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Paintings by Riley Holloway
Art&Seek Spotlight

‘Made In America’ Is A Portrait Of Dallas (With Audio)

by Hady Mawajdeh 15 Aug 2019 8:03 AM

The history of Dallas’ Black neighborhoods is tied to the expansion of the city’s highway system.

Riley Holloway’s solo exhibition “Made In America – A Portrait of a City” opens on August 22nd. You can see the show and listen to the audio he collected at the African American Museum of Dallas.

As it grew, it displaced entire communities. Artist Riley Holloway’s latest work is informed by this history. In the Art&Seek Spotlight, he tells Art&Seek how recording people’s memories of their old neighborhoods led to a series of paintings called “Made in America.”

Riley, you’re probably best known for your work as a portrait painter. And in the past, most of your paintings have been of people that you know – your wife, your mother, your friends. Now, you’re taking on Dallas’ African American history. Why? 

RHI think that I’ve been working my way up to this point for a very long time. The first solo exhibition was called “The People I’ve Come To Know.” And I interviewed people around me. But I didn’t know exactly what to do with the audio. I didn’t know exactly what story I was telling. It was just theirs… And this time around I was chasing a story. You know? Before, I started with painting. And then I kind of figured out what the story was – in the middle of a painting. This time, I found out what the story was – what  I was going to paint – during the interviews and the conversations I was having with people.

Why add the element of sound? 

RHFor me, it’s the story. I mean, what’s the best way to tell a story? I mean, I can just have a room full of paintings. But for me, it’s like people are missing out on the conversations I actually get to have with these people. You know, the people I actually get to paint. So here you have an element where you get to hear them fresh. Right when I’m getting to know them. You know, I don’t do a ton of research on them. I just go in and I’m like, “Who are you? Express yourself. What’s important to you?”

Can you talk a little bit about how you found these people? Did you have folks in mind? Or were you meeting one person and then they’d tell you who to talk with next?

RHMeeting one and they’d say talk to this other person. And that was really what I wanted. So one of the things I did was start with Bob Ray Sanders. You know, talking about I.M. Terrell, talking about segregation. Doing that gave me perspective. You get to see what that sort thing does to the community. But after I talked with Sanders I was like, “I have no one else to really talk to.”

But then I was like, “Wait. There’s Marilyn Clark. I can start there. And after I went to Clark, that’s when I got a good number of activists to speak with. And that’s when I started to see, “Oh! This is how you shape the visual aspect of a city.”

Riley, throughout the exhibition “Made in America” we hear people talking the places they grew up. And here’s a piece of audio that stood out to me. It’s from a South Dallas native named Alpha Thomas. She talks a bit about how home isn’t the same anymore” 

“I don’t even go down there anymore, because it’s so heartbreaking,” says Thomas. “And when I do go down there to visit, I sit in my truck and I cry because I have these memories and I’m standing there and I’m reliving what it was like. And then I look at it today, and it’s like a nightmare! And it’s really had an effect on my psyche.”

What do you think about hearing that from Alpha Thomas? Can you tell us a little bit about her?

RHAlpha Thomas is a very strong individual. Like she makes a big impact on her community. And you learn that as you get to talking with her. And then you find out the things that she’s been through and the things that she’s done– it’s very compelling. She’s like really compelling.

But there was another side to her when she started talking about her neighborhood. She mentioned the freeways which was like a constant thing that kept coming up during all of my interviews. It was coming up when people talked about the narratives of their communities being displaced.”

And these are new freeways and highways that are displacing people, right?

RHYes. And I remember when I was thinking about “Made in America” a long time ago. Maybe two years ago, And I knew that somewhere there’d be a tragedy aspect to the series. Right? And I would have to do this painting of a tragedy. But I didn’t know what that was or what it would be. It was just an idea that was in my head.

Anyway, for me, the tragedy was actually going to the location that she talked about. Because what you see is a boarded-up house and the end of a sidewalk. It was like someone cut the sidewalk in the middle. And it’s just gone. And you can tell that there used to be a row of houses there. And you just go, “Oh! Wow.” So on one side of the freeway, there are houses. And on the other side, there are houses. It’s a neighborhood. But they just put this freeway right in the middle of it.

So the tricky part is that someone can say that that’s wrong. And another person can say it’s okay. You got to expand, right? But what I wanted to do was say, “This is how that decision impacts people. Here’s something you can’t argue with. Her memories of home are gone.” You know? It’s just a tricky situation. I have no answers. But I am trying to compile all of the puzzle pieces, so I can put it together.

Well, I think you’ve done an amazing job. Riley, thanks for having me in your studio. And thanks for sharing your experience with Art&Seek. 

RHThanks for having me!

Interview questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.