Riley Holloway has been waiting for this moment for months. All the late hours in the lower-level studio, alone but for the lyrics motivating him through the speaker box, manifested themselves in a packed gallery space on Friday night in the Fairmont Hotel, where Holloway is the artist in residence.
He was a bit out of sorts.
"I'm still not satisfied," he said as guests started to arrive. "I just want more I guess.
Part of it came from what Riley described as "the people who arrive early just kind of milling about." The series, titled "SHOOK!!!" featured large paintings, mixed media portraits of friends, mentors and inspirations like Keith Haring and Basquiat, was easily digestible, but there wasn't much engagement going on.
The last time I spoke to Holloway, he was giddy about the chance to share his vision for what "Shook!!!" could represent. He envisioned, perhaps over ambitiously, a collective of like-minded artists that could galvanize a following, build bridges from the galleries to the ghettos, bringing kids with few opportunities but mad dreams into the fold.
Despite the lackluster start, the seeds appeared to be planted that night.
"As more people showed up, they began to interact with the work," he said. "People actually took the time to read all of the poems. People told me that the work touched them. Which I thought was really cool."
Holloway said the three-month time period limited his ability to make as many pieces as he would have liked. There were 12 exhibited in all, including the eight he made while in residency.
"The next one I do will be more elaborate. For this show, I had to take time to not only paint but brand myself as well, trying to cram it all in."
Not to say he isn't grateful. He sighed with relief about the opportunities he was given through the Fairmont's residency program. Nor is he disappointed with the show. Work was purchased before the gallery even opened, with additional requests being made upon new introductions by patrons.
He chatted up the crowd and soaked up the moments alone, although few and far between, when he would look through his paintings, perhaps for something that doesn't exist yet. His pieces have an appearance of being half done, letting the viewer add or subtract, pulling from their own creative reservoir of references and stop-gaps.
The hand-lettering employed on his pieces is new to his work, coming about with the "SHOOK!!!" series. Most of the text is poetry, musings on fame, racism, love, maturation and overcoming struggle. It's employed at times busily, distracting the viewer from the beauty of Holloway's brush stroke. But there's a story to be told. The writing is eloquent and honest, often times autobiographical, as it deals with the struggles he encounters as a full-time artist.
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The exhibit ends in a way with his newest, a stand-out minimal piece titled "Maintain and Go." It's a big mixed-media piece with a red background, with the text of the title painted on by the artist's finger, situated between two large buttons.
"The concept of the piece is in the title -- it's about letting go," he says. "If I do something and it gets to the point where it has a presence, then I leave it. Mission accomplished. The relationship between the two buttons displays the atmosphere of the piece. That one took the most out of me. They can be useful but they're beautiful too. 'SHOOK!!!' is an actual living, breathing poem."