Duke Riley: The Bright Passage - East River Incognita 1

January 13 - February 18, 2006


Magnan Projects is pleased to present the first solo exhibition in Chelsea for Duke Riley.  The exhibit will be on view from January 13 through February 18, 2006.

East River Incognita 1 is a multi-media project that addresses the artist’s interest in the struggle of marginal peoples to sustain independent spaces.  Interested specifically in the East River of New York, Riley presents found and faux artifacts using visual language. The Bright Passage deals with Mill Rock Island: a small uninhabitable strip of land just north of Roosevelt Island, originally named Bright Passage or Hell Gate by Dutch explorers. His alternative view of hidden borderlands and their inhabitants is expressed through a wide breadth of medium.

The exhibition includes a selection of works on paper showcasing Riley’s astute drawing skills as well as a nine-part video installation. The dense nautical scenes are influenced by 19th century whaling art, woodcuts, tattoos and populist myths.  Large scale drawings (the largest 6 x 10 feet) of mythical islands draw the viewer in to find hidden treasures, individual stories depicting tales of sexual exploits with pirates, mermaids and other amphibious creatures. Riley compounds the ambiguity of history by injecting elements of contemporary life such as floating ATM machines and other current landmark references to New York.

Duke’s installation creates a corresponding fictitious history, including a bogus documentary comprised of interviews with both homeless and professionals inventing contemporary scenarios about a non-existent group of people inhabiting the island. The narration gradually declines from the conceivable to blatant fabrications and absurdity, illustrating the embellished line between history and myth.

Additional works illustrate Riley’s ability to replicate techniques such as marquetry and scrimshaw.  His map of Hells Gate, drawn on shelf paper, is executed with such perfection that it looks authentic.  Two mosaic tile pieces with etched Plexiglas weaves together factual events of the Mill Rock area: a boat that sunk in 1904 killing 1500 people, and another ship that is said to have sunk in Hells Gate with $2 billion (by today’s standards) in gold, never to have been found. Riley takes these historical facts and creates his own interpretation of the myths surrounding them.

2005 was a breakout year for the artist.  Riley had a solo show of drawings and sculptures at Sarah Lawrence College, participated in two group exhibitions at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council: Book and A Knock at the Door.  In addition, the artist has had numerous performance and site-specific events including Circumnavigate, in which he circumnavigated the island of Manhattan in a handmade boat, Building, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the artist recreated blackouts in Ireland during the 1980’s and Nautical Waste an annual celebration of his newly created holiday.

Duke Riley was born in Boston, Massachusetts and received his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 1995.  After graduating he became head of the art department at Nativity Prep School in Boston.  He moved to New York in 1997 and co-founded Artisans Equities, a Brooklyn based guild dedicated to providing affordable workspace for artists.  In 2000, he became program director for Oyster Arts, Inc., organizing art education in domestic violence shelters in New York City.  Riley is currently completing his MFA at Pratt Institute and owns and operates Cherry Bomb Tattoos in Brooklyn, New York.