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Cover image: Riley Holloway Cover design: Louis Dixon

The Riley Holloway show at Fort Works Art may be one of the best of its kind since … the last Riley Holloway show at Fort Works Art. OK, let’s start over. Hanging until August 25, Spectrum represents the kind of grand contemporary portraiture that’s more commonplace in buildings with “modern” and “art” in their names than at an upstart gallery along muddy, clogged, pedestrian-hating byways like Montgomery Street near the Cultural District. (The 14,000-seat Dickie’s Arena a little farther down the road should be finished by November 2019. Until then, it’s a monster truck rally.) Though Holloway is a Dallas product (sue me), he earned his bachelor’s from the University of Texas-Arlington and has shown a lot in the Fort. He even counts among his mentors Sedrick Huckaby, the influential Fort Worth painter who has been teaching at UTA for years. With Spectrum, Holloway doesn’t go all in for photorealism, preferring instead to say a lot with very little and to offer more than just formalist acrobatics. Think of him as an Old Master inspired by graphic novels and not afraid to let their bold, pulsating vitality come out in his work.

This is forward-thinking portraiture for the age. Holloway’s paintings and works on paper burn with a hazy intensity and rich depth of field which hark to a little bit of Devon Nowlin’s subtle surrealism (looking forward to her next solo show next month at Artspace 111) and Michelle Brandley’s syrupy fleshiness. What separates Holloway from his peers, both here and in Big D, is his keen feel for design elements. We can settle into every face via his frenetic yet precise brushstrokes but be tantalized to gaze further because of the patterns that both frame and sometimes become the sitters. The strict geometric forms that come and go throughout Spectrum call to mind the panels of a graphic novel, flowing like a narrative arc into an organic and sensible whole, literally and visually. Space warps and overlaps, vaulting faces into beacons of recognition, of communion.

“Iris” (see: above) is a vertical portrait of a thin woman, shown from the waist up wearing a low-cut purple t-shirt and a bluish bandana and with her face turned away from the viewer. Purple flowers (irises, presumably –– I don’t know, I’m not a florist) swirl around her tremulously on either side in a kind of homage to Beaux Arts. It got me thinking of a vintage Tiffany lamp or an ad for Pears’ Soap or Good Sense Corset Waists. That cold shoulder is straight outta 2016, though.

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One of my favorite pieces –– it’s hard to choose; so many options –– is “Drigo,” a call-to-arms poster of sorts. The titular Dallas artist and muralist stands proudly with his hands folded in front of him, flanked by sketches of his trademark ancient symbolism and in front of his name in large red letters. Drigo the person probably didn’t ask for it, but Holloway certainly gave him the regal treatment. The overall effect is as tender as it is powerful.

Steeped in tradition as it is, Holloway’s style isn’t necessarily traditional. Behind the contemplative, self-aware face of the woman in “Flower Child” is a stained-glass pattern of flowers and the occasional cartoon heart, with reds, whites, golds, and maroons all popping. It’s unlike anything in real life –– unless we count Snapchat filters. And I suppose we should, considering that reality isn’t truly real until it’s been hearted or thumbs-upped. I am as guilty as you are.

Another one of Holloway’s pieces that pleasantly blends fine art with graphic design is “Spectrum,” a profile of a shirtless, bald man with his arms akimbo and a long white beard — it’s the Dallas artist Heyd Fontenot — across which colorful panels (pink, orange, red, green) glide, the emanata lines around the man’s frame at odds with his solid stance. Fontenot’s expression is suspicious but not too concerned. He should know he’s in good hands.

Holloway is a kind of Old Master influenced by graphic novels. Courtesy of the artist

Holloway does offer some studio portraits and studies that should be evaluated on the precision of the brushstrokes, the way they evoke the flesh and that twinkle in the eye that can only mean “reality.” Even if the eyes are closed. A portrait of an old, chubby man napping in a wooden chair, his doughy chin swallowed by the horizontal folds of his dark sweater, “With Time” feels real. It’s not, actually. The creases in the man’s face are too deliberate, too defined to be mistaken for what they would look like were we in the room with him, but his expression is on point. We’ve seen this guy a million times in our lives.

Holloway toggles back and forth between studies and dare we say “serious” portraiture throughout Spectrum but without any real lack of honesty. There’s a good amount of sweat equity in both. Some of the sketches are as succinct and lighthearted as comic book art. Most are covered with handwritten stories, poems, and notes. All of them are neat and considered, just like the in-depth works. Holloway isn’t messing around. He wouldn’t hang anything that wasn’t worth your hard-earned money — some pieces soar into the lower four digits — or that didn’t reflect his A-game. Holloway always brings it.

You know there are probably as many galleries in Fort Worth now as there have ever been: about five. Our myriad addresses for jazzy art haven’t gone anywhere. Those new Monticello McMansions aren’t going to decorate themselves. But for the kind of serious painting, sculpture, installations that keep Fort Worth from falling into the cultural abyss, our options remain limited. This is all a roundabout way of saying that I really hope Fort Works Art survives. Note: There is no indication that it will not or that it is in trouble. I’m just saying that I really like the gallery and hope it stays around long enough to become the kind of institution that, say, Artspace 111 or William Campbell Contemporary Art is. FWA’s quality of shows is sterling. Riley Holloway’s Spectrum is definitely just more of the same.

Spectrum by Riley Holloway

Thru Aug 25 at Fort Works Art, 2100 Montgomery St, FW. Free. 817-759-9475.

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