Chip Company (Downtown, Asheville, NC ~ 2011) (solo exhibit)
• Private Collectors (Asheville, NC ~ 2011) (commission, painting)
• Pink Dog Creative (River Arts District, Asheville, NC ~ 2011) (premier featured artist/solo exhibit)
• Pink Dog Creative (River Arts District, Asheville, NC ~ 2010) (featuring Cleaster Cotton Wearable Art)
• Fit To Be Goddess (Norfolk, VA ~ 2009) (commission, photography)
• Private Collectors (Atlanta, GA ~ 2008) (commission, painting)
• The Seen Gallery (Decatur, GA ~ 2007) (exhibited photographer)
• Planet of the Grapes, Arts Hop exhibit and sale (Dalton, GA ~ 2007) (fine art photography / solo exhibit)
• Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) City of Neighborhoods, a Beltline project with Grady High School Design Emphasis/Communication Magnet Students (Atlanta, GA ~ 2007) (photojournalist/archivist)
• High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA ~ 2004) (teaching artist/ SETSE workshop facilitator/ docent instructor)
• Art Pavilions (Snellville, GA ~ since 2006) (featured and resident artist and photographer)
• Motique Gallery (Brooklyn, NY ~ since 2005) (featured artist)
• The Brooklyn Five Reunion (Brooklyn, NY ~ 2005) (commission)
• Urban Broadcasting Company (Harlem, NY ~ 2004 - 2011) (creative consultant/ commissioned art & fine art photography)
• African Galleria (Lithonia, GA ~ 2004) “Black Folk Casting Color” (artist)
• UBC Sports (various venues ~ 2003) (photographer)
• The Arts Exchange Open Studios 2002 (White Plains, NY, 2002) (September 11th walk-thru installation of photography, multi-medium, and literary art – based on the events of September 11th)
• Mariandale Retreat & Conference Center (Ossining, NY, September, 2002) (featured artist ~ multi-medium and literary art exhibit and poetry performance – based on the events of September 11th)
• Mount Vernon Public Library (Mt. Vernon, NY ~ April, 2002) (featured artist ~ multi-medium, and literary art – based on the events of September 11th)
• SEPTEMBER ELEVENTH: A CATHARSIS (“SE:AC”) (New York ~ 2001) (photojournalist, writer, and poet - documentation of life after the events of 9/11, Ground Zero, and lower Manhattan, New York via fine art photographs and short poems)
• Mount Vernon Public Library (Mt. Vernon, NY ~ 2000) SETSE (featured artist of multi-medium exhibit)
• Women In The Arts: Chapter I (Mayor’s Exhibit, City Hall, Mt. Vernon, NY ~ 2000) (exhibited artist)
'Cleaster Cotton’s art allows others (patrons) to see within the discovery of God’s ancient world and brings it forth for us to enjoy and appreciate. Her still life is filled with a unique harmony of blending colors and shapes of various sizes which leaves you with a pleasing feeling that makes you want to see it again.' ~ Mae C. Linsey ~ MA Early Childhood Education, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (2013)
'Just read the energized article in Planet Art Feb 2013 on the dynamic Cleaster Cotton Contemporary Primitive Artist. The excitement that just poured from the editorial was palpable as is the Artist Cleaster Cotton. Thank you for capturing her in your words by not holding back on the adjectives, fabulous smile, exuberant eyes, makes Picasso look like an amateur as well as the 8 feet tall masterpieces are where she really shines. And as you said, Can she get any more spectacular? Yes and I am looking forward to experiencing her creations. Cleaster’s work is so current yet sings of the sages from thousands of years ago and provides beauty and stimulus for the Spirit now!' ~ Margaret C Pazant ~ Elegant Executive Life Coach, Los Angeles, California USA (2013)
'It has been a delight to witness your evolution as an artist. From photography, through the classroom, to the canvas, you are an asset to the education community and to the art world. Your freedom of expression, married with your obvious discipline, comes through loudly in your latest body of work. Echoes of the ancestral spirits are ringing through.' ~ Peggy Dillard-Toone, Entrepreneur, Artist, Actor, Singer, Legendary Supermodel, Owner ~ Villa 121 Harlem Guest House, New York, New York USA (2013)
“Cleaster Cotton is the Leonarda of our times - her versatility is almost unfathomable. As a painter of contemporary primitive art, her exuberant colors and sly wit make you glad to be alive. Her black and white photographs have a majesty, power and precision that remind you of the Art Deco era. Cleaster Cotton is an American treasure. See her work and rejoice.” ~ Bobbie Kaplan, Award-winning Executive Creative Director, New York City, USA (2011)
“Asheville's Cleaster Cotton has a new gallery within the gallery of AnTHM Town Arts in downtown Black Mountain. This amazingly talented self-taught artist, I'd swear, was passed the baton of talent straight from the hand of Jean Dubuffet, founder of Art Brut, with her unique though similar painting style, use of color, rhythmic technique, powerful symbolism, and storytelling ability. From the Underground Railroad to her series of masked female images, Ms. Cotton's passion is contagious, compels you to take a closer look, to shed a tear, to learn more about plight, then moves you to celebrate--freedom, its many layers, and the vibrancy of choice!” ~ Cappi MacSherry, Owner ~ AnTHM Galleries of Black Mountain, Black Mountain, NC, USA (2012)
“Cleaster Cotton is a dynamic and visionary artist.” ~ Randy Shull & Hedy Fischer, Artists, Entrepreneurs, Activists, Owners ~ Pink Dog Creative, Asheville, North Carolina USA (2011)
“Cleaster Cotton's artwork is authentic, cultural, and thought-provoking. Cleaster is inspiring and is a role model to young artists, demonstrating to them that self-expression, through art, is a powerful key to freedom. She's dedicated, professional, and innovative in her approach to her work. Her use of materials (both conventional and unconventional) is refreshing and fascinating. I encourage Cleaster and look forward to the advancement and continued success of her career.” ~ Curtis E. James, President, CJ Studios, New York City, USA (2011)
“Contemporary Primitive; those are two words that make you think when you see them. I tell you they are the words that express the truly gifted and genius of Cleaster Cotton. She is fast becoming known in the art world and is a true Renaissance woman. She is multi-talented, able to do many things extremely well. Her work has movement, soul, emotion, intensity and drama!! It has history, ‘herstory’ and culture. It tells the story of our ancestors and they speak through her to tell us what we must do today to make ourselves whole again. Cleaster uses collage, mixed media and other forms of art to bring out her message. She is the female Romare Bearden!! I look at Bearden and the work he has done, the movement in his work, the feeling, the textures and collages. I see so many similarities between him and Cleaster, even the Harlem and North Carolina thing. Cleaster lived in Harlem also. We are all definitely from the same seed.' ~ Peggy Dodson, President and CEO, Urban Broadcasting Company, New York City, USA (2011)
'Cleaster has had a life-long love of the arts, and has proved time and again through her artwork just how creative she is. Her works are vibrant, striking, moving, and emotional. Her love for teaching the arts has motivated and inspired so many to express themselves through art. Cleaster is the quintessential professional!' ~ Nancy Witkowski Gerardo, Para Educator, Phoenix, Arizona (2014)