Introducing Riley Grant: young, ambitious, and multitalented, he is proving that all you need is the will to work and the right team to link and build with. The days of the struggling artist are behind us and people like him are proving it. With a list of musical credits to his name, more on the way, and two successful exhibitions under his belt, Riley is about to make us all obsolete.
Words: Tshiamo Seape
Riley Grant – Artist//Musician
Give us an introduction: who are you, and what do you do?
I’m an artist, musician and more recently a DJ based in JHB and currently studying Fine Arts at Wits University. Recently I have collaborated with a number of other young artists under the name “The Conversationists” to create a sound, light and video installation that took place in Johannesburg in July. My art usually manifests in the form of installation art which often makes use of soundscapes, but of course, is not limited to this and I always try to explore new ways of expressing a concept. In terms of music, William Shoki and I work under the name “Will & Riley” wherein I produce the music and he writes and performs the vocals.
You’re also working with The Wire Alum, Ross “Archy” Sey, correct?
Correct! We have a track out at the moment and will be releasing a couple more soon. In both instances, it’s hard to box the music in one genre, but I’d say it’s a soulful and sometimes jazzy amalgamation of hip-hop that still has a contemporary feel to it. I guess we’re trying to make music that we feel is timeless.
Were you ever unsure of pursuing a creative career in favour of a “real” one?
I have never been unsure of pursuing a creative career. From a young age I wanted to be a musician and things have shifted and changed since then and I started exploring art but it’s never moved away from the creative realm. I also don’t see myself as ONLY being an artist or ONLY being a musician. In fact, in this contemporary age of art, I think it’s essential to be multidisciplinary and well versed in a number of things. I also think that the idea of “the young struggling artist” is stupidly romanticized and maybe even a bit outdated. Artists should stop victimizing themselves as set out for being poor, and people outside the art world should stop thinking that art and money are mutually exclusive and that artists will somehow survive purely off of their passion for art. From my perspective, it seems like artists and musicians are becoming successful at increasingly younger ages, so I’m about that young successful artist life! And I’m prepared to work hard for it.
How do you self-motivate?
I remind myself of where I want to be and what I still have to achieve as well as the fact that I want to be successful in what I do in terms of personal fulfilment as well as my art and music being economically viable for me and this all requires a lot of work.
I also get a lot of inspiration from seeing my friends working and making things happen for themselves. It’s good to be in a positive and productive environment. Also, a good track can get me in the right mood to create.
How did you meet the Meekel sisters?
I don’t know when we first met but we’ve known each other since we were little. However, it was only towards the end of last year that we started to think of working together because we realised we had similar interests in music and art but most importantly, I think we realized that we shared a similar type of drive and determination to work.
“I can say that their [Abi and Claire] actions speak louder than words in the sense that their determination to work and create is a testament to their great work ethic.”
On your last project One Fish Two Fish Blaue Fish you spoke about the accessible concepts in art. What makes your work accessible?
Most of my work is quite conceptually orientated and can be conceptually dense, but the way in which I try to execute and portray these concepts tries to take into consideration that not everyone has an academic or artistic frame of reference to decode the implied messages, so I have to portray the concept in such a way that does not alienate viewers who do not have that artistic scaffolding, but can still be critically analyzed in an academic context too. So it’s about finding that balance and this is often one of the most exciting and interesting parts of conceptual/installation art – finding a solution to portray a complex concept in a way which can still speak to and draw upon a set of broader ideas that are relatable and understood by the public. I try do this by making my installations quite emotive so that even if the concept isn’t fully understood, the viewer can still hopefully walk away with a feeling. I also try for my work to allow room for interpretation so that the viewer can project their own concept onto the work so that it becomes personally accessible and relatable.
What’s the best advice/most valuable lesson either of them has ever given you?
Both Abi and Claire say some pretty profound shit and drop mad knowledge all the time so it’s hard to pinpoint one thing. But through working with both of them in their individually unique ways, I can say that their actions speak louder than words in the sense that their determination to work and create is a testament to their great work ethic which I think is one of the most important things. So seeing that and being part of that energy has been extremely valuable to me, amongst many more things.
As part of the music duo Will and Riley, you have produced some thoughtful tracks. Can we expect your future material to be in line with this?
Thank you and yes, Will and I will continue to create thought-provoking tracks, but they will continue to grow and evolve sonically as well as content wise. Always gotta keep changing it up. Most of what we released this year was quite politically orientated so maybe the next couple will be more personal but still thoughtful and honest.
Looking forward, what are you most excited about?
I’m excited to release some new music with Archy really soon. So please do keep an eye out for those things.
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