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Ridgmar Mall doesn’t want you to see this.

I feel kind of bad writing about Trey Wilder again, but he is doing some interesting things.

Like putting on an art show at Ridgmar Mall.

With most of the big-box anchors gone and ’80s hits blaring overhead — would I lie to you, honey? — the enormous space is just soul-crushing. One sunny weekday afternoon recently, I parked by the main entrance, my humble 2009 Explorer one of only about two-dozen other vehicles in the parking lot, all of equally workingman-noble make. The vast emptiness of the flat, sprawling asphalt around us reduced us to the dregs in a juice bottle. I’m of the generation when working a job at the mall as a teenager was almost as cool as being captain of the football team or a burnout. Now there are robots. I’m just kidding. There aren’t any robots (yet). Still, mall workers — teens and adults alike — represent the new proletariat, which in this age of Instagrammy, reality-TV, YouTubular stardom is the opposite of cool. Unless you’re dating a hot communist. Then you’re only one step below auto mechanic, jazz musician, and union thug.

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As with all things Trey Wilder, the mall has reportedly been trying to silence him. Perhaps the brains behind Ridgmar were expecting dainty flowers and pretty landscapes from the Arlington artist who painted a mural of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott reenacting a scene from Get Out, the one when the black main character is being brainwashed by racist whites. Insert: wordy rant about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. (Capsule review: It’s not about the flag, y’all.) According to Wilder, two of the six pieces that constitute I Ain’t Dirty, I Just Paint a Lot are offensive. One is of a presumably white cop — his face is in shadow, but his hands, while darkish, aren’t necessarily black — holding a black boy at gunpoint hostage-style. The other is a portrait of a statuesque young woman in the buff and with long black hair wearing a red blindfold, a knife above her head in one hand and the scales of justice in the other. In the foreground is a giant gavel, and behind her scrolls “FOR ALL” in red, with the latter word crossed out and “some” written in black beneath it. Both pieces are still up, though on the day I visited, the naked woman was semi-obscured by what appeared to be a large mobile contraption under black covers. Maybe a Piercing Pagoda?

The problem, again, isn’t with Wilder. Having never run a family-friendly business, I really can’t say, but as an art lover and tedious liberal bore, I think healthy debate can be constructive. White cops are arresting and even killing black citizens in disproportionate numbers. That’s a fact. Ask me why there’s so much alleged black-and-black crime, and I’ll easily blame the systemic racism that has kept black neighborhoods poor forever and point to the fact that most criminals do their dirty work where they live or thereabouts. Two words: turf wars. Implying that blacks are predisposed toward violence has to be among the lowest forms of racism imaginable. Just stop it. You’re better than that.

One thing we can all agree on is “free the nipple.” Existing mostly online, it’s a fem-centric mission, I think, to equate — not reduce or augment — the nipples of the sexes. Men can freely expose their pecs, even in mainstream media — why can’t ladies? As a heterosexual dude, I am all for this development. And not just because I’m perma-horny. I’ve read that in European society, the more liberal the approach to sex, the less likely the young ones are to go off and start having babies. Though Little Johnny Benbrook and little Suzy Cleburne aren’t going to have any major sexual awakenings waltzing through Ridgmar Mall now, maybe they’ll start a conversation that doesn’t end with “Well, because that’s just the way things are, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” It’s all on you, moms and dads. And granddads and aunties. Don’t be lazy.

I think I like Wilder best when he’s merely suggesting a point, rather than driving it home with Thor’s hammer. In another mural, Donald Trump and Kanye West are depicted as the two men in black from the movie franchise of the same name. Donned in actually bluish suits and dark sunglasses, each brandishes a large firearm, a big, shiny science-fictional two-hander. The duo’s purpose isn’t exactly clear, which is why I think the overall image works. Drawing from the motivations of the movie characters, Trump and Kanye could be protecting Earth from not just intelligent life forms from outer space but, you know, intelligence. A few months ago, the rapper, in yet another moment of complete confusion, found himself defending the “president.” He soon found himself wearing a MAGA hat and mugging for the Instagram cameras. I mean, the enormity of your ego to not admit that you made a terrible, dreadful mistake. He received a lot of hate, and rightfully so, but I don’t think anything else explains the increase in Trump’s approval rating among African-American males going back to 2016. It’s a Kanye bump. This, for the same Donald Trump, real estate mogul, who settled twice with the federal government for not renting to black people. The same oafish racist who described Hispanic immigrants as rapists and murderers, nazis as “very fine people,” and immigrant nations overseas as “shitholes.” I’ve never heard a Kanye West song, and now I am abso-fucking-lutely certain I never will.

Other than this piece and the one in the corner with a skeleton praying on its knees in front of a stained-glass window of a crucifix and between a giant old black guy’s head and a two-necked turkey or vulture or vulture-turkey (!), there’s not much visually to unpack here. Meaning no offense to Wilder, who certainly knows how to paint and paint well, reviewing I Ain’t Dirty, I Just Paint a Lot took me just a couple of glances. There was nothing formalistic for me to study, nothing deeper in terms of brushstrokes or texture or mood or compositional imagination for me to sink my teeth into. The content is the message here, and for Wilder, his message is a ransom note addressed to us. 

I Ain’t Dirty, I Just Paint a Lot, by Trey Wilder

Thru Aug 26 at Ridgmar Mall, 1888 Green Oaks Rd, FW. Free.

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