'Our history together': 'American History Volume 2' opens at RichesArt Gallery
A year ago, at the start of Black History Month 2022, artist and gallery owner Richard Samuel opened the group art exhibition American History at his then still-pretty-new gallery, RichesArt. “It’s called American History, because I believe... Black history is American history,” he said at the time. Now, with another year of gallery-owning experience, he’s ready to unveil American History Volume 2, which will be larger and run longer than the last year’s exhibition.
“So Volume 2 is extremely special,” Samuel says. “Last year, we really just got caught by surprise. Like we did the exhibit and had no clue that it was going to get the attention that it was going to get. This year, we went into it planning, knowing that we’re going to get this attention and [thinking] how can we maximize it for the artists? So this one’s going to be twice the size.”
One of the ways that American History Volume 2 will be bigger than last year’s iteration of the show is that’ll feature not just paintings and artwork inside the gallery, but also a visit from a literal city bus. “I’m the Black History Month artist for Cap Metro,” Samuel explains, “so I designed the buses this year, and we’re going to unveil the new Black History Month bus there at the opening reception.”
If you can’t make it out for the opening reception on February 4, you’ll likely get to see Samuel’s bus on the streets of Austin for the next month or so. To create his bus art, Samuel drew on his lifelong love of comics. “I found four trailblazing Black comic book artists from the 20th century that helped pave the way,” Samuel says, “and I found six original comics that they designed…[and] I re-designed them into influential Black figures and characters and organizations. Let’s get a good example – there is a comic book cover by Matt Baker called Cinderella Love. But I took that, changed it, and turned the figure that he painted on there into Billie Holiday. Therefore, when you research this comic book, you can go back and find it was designed by a Black comic book artist… and you can search his history, but then you also get, you know, a reminder of what Billie Holiday did for music and America in general. So it’s a bit of a double history lesson with the artwork.”
Samuel’s bus-sized work may be the biggest artwork on display during American History Volume 2, but it’s only one of many works of art in the show. “We have 20 artists,” Samuel says. “It’s a little bit under how many artists we brought in last year, but it’s more works this year. So there’s a couple artists who have like four or five pieces in the show. We have a couple brand-new artists – it’s their first time exhibiting – which is always a thing with all of our shows. Because artists need valuable experience on how to hang their stuff, how to present it.”
American History Volume 2 will be on display not just for Black History Month in February but through March as well. “I really, really appreciate a monthlong Black History Month to honor that part of our history,” Samuel says. “But I also want that part of our history to stop being [taught] just inside that month. It’s American history, so I want everyone to just as proud of it as I am. No matter what you look like, if you’re American, I want you to be just as proud of Nat Turner as I am of Nat Turner. It’s our history together, and I think it can be taught like that, felt like that, and so that’s why we try to open up the exhibit to absolutely everybody.”