Imagine being trapped in a world which suppressed the very thing that you knew you were destined to do. Imagine all of the reinforcements around you expecting and demanding you to be something that you weren’t. Such is the life of this great artist and his battle with these influences during the communism era is represented in his artwork.
Klever was born into a military family and his fate was to follow his fathers’ by being a recognized and renowned military career-man. This concept, however, did not suit Klever’s vision of what his life’s accomplishments would be. Although Klever was forced to join the military for a required amount of time imposed by the government – His impressions of a military life reinforced his desire to not pursue it as a career. Many paintings that Klever painted are a derivative of the experiences which he encountered during his military tenor.
After the military, Klever continued to paint and enrolled in Universities whose specialties were art and art history. Around this time, Klever became a participant in a group of painters called the “Non-Conformists”. The group was an outlet for him to relate with others who had similar views on the society they all lived in. These painters were told that they could not paint what they wanted to and were stuck in a dichotomy where their desire to be conforming citizens tore at their life’s purpose to paint. They were supposed to enable the dysfunction which was all around them despite the fact that they all knew they were being repressed in a society where everyone was supposedly equal. Just as Religion was outlawed – Many types of paintings; Historical, Religious, Abstract, Anti-Soviet and Erotic themes were all against the law.
Artistic expression and then following, artistic repression, began to play an even larger part of Klever’s life. The artist began to paint politically-defiant pieces of art which depicted the artist’s view of what life was like in the Soviet Union and life in the Soviet military. These pieces were quite inflammatory and because of this they needed to stay hidden. The paintings were stashed in make-shift walls, behind shelving units and at trustworthy friend’s houses. Regardless of the secrecy, the KGB found out about the existence of these pieces and began to follow Klever’s every move. There were surprise visits to his studio, harassment wherever he went, friends and family being questioned – A miserable existence – All because he was destined to paint. These paintings are now being publicly displayed.
By the early 1970’s Klever was a famous painter and very distinguished in the art circles within the Soviet Union. From this period forward, Klever had an exhibit which was open for viewing at all times inside the apartment of Bob Kashilohov. Obviously, this was against the law. Despite this fact, the patronage to see the work was large. In parallel, the “Non-Conformists” were able to finally solicit enough support from followers and media to have several exhibits. Endless petitions in support of exhibiting signified the lengthily battle with the official sots-realism movement. These exhibits would be the first of their kind in the Soviet Union. There were rules about what can & can’t be displayed – However a public exhibit nonetheless was significant. Inside the cultural building called “Gaza” in the house of culture “Nevsky” in Sankt Petersburg (at the time, the city was named Leningrad) in 1974 and 1975, the painters were finally able to display some of their pieces to the public. To the amazement of the Soviet government, the exhibit was very well received. The lines to get into the exhibit hall were extraordinary long, at least 10 long city blocks. Only 30 people were allowed in the exhibit hall every 30 minutes to view the artwork. It took some days to wait in line to see the art. The exhibit was open for two weeks.
Although the exhibit rules were mostly followed by the exhibitors – This display was still a huge threat to the government. Because the exhibit was the first of it’s kind… It was finally an acknowledgement of painters who had their own individual style, being viewed by the people who lived within the rules of that twisted society. Because everyone’s individuality was repressed, this exhibit really wasn’t something the government supported. Unfortunately, the ultimate repercussions of this exhibit were that some of the painters were arrested or simply killed by the KGB. Yevgenni Ruchin was murdered. Two full life terms were served by Alexander Arefiev. Klever was arrested and served time in a political jail. Media, western influence, and solid reputation played a part in Klever’s release. Once it was reported that he was being detained – He was released in one week.
In 1975 the artists once again exhibited in Moscow. This exhibit is now referred to as the “Bulldozer” exhibition because the Kremlin ordered that bulldozers be used to remove the exhibit once the paintings were put up on display. One of the artists, Oscar Rabin, jumped on the nose of one of the bulldozers in an attempt to stop it and the arrests began again. Anyone and everyone associated with displaying their artwork was a victim. Klever’s graphics were all collected by the KGB at this exhibit and were made into a bonfire. When Klever returned back to Sankt Petersburg after this exhibit in Moscow, his studio was ransacked, paintings were broken and ripped, and red paint was poured everywhere. Klever saw the red paint as a symbol of how red October was victorious over him and the other artists. Red October in 1917 was when the communist power took over Russia. Despite the vicious destruction in the studio, the politically-defiant paintings were not found. Had they been, the artist would have easily been beheaded.
Throughout this battle with the government and the society that Klever was born into – He had been hearing about a place called America. He was told that in America you could paint whatever you want to. Klever was mesmerized and in awe of this concept, as his whole life up to this point had been about fighting for the right to paint what he wanted to – But being constantly told that he wasn’t allowed to. After several filed attempts to flee, finally in 1978 Klever, along with his family, was able to emigrate to the United States. Since he left Russia, Klever has lived in Europe and all over the United States.
When the iron curtain fell in 1986 and perestroika began, Klever was able to return to Russia to retrieve many pieces of art that he wasn’t able to take with him when he emigrated. Through back channels and middle-of-the-night trucks which headed into Paris, Klever was able to bring back to America these art pieces being displayed now.
Klever continues to work on graphics, sculptures and artwork.