A man stands alone in the first-floor hallway of the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Dallas. His lanky arms hang behind his back, hands clasped. His fedora sits low between his eyes, obscuring his unflinching gaze at the glass encasement filled with large-scale, Renaissance-style oil paintings.
Tony Bennet, the hotel doorman, hurries by, stopping to pat the young man's back: "Hey there, young buck."
The artist, 24 and burning with energy, turns to give the man a dap, then returns his gaze to the art, and the words on the glass wall, "Riley Holloway: Artist in Residence." He smiles and trudges down the stairs to his studio.
In his studio, a large painting of Bennet -- title: "Tony Bennet: Guest Service Champion" -- sits against the wall. Holloway has decided to use his time at the Fairmont -- he's the hotel's 12th artist-in-residence, and lives in a suite at the hotel -- to paint those who share his humble beginnings and understand what it's like to feel overlooked.
"I decided to just say, 'Fuck it,' I'm going to paint the help," Holloway says. "All the people I paint I either admire what they do or they have some kind of interesting trait. I think it does something to the work. You handle it with a bit more care."
Holloway remembers the moment he told Bennet he would be his next subject. "He told me to hold on before I took his picture for the portrait," Holloway says, laying the portrait on the floor. "He wanted to get his nicest hat."
He walks around the piece, plotting his next move, Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Niggas in Paris" bumping in the background. Holloway looks to be safely in his element: head banging to the beat, arms flailing, he trips over stools, tosses paint brushes across the room and drips paint through his fingers. He talks to himself in between heavy brush strokes.
"I start with the figure," he says. "It gives me a good base. Then I design from a distance. I wanna take people through as much of my universe as I can, emotionally, spiritually. That's why I drew the circle through the face. It's a simple little thing I love. Everything's balanced in threes on this one."
Holloway was born in L.A. but moved to Arlington as a boy. He was in his second year at The Art Institute of Dallas when a painting caused him to drop out. "I was painting very abstract pieces but I really wanted to paint in the Classical Realism style," he says. "One night I made a decision to try something new and I went out and got a bunch of books on Realism in the middle of the night. I went back and painted my first piece in that style and that was it. I knew that if I'm gonna do this shit, I gotta really do it. I can't half-ass it, I gotta push myself."
Holloway dropped out of school that week, moved out of his apartment and back in with his parents. "I still operate with a little bit of naivete," he says. "I'm reaching in the dark and getting what I need by any means necessary."
Holloway became a student of Da Vinci, studying his style and devouring books on the artist. He also began to compile a collection of sketchbooks, which would help earn him his residency at the Fairmont.
Holloway, the son of an artist, acknowledges that his decision to drop out of school was "impulsive." He doesn't regret his decision, but he knows that he missed out on how to brand himself and sell his pieces.
"Hell yeah, I've undersold pieces," he says. "I just undersold a big abstract piece because I felt somebody needed it. But honestly, I'm doing that because at some point I'm not going to be able to do it again. It's going to be at a gallery somewhere and the owner will be like, 'Riley, you can't do that.' "
For his new project, "SHOOK!!!", Holloway says he has drawn inspiration from other local artists he respects, including Joonbug McIntosh, whom he asked to collaborate on a portrait Holloway did of him. In the portrait, McIntosh looks up into the heavens. McIntosh added hand-lettering of Holloway's poetry on the piece.
"Riley's one of those artists that creates with a purpose," McIntosh says. "The guy's always reading, and aiming to break psychological barriers with his work. His art grabs your attention and pulls you close to reveal the deeper message."
Whatever happens after the residency, Holloway says failure isn't on his radar. "I'm not going back there," Holloway says, about the prospect of returning to his parent's house in Arlington. "This can't be the only thing I rely on. I'll pack the house with the homies and if they inspire a fucking journey then 'SHOOK!!!' will spread. It will become this contagious thing. I need that thing that goes beyond what this shit is, something that has potential to grow."
That's not to say Holloway has no doubts. In an isolated studio in an unfamiliar neighborhood, surrounded by nameless faces, Holloway says, "The whole time I paint I'm thinking I fucking suck. I don't think I suck all the time but I do have an expectation of myself. I know those thoughts are going to be there. I let go of all that by chopping away at a piece."
The sun sends rays of light through the hotel, barely making it downstairs to the studio's glass window, where Riley stands and sums up the opportunity this residency has given him.
"It makes me smile. To sit down, and go through your plan and say I got this shit off of work," he says. "That was the point of this residency. Eat it up. This is the shot I got. Now I'm gonna go downstairs and be great."
Holloway's first solo exhibit is June 29 at The Gallery at Fairmont Dallas.
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