Painter Riley Holloway says he’s “pretty bad at art history.” So, when he started preparing for his upcoming solo exhibition, it seemed as good a time as any to brush up on the subject. Of Our Past, opening on Saturday at the South Dallas Cultural Center, is a survey of iconic artwork throughout history, as reimagined through Holloway’s modern portraiture. Behind the stoic faces of Holloway’s friends, the usual vignettes of house plants and neutral walls have been replaced with more complex backgrounds, like Alessandro Piazza’s View of Constantinople.
The 29-year-old Dallasite has made a name for himself with his luminous portraits – even Kasseem Dean (a.k.a. Swizz Beatz) bought one to add to the art collection he shares with wife Alicia Keys. But Holloway is still finding his style.
“I’ve been using opportunities to learn lately, so whenever a solo exhibit is coming up nowadays I always try to add something I can learn from,” he says. “This was an opportunity to get better at art history, you know, a little more knowledgeable about it.”
Holloway created 15 paintings and 12 works on paper for the show. Each one mimics a famous artwork, using it as a canvas for Holloway’s new work. In one frame, a man wears an Adidas t-shirt in front of Mondrian’s famous grids; In another, a guy clad in a baseball cap and jean jacket obscures Ellis Wilson’s Funeral Procession.
Holloway chose the complementing pieces instinctually, working off of a list of famous artists and going for whatever caught his eye. Rather than gravitate toward artists with a similar style to himself, Holloway took the chance to expand his repertoire. He was surprised to find himself less interested in figurative artwork than abstract pieces, like the work of Harlem Renaissance figure Romare Bearden (his favorite artist from the project).
“Style is really in the habits…it’s an accumulation of your habits. And finding your style is just being involved in painting everyday,” he says. “With this, it’s made me embrace color more. It kind of makes me feel like, have I been afraid of color this whole time?”
The self-taught artist hopes that by pairing his work with historical pieces, he can better understand his place in the contemporary art world. Surprisingly, Holloway doesn’t seem intimidated with trying to fill famous artists’ shoes.
“This body of work has been the most fun to create,” he said. “Being a painter and attempting to paint other artist paintings gives you a really cool insight into their thought process.”
Of Our Past celebrates its opening reception on Saturday night at 5:30 p.m. The show will be on view at the South Dallas Cultural Center through January 5.