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John Riddle 

Interviewed by Karen Anne Mason 

Completed under the auspices 

of the 

Oral History Program 

University of California 

Los Angeles 

Copyright © 2000 
The Regents of the University of California 


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Portions of this interview are restricted until January 1, 
2025, without interviewee's written permission. 


This manuscript is hereby made available for research 
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including the right to publication, are reserved to the 
University Library of the University of California, 
Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted 
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This interview was made possible in part by a grant 
from the UCLA Institute of American Cultures in 
conjunction with the UCLA Center for African American 


Biographical Summary vi 

Interview History viii 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (September 5, 1992) 1 

Family background- -The Carter G. Woodson 
collection in the Atlanta library--Woodson' s 
connection to the Riddle family — Father's 
employment as an architect and specifications 
writer — The decline of a sense of community among 
African Americans--Riddle' s religious background-- 
His murals for a Black Christian Nationalist 
church in Atlanta- -Racial discrimination in Los 
Angeles . 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side Two (September 5, 1992) 30 

Induction into the United States Air Force- - 
Discrimination in the military--Reasons African 
Americans seek employment in the military and the 
postal service--Riddle' s tour of duty in Japan- - 
His perception of the Japanese people--His early 
interest in art--Studies earth science at Los 
Angeles Community College--Receives a B.A. from 
California State University, Los Angeles, in 
education and art- -Reasons Riddle works in 
several media--His interest in found objects-- 
Sketching the police station at Pico and Rimpau. 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side One (September 5, 1992) 60 

Meets Noah Purifoy and Ruth G. Waddy--Walking 
railroad tracks to find discarded objects for 
sculptures--David Smith's influence on Riddle's 
work- -Acquiring the skill of finding useful 
material for his artwork--Genesis and evolution 
of his Employees Only assemblage- -His Malcolm X 
and Nixon: The Twentieth Anniversary, Busted 
pieces--Reasons Riddle prefers sculpture to 
painting--His M.A. thesis on spirit and 
technology- -Constructing the assemblage Bird and 


TAPE NUMBER: II, Side Two (September 5, 1992) 90 

More on the assemblage Bird and Diz --Riddle' s 
wife Carmen's family--African American artists in 
Los Angeles- -Carmen Riddle's mother--Dan 
Concholar and David Hammons--The nature of black 
art--Ernest Herbert and BAAism--Alonzo Davis and 
the Brockman Gallery- -Suzanne Jackson and Gallery 
32--The founding of Art-West Associated--Saturday 
art critiques at the Brockman Gallery--Patronage 
of African American art in Los Angeles — The 
racism of United States foreign and domestic 
policies - 

TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (September 5, 1992) 130 

The incidence of drug and alcohol use among 
artists and musicians--Dif ferences between 
artists in Atlanta and those on the West Coast-- 
Riddle ' s brief sojourn in Trinidad--Elite control 
of and profiteering from the Olympic Games- - 
African American artists' use of color--Riddle' s 
painting The Olympic Stand --His Clubs Is Trumps -- 
Images and techniques he uses in his art. 

TAPE NUMBER: III, Side Two (September 5, 1992) 161 

Riddle's desire to avoid repeating himself 
artistically — The commitment and dedication 
required to be an artist--Riddle ' s definition of 
success . 

TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (June 26, 1993) 165 

Riddle's collaboration with John W. Outterbridge-- 
More on his murals for a Black Christian 
Nationalist church in Atlanta--More on his 
collaboration with Outterbridge- -Anthony Hill-- 
Competition and cooperation among Riddle ' s artist 
friends--How the Watts riots united African 
American artists in Los Angeles--Dif ferences 
between black and white critics ' approach to 
African American art--The public's preference for 
soothing, nonconf rontational art--United States 
involvement in the drug trade in Central America-- 
The human costs of drug use in African American 
communities--Crime as a source of profit in 
American society. 


TAPE hajMBER: IV, Side Two (June 26, 1993) 198 

The problem of black-on-black violence--Raising 
African American consciousness through art-- 
Impact of the middle passage on Riddle's art--His 
goals in teaching children--The injustice of 
United States immigration policies--The 
importance of persevering in art regardless of 
the market--The need for African Americans to 
support African American businesses--White 
liberals' attitude toward blacks--The impact of 
racism worldwide. 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (June 26, 1993) 227 

More on the impact of racism worldwide--Riddle' s 
appreciation of jazz--The African American art 
tradition — Riddle's idea for an artwork 
portraying Huey P. Newton- -America ' s recent 
decline and its causes--Riddle' s proposed artwork 
on the drug trade--Ronald W. Reagan--Riddle' s 
reasons for becoming an artist--Producing art 
while holding full-time employment. 

Index 254 



Bom: March 18, 1933, Los Angeles. 

Education: A. A., earth science, Los Angeles City 
College; B.A., education and art, California State 
University, Los Angeles; M.A., California State 
University, Los Angeles. 

Military Service: United States Air Force, 1953-57. 

Spouse: Carmen Garrott Riddle, married April 24, 1953, 
six children. 


Sculpture commission. Expelled Because of Color . 
Georgia State Capitol grounds, 1976. 

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority 
commission. Tenth Street Midtown Station, four walls 
sculpture, 1984. 

Georgia Council for the Arts commission, ten color 
lithographs created for the Governor's Art Award 
Program, 1985. 

Artwork used on the set of the television series In the 
Heat of the Night , (MGM-UA), 1988. 

Painting commission, Hartsfield Airport, Georgia, 
Olympics hundredth anniversary, 1996. 

Sculpture commission, Seagram's Company, Spirits at the 
Gate, 1999. 

Consultant, California African American Museum. 

Two Emmy Awards, for Renaissance in Black: Two Artists' 
Lives, 1971. 


Governor's Award, Visual Artist, State of Georgia, 

Fulton County, Georgia, Visual Artist of the Year 
Award, 1987. 




Karen Anne Mason, B.A., English, Sinunons College; M.A., 
Art History, UCLA. 


Place: Riddle's home, Atlanta, Georgia. 

Dates, length of sessions: September 5, 1992 (219 
minutes); June 26, 1993 (130). 

Total number of recorded hours: 5.8 hours. 

Persons present during interview: Riddle, Mason, 
Riddle's wife. Carmen Riddle, intermittently. 


This interview is one in a series on African American 
art and artists in Los Angeles. This oral history 
project gathers and preserves interviews with African 
American artists who have created significant works and 
others in the Los Angeles metropolitan area who have 
worked to expand exhibition opportunities and public 
support for African American visual culture. 

The interview is organized chronologically, beginning 
with Riddle's childhood in Los Angeles, California and 
continuing through his activities as an artist in the 
Los Angeles area. Major topics discussed include 
Riddle's individual works of art, African American 
artists in Los Angeles, the effects of racism, and 
Riddle's philosophy of art. 


Steven J. Novak, editor, edited the interview. He 
checked the verbatim transcript of the interview 
against the original tape recordings, edited for 
punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified 
proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor 
have been bracketed. 

Riddle did not review the transcript but provided 
selected names when queried. As a consequence, family 


names and some acquaintances remain unverified. 

William Van Benschoten, editor, prepared the table of 
contents, biographical summary, and interview history. 
Ji Young Kwon, editorial assistant, compiled the index, 


The original tape recordings of the interview are in 
the university archives and are available under the 
regulations governing the use of permanent noncurrent 
records of the university. Records relating to the 
interview are located in the office of the UCLA Oral 
History Program. 


SEPTEMBER 5, 1992 

MASON: Hello. 

So the first question we always ask is, when and 
where were you born? 

RIDDLE: In Los Angeles, California, March 18, 1933. 
MASON: And who are your parents? 

RIDDLE: John Thomas Riddle, Sr., and Helen Louise 

MASON: Okay. Do you have any siblings? 
RIDDLE: Yeah. I have an older sister, Joanne Tyler 
Jefferson, Judy Keeling, and a brother, Paul Anthony 

MASON: Okay. Do you know much about your grandparents 
and your family background? 

MASON: Could you talk a bit about that? 

RIDDLE: Well, let's see. On my mother's side, they lived 
in Bakersfield, California. That's my earliest 
recollection. Although my mother was born in Indiana, in 
Bloomington, we used to spend every summer in Bakersfield. 
That's a town about 115 miles north of Los Angeles, up 
Highway 99--used to be 99 in those days. It was always a 
pleasurable trip, and we would stay for the whole summer. 

When I was young, I didn't realize my mother and father 
were actually getting a summer's vacation from us; we 
thought we were getting away from them. But I think, now 
that I have kids, they got the better deal. [laughter] 

We always went up there usually for Thanksgiving. 
And my grandmother, Emma, she could cook. I mean, like 
everybody says grandmothers could cook. But she actually 
catered for restaurants and hotels right out of her 
kitchen. And it was always interesting. I don't want to 
associate it with food and swimming and just eating grapes 
and having a good time, but-- 

I had an Uncle George who was divorced and he had 
been in World War II and he had turned into an alcoholic. 
But he was like the classic "black wino" philosopher. I 
mean, he would sit and drink wine in the backyard and talk 
until he fell asleep. I slept out under the grape arbor 
with him in the summer, and I'd always listen to him. He 
had a lot of wisdom, but he had no respect. And he had a 
lot of frustration and-- 

MASON: You mean no respect for himself or other people? 
RIDDLE: Well, I mean, the fact that he was an alcoholic, 
he probably didn't have the greatest respect for himself, 
because that's a form of suicide. But he didn't get 
respect from the other people in his family because they 
were embarrassed by the fact that there was an alcoholic 

in the family. He was kind of like a laughingstock. But 
because I was always out there with him at night, and he 
would tell me different things-- I mean, he had a lot of 
wisdom. But it's kind of like the street preachers. You 
hear them out there, and everybody's walking along about 
their own business. Nobody really pays much attention to 
what they're saying. And yet some of them could be 
geniuses if we stopped and listened. 

MASON: It seems like every black family has one. And 
it's usually the case where they were really ambitious 
but, because of their race or because of something like 
that, their dreams were kind of thwarted and so they end 
up being really self -destructive. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, that's true. I remember my grandfather 
[inaudible] Drisdom-- I don't know how many times my 
grandmother had been married, because my mother was a 
Wheeler and so was-- My Uncle George was a Wheeler. But 
my Aunt Suzy, who lives in Los Angeles--she ' s Suzy Johnson 
now--she was a Pinkney, and her brother Oliver, who is 
deceased, he was a Pinkney. And Mr. Drisdom, who was my 
grandfather that I remember-- So at least there's three 
names there. So she must have been married at least three 

MASON : Yeah . 
RIDDLE: But he worked at the railroad. And he had like a 

drawer ful of those pocket watches where the lids pop open. 
He had a whole drawer ful, and I always used to just be 
amazed to look in that drawer and see twenty or thirty of 
those really nice watches. I don't know if they all 
worked or not, but that's one of my memories. Just like I 
had a memory of how she had this chicken coop, my 
grandmother, and she raised chicks, and she cut off the 
chickens' heads when it was time to eat them and wrung 
their necks, and they would flop around in the yard. And 
we'd all look like, "Wow!" Chickens without heads trying 
to get that last flight. You know. So I remember those 
kinds of things. It was always hot, dry. 

Then when I got older, I used to go up there and 
spend the summer. But she used to say, "Well, you're too 
old to sit around. You have to go to work." And we'd go 
work in the fields. The worst job imaginable. And I used 
to wonder then how did black people work in the fields for 
nothing, because I was making like five dollars a week and 
that was nothing. It was hot and long hours and picking 
onions and being-- Picking onions in 110 degrees and 
crying because you had to cut the tops off of them. And 
having so much onion juice and dirt on your hands, you 
couldn't wipe your eyes. You'd just be out there, "Boo 
hoo." And then people would take those onions home at 
night. I didn't want to see an onion I I think the last 

time I spent the summer there, I was eighteen going on-- 
maybe, nineteen. And I came back to L.A. and went to 
school that fall and met Carmen Garrott, who I married and 
am still married to. We've been married thirty-nine 
years, now. But that's another part of the story. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: Now, on my father's side, they had twelve kids. 
He's right in the middle. He was about number six. But I 
think the most interesting thing is, his father was a 
preacher, tall, about six foot five. I remember he had 
white hair and he stood as straight as a stick and he was 
real thin. And his name was C. Morton Riddle. And his 
wife--what's her name? I can't think of my grandmother's 
first name; she was just Grandmother Riddle. I know her 
name but I can't think of it. They had a little bit of 
everything in their family. They had a communist, I mean, 
which is really weird. One of my father's brothers was a 
communist; one was a very successful numbers racketeer and 
bookmaker. My father-- That was Edgar [Riddle] . Edgar 
and my father looked just alike. I mean, they looked like 
Indians. They had very straight hair and high cheekbones 
and a dark complexion like they were Native American 
Indians, not people from India. I always remember Edgar 
was always clean, and he always had on bad suits and tough 
shoes. But he was a very successful bookmaker and numbers 

person in Pasadena. 

My father grew up with the Robinson family. They 
were like Jackie's older brothers and all of that. They 
all knew each other. And one of my father's brothers, 
Ralph [Riddle] , was the first black policeman in Pasadena. 
Let's see: Dwight [Riddle] was the communist. Two of 
them, two of the daughters, never left home. They stayed 
with their mother until she died. I think one of them is 
still alive. Geraldine [Riddle] is still alive, and I 
think Flo [Riddle] just passed recently. I might be even 
getting their names mixed up, but they lived in Pasadena 
on Walnut Street. And we'd go over there a lot, too, 
because it was a lot closer. It was on the original 
freeway in L.A. , the Arroyo Seco. That was the freeway 
into Pasadena. That was the original. That was the only 
freeway in L.A. at one time when I was a kid. We used to 
go out there quite a bit. My grandfathers died in their 
sixties. My father's mother lived to be ninety-three, and 
ray mother's mother lived to be about eighty-four. So they 
lived a long time. But I think the most interesting thing 
was that C. Morton Riddle, my grandfather, was directly 
related by blood to Carter G. Woodson. And one of the 
things that was really funny for me was-- I can't think 
quite now of the name of Carter G. Woodson's book, his 
quarterly publication. It might have been the Negro 

Monthly Digest or something like that. The Negro 
Quarterly Digest [ Journal of Negro History 1 . 
MASON: Yeah, I know what you're talking about. 
RIDDLE: It's in the library downtown. There's a 
gentleman who died and bequeathed this huge collection. 
He tried to collect every black subject book and every 
book by a black author and every slave narrative out. So 
it's called the Williams Collection. It's on the fifth 
floor of the downtown library. 

MASON: So he was going to be the southern Arthur 

RIDDLE: Yeah. In fact, they're rebuilding. We passed 
the building on my way bringing you here which is going to 
be the Fulton County research library. That's going to 
house his collection. They're going to move it out of 
there because too many people steal the books out of 
reference, which is a disservice to everybody who is 
interested to hoard-- But, then, the library is not good, 
because I read-- Now, this is a divergence right here. 
It's about the library and Carter G. Woodson. But I read 
Walter White's The Rope and the Faggot , which was the 
history of lynchings in the United States. At one time he 
was the head of the NAACP [National Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People], Walter White. He's a 
white-looking man, also. 

MASON: Yeah, blond, blue-eyed. 

RIDDLE: Yeah. And so he was able to cross back and forth 
across the color line and get information, like the Spook 
Who Sat by the Door [Sam Greenlee] . I checked the book 
out because I wanted to read it, and it was a signed copy 
in circulation by Walter White. So I got to read it. I 
took it back to the library, and they said, "How did that 
ever get out?" Here it was an autographed copy by the 
author, you know? The library is not supposed to be 
circulating those. But anyway, they aren't that tight 
with control. So it might be better for the Williams 
Collection to be housed in a place that has better 

I found out that on my father's side I was able to 
trace their history, that they came from Virginia, from 
West Virginia. From Virginia, first. It was around the 
time of Alex Haley and Roots , and everybody was looking 
for their genealogy. And I started going, looking up-- I 
could always look up my family, because all I had to do 
was look up Carter G. Woodson's name in Carter G. 
Woodson's books. I mean, I'd look up C. Morton Riddle, 
and maybe once or twice a year he'd write an article about 
his family. And then by finding my grandfather, I could 
get these other names, and I could go back through other 
volumes and look them up in the table of contents. When I 


had time, I could always go in there and read something 
about my family tree on that side. 

The most interesting thing was that his mother was 
one of my father's great, or great-great, aunts on that 
side of the family. So there was this direct 
relationship between my father and Carter G. Woodson and 
my grandfather. So what I found out was-- Like, I 
started reading this, getting back further and further. 
And I read how in one episode where a friend of my 
grandfather smuggled them across the Saint Charles River 
and into West Virginia-- And he founded a church there 
because he was a minister. Then he left there and he 
went to Ohio, where my father was born, in Columbus. And 
then he got a pass to ship out in Los Angeles, which was 

My father went to-- He was a very good athlete. He 
told me this when he was dying. I think it was in '81 
when he passed. He had cancer or the thought of cancer-- 
I never knew whether he really had it or he believed he 
had it, because, you know-- But anyway, I went out to see 
him about three weeks before he passed rather than go to 
a funeral-- So I would sit out there every day, and he 
would tell me stuff. He told me that because of his 
Indian looks they had offered him a job to play baseball 
with the Portland Beavers. That was the Pacific Coast 

League baseball team at the time. But he had to say he 
was Indian and he told them he didn't want to do that. 
Instead, he went to the Negro baseball league, and he 
played with the Negro baseball league. He went to Japan 
two times. It was a touring black baseball team. He 
used to have pictures in his drawer of him and these 
players and stuff. My mother used to say he could really 
play baseball, but he also was-- Between, I guess, 1924, 
'25, somewhere in there, and '27, he was on USC 
[University of Southern California] ' s football team. He 
was the fullback on their football team. 
MASON: He went on an athletic scholarship? 
RIDDLE: No. I don't know, because he graduated with a 
degree in architecture. So I don't know if they were 
giving up athletic scholarships then like they do now. 
MASON: Yeah, I was just wondering if he might be able to 
play sports- - 

RIDDLE: I mean, it's big money now, so that's why they 
do it now. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: Because if you get to play in one of these bowl 
games, it's worth one million dollar revenue to your 
school whether you win or lose. So they're talking about 
big dough for the athletic program. So now they need 
blacks to be competitive, which is a whole other issue. 


That's more closely related to my art and my times. 
MASON: No, I was just wondering if he went there to play 
football or if he went there to get an architecture 
degree. If there was even that distinction. 
RIDDLE: Well, I think, probably in those days the 
distinctions were blurred. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: Because I think most people who went to college 
in those days got a degree. Probably, if I had to bet on 
it, there's probably a higher percentage of degreed 
athletes then than there is now. In fact, I think the 
demands, probably--practice and all that--were probably 
less then than they are now. I talked to a guy who went 
to UCLA, a Rhodes Scholar named Hal Griffin. He was there 
back in the early sixties. He said that it was 50 hours a 
week for football during football season, and 60 hours a 
week of academics to be a Rhodes Scholar. When you add it 
all up, it's 7 times 24, and you've taken 120 off of that. 
I mean, that's not much time to sleep there or eat or do 
anything else, because it comes out pretty close to the 
same amount of time. It's probably about 160 hours. So 
you've got 40 hours a week to sleep, over a seven day 
period to sleep and go do everything. So I mean it's like 
it took up all their time, essentially. 
MASON: You said your father studied architecture? 


RIDDLE: Uh-huh. You know, my mother went to USC also. 

That's where they met. She was a lawyer. She was the 

first black women in the history of UCLA law school to get 

a degree. She got her degree in 1927. 

MASON: I'm sorry, she went to--? 

RIDDLE: She went to ' SC also. 

MASON: As an undergraduate? 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh. 

MASON: And then she went to UCLA law school? 

RIDDLE: No, she went to ' SC law school. 

MASON: Okay. 

RIDDLE: She graduated from 'SC--I meant to say ' SC — with 

the highest-- She's the first black woman to ever graduate 

from 'SC's law school. 

MASON: Okay. 

RIDDLE: And another thing that they did-- I mean nobody 

knows this, but when my father died, they did a lot of 

research on him. My brothers and sisters sent me some 

articles that I left at work. I wish I had brought them 

with me. But she wrote the words to USC ' s fight song, but 

they don't get any credit for it. She don't get no 

royalties. But that "Fight on for Old 'SC"-- In this 

article they wrote about my mother and my father, and they 

said Helen Wheeler wrote the words to USC ' s fight song. 

We didn't even know that. And my sister was talking 


about, "Well, shoot. We ought to be able to sue for some 
royalties." [laughter] You know. 

But anyway, they were at ' SC together. One last 
distinction about my father was he had the record, athletic 
record, for the most touchdowns ever scored by a USC player 
from the time he played until Anthony [T.] Davis scored 
five touchdowns against Notre Dame in '65. He was there 
that day, my father, because he went to every ' SC game, and 
they honored him over the mike that Davis had broken his 
record. He got to stand up, and all his old ' SC buddies- - 
Because I used to go to some of those games. And I mean 
all these old guys are sitting there, "Hey, Fred!" "Hi, 
Bill 1 " [laughter] So it was kind of funny. 

And then generations are so bad. I think Ronald 
Reagan was governor of California. We went to the Rose 
Bowl to see 'SC, and Reagan walked out and people booed. 
And my oldest son, Tony [Anthony Thomas Riddle], he went. 
It was me, my father, and my oldest son, Tony. We went to 
the Rose Bowl and we were all in there and Tony starts 
booing. And my father was like-- He was with all his 
cronies, and he was like, "Shut up! Goddammit, Johnny! 
Can't you make him--? That's disgraceful!" It was like the 
generation gap. So then they stood up for the national 
anthem, right? So my son didn't stand up. Boy, that just 
knocked my father out. "Goddammit, Johnny! Make him stand 


up! All my friends are here!" He's talking out the 

corner of his mouth. "Can't you make him stand up? Jesus 

Christ!" Tony was just sitting there. Since then, I 

mean, me and Tony have laughed about that, and Tony kind 

of feels bad because he shouldn't have dumped his protest 

over on his grandfather. You know, but-- 

MASON: Because he had served in the war. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, and Tony had a-- It was in the year of the 

big naturals, Angela [Y. ] Davis and all that. "Power to 

the people. " 

MASON: So it wasn't necessarily--? 

RIDDLE: My father didn't really-- See, he would have 

joined the army in the First World War, but he was too 

young. And I don't remember now if he didn't get to go 

in, or he didn't go overseas. But he was either on the-- 

A little more than Bill [William J.] Clinton. You know, 

but he's either on the periphery of the army or in, but I 

don't recall that now. I just remember that he's very 

patriotic and that he worked at Douglas Aircraft [Company] 

during the Second World War as a structural architect on 

Douglas's war planes and-- 

MASON: Yeah. Because I was going to ask you if he ever 

got a chance to work as an architect. 

RIDDLE: Oh, yeah. Before the war he worked with Paul 

Williams. He was with Paul Williams, who is a noted Los 


Angeles architect. He was with Paul Williams's firm, and 
then during the war, he went to work at Douglas. And 
then, after the war, he went back with Paul for a while as 
a specifications writer. 
MASON: I'm not sure what that is. 

RIDDLE: That's a person who writes what-- The specs are 
all the detailed things of what are the specif ications- 
If you're going to put these windows in this house, what 
size, what kind of hardware, what kind of windows. The 
specifics. What kind of nails. Because that's all laid 
out somewhere in the architectural plan for a structure. 
What kind of doorknobs. So if it's with plumbing, if you 
write plumbing specs, what kind of pipe, what size, where 
the bends occur, what kind of hardware you would use 
there. So that's, technically, the specifications. What 
kind of toilets. That's if you're plumbing. ^^Jhat kind of 
faucets. Anything related to plumbing, if you're writing 
plumbing specs. 

So the rest of his life-- He always worked as an 
architect or a spec writer. So at the end of his life, he 
worked for a guy who used to work for him named Kerry 
Jenkins. Kerry Jenkins formed a successful architectural 
firm in Beverly Hills out on Wilshire Boulevard, and my 
father worked for him until he died. 
MASON: Can you think of any specific projects that your 


father had been involved with? 

RIDDLE: Well, one of the things that he used to always 
take pride in was up along those streets like Rossmore 
[Avenue] , some of those real nice streets that you can 
take as corridors to Hollywood. Like above Olympic 
[Boulevard], and you go up Rossmore. I used to know all 
of those streets. There's a lot of English Tudor homes 
and a lot of really nice homes there. Well, in that 
year, Paul built a lot of those homes. I mean, it was 
his design and stuff. My father used to go by and say, 
"We did that house." And then we'd go a little further 
and he'd say, "We did this one." And we'd go down 
another street and he'd say, "I remember doing this one." 
Between Vine Street and Wilshire, I'd say, they did a lot 
of houses in there that are still there. Some of the 
Spanish houses. They both basically did residential 
architecture. At one time, I guess, Paul was probably 
the most advanced black architect, maybe [not] in the 
world, but definitely in the United States, at one time 
back in those days, in the thirties, up until the war. 
And the weirdest thing is, my wife's family and my 
father's and my mother and them, they all knew the same 
people, Paul Williams and Delia Williams and all the 
different people. It's really weird. 

In fact, it's so weird that when I was born-- 


There's a lady named Alice Garrott who was Carmen's 
grandmother. I was born two years before Carmen, but my 
mother and father moved into Alice Garrott ' s apartment. 
So the first two years I was born, I lived in that 
apartment of Carmen's, my wife's, grandmother. But I 
didn't meet her until I was fourteen. We have this 
picture at Ferndale, that park up there. It's part of 
Griffith Park, really, but it's before you get to 
Griffith. They have like a little creek and some 
crayfish and these beautiful ferns. And you walk down 
these paths. And people used to go there for brunches, 
and they had where you could cook out and have a nice 
lunch and stuff, you know. But there's a picture-- 
somebody took a picture. It has all the teenagers in 
junior high. And I'm on this end of the picture and, 
about eight or ten kids later. Carmen's on the other end, 
at the same picnic, in the same picture, and we don't 
even know each other. So we always laugh about that. 
MASON: Did you know all of the same people because of 
your class backgrounds and educational backgrounds and 
you just moved in certain circles? 

RIDDLE: I guess it was like-- See, I guess in those 
days, in the black social circle, it wasn't so much 
education as it was, like you said, it was like families. 
Like, you know, there were postal people, all kinds of — 


[tape recorder off] Black community, the social 
community, it was like-- If you could mark the decline of 
it, it's probably the beginning of the so-called "year of 
integration." Because before, when it was like 
segregation, blacks had to depend much more on themselves 
and their organizations and their structures than they 
did after they say, "Okay, everybody's equal." Although 
that's always been a lie. The blacks abandoned their own 
entrepreneurship. One of the main reasons in every black 
city there was like a main black street was because the 
black businesses were on that street. That's what made 
it the main black street. 

MASON: And in L.A., it was Central Avenue. 
RIDDLE: Yeah, right. And it was like the shoe stores. 
In fact, one of my best friends in high school, his 
father owned the Dunlap Shoe Store on Vernon [Avenue] and 
Jefferson [Boulevard] . I mean, Vernon and Central 
[Avenue] , right on the corner. You know, everybody went 
and got their shoes at Dunlap' s. I mean, everybody used 
to crack up because everybody had on a pair of Lorenzo ' s 
father's shoes at one time, because that was a very 
successful-- He had good quality shoes, but you could get 
them from a black person. You could try them on. Some 
of those stores, they probably wouldn't let you try them 



He's just a good example that black businesses 
changed. I was in a barbershop this morning, and I was 
thinking, "Boy, if I ever had a barbershop, my barbershop 
would be called the 'Philosophical Barbershop.'" Because 
when I was a kid, that was a seat of knowledge and 
information and discussion, like in Eddie Murphy's Coming 
to America . I remember those kind of barbershops where 
you had to remember when you came into the barbershop so 
nobody could get their hair cut ahead of you. But then 
there was always conversation about politics and about 
the neighborhood and philosophy. And there were like 
almanacs, "Man, look in the almanac 1" "Willy's right. 
Nineteen twenty-four . " "Joe Louis knocked out Max 
Schmeling in March such-and-such, 1938." "Yeah, Fred, 
you right." But rather than just argue, they always 
referred to the almanac. And they always had an almanac. 
It was funny, because even as a kid, these men-- You 
couldn't jump in. But it was funny, all these different 
characters in the barbershop. Some coming to get their 
hair cut, some just coming to hang out, some just popping 
by and leaving. But there was always like this turnover 
in the barbershop. 

But I was in the barbershop this morning and the 
barbers didn't come in the door and say, "Hey, hello." 
One barber out of four came in and said hello to the 


people who were sitting in there. There's no interchange 
between the barbers; there's no interchange between the 
customers. It was like the epitome of American evolution 
to individualism, where everybody's afraid of everybody. 
Nobody talks to anybody. See, but that's transferred 
over to black people, too. And yet, we're basically a 
very verbal race of people, a very communal race of 
people at one time. We all came out of communal 
structures in Africa that had communal societies where 
everybody was related in activity to everybody else. You 
just didn't have a whole bunch of people who were in the 
particular communal structure who had no role, nothing to 
do, no purpose, just sitting around. You didn't have 
that. We didn't have that until we got to America, and 
it got abstract. I mean, there wasn't anybody just, 
"Man, Where's the rest of the tribe?" "Oh man, they just 
sitting down on some logs down in the woods just poking 
sticks in the ground and feeling sorry for themselves." 
I mean, all that stuff came-- It was a made-in-America 

MASON: What was the religious background in your family? 
You have spoken of a couple of preachers. Or your 
parents, what were they? 

RIDDLE: Well, I don't know. I can remember my mother 
going to the--I still remember what it meant--the AME, 


the African Methodist Episcopal church. And when I was 
in Bakersfield, my grandmother's church was right-- I 
mean, she owned this piece of land. She lived on one 
corner, and there was a house full of these people known 
as the Tomlins. I mean, they were really poor. It must 
have been about thirty of them, it seemed like, and they 
just wore the house to the point where the house just 
fell down. So then there was this big vacant space. 
Then right across from that was this church on the 
corner, and that's my grandmother's church. So all she 
had to do was walk across the yard to get to church. And 
she would make you go to church every Sunday. All 
summer, you'd go to Sunday school. Then Sunday school 
was over and you came home and you had to hang around for 
about an hour and eat something and then she dragged you 
back to church. You sat in there for church, and those 
pews would be hard and just be flattening out your 
behind. You'd be fidgeting and the old people fanning. 
And you couldn't play cowboys on Sunday or play cards or 
go to the movies. You couldn't do nothing on Sunday. 
And then across the street from my grandmother was a 
Holiness church. 

I hope that God forgives me, and the Holiness 
people, but my sister Joanne and I-- See, we used to like 
to always sleep outdoors. And when we slept on the front 


porch, that was a favorite place to sleep. But the 
Holiness church went on all night. And they had like 
sextets and quintets and drums and, I mean, trumpets, 
just like a jazz group. They'd be playing those, and you 
could just hear those people clapping and stomping and 
these horns blaring. So we would always go over there. 
But when you went in the church, we'd sit near the back 
doors, because they always had the doors open because it 
was always hot. And the people would be jumping and 
shouting and be right with this music. And they would 
actually get to the place where they would start-- Well, 
we didn't know they were speaking in tongues, but they 
would transcend their existence and come over to the 
Lord. And we used to think that was the funniest thing 
you could see. And we would sit there, and we'd be 
trying to-- [stifles laughter] . And then when we just 
couldn't hold our laughter anymore, we'd just bust out 
laughing and run out the door. And nobody ever stopped 
us or told us that we couldn't do that, so that's a part 
of my church experience. We used to take all our kids to 
church. We used to take them to an Episcopalian church 
over on the east side, because we liked Father Moore. He 
always had these big things of incense and they'd smoke 
up the whole church, and we liked that. Then when we got 
older, we started taking our kids to a more modern church 


called the Church of Christian Fellowship. His theology 

was like current theology, how it related to people with 

families bringing up kids in the 1950s and sixties. 

MASON: So it was interdenominational? 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh. 

^4AS0N: Non-denominational? 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh, uh-huh. So we went to that until we 

moved. And then when we moved here I joined--all of us 

joined for a minute--the Reverend Albert Cleage ' s Black 

[Christian] Nationalist Church, the Shrine of the Black 

Madonna. That's the first time I ever heard that God was 

black and Jesus was black and it scared the hell out of 

me at first, but then it made sense. I mean, because all 

the happenings in the Christian era, the time of Jesus' 

happening, there was black people. And then when they 

were telling you about he had skin of copper and hair of 

lamb's wool, that don't sound like no white folks. So 

then they started pointing out all the other implications 

and things about Abraham and different things where you 

could see quite easily where it could be black. And so-- 

MASON: One of his concubines was African. 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh, but-- 

MASON: Did you do a--? I think somebody told me you did 

a commission for that church. 

RIDDLE: Yeah. I painted the murals in the church. 


MASON: Where is the church located? 

RIDDLE: The murals are there, but they dropped the 

ceiling. They used to have one of those vaulted ceilings 

like in the old theaters, like the old shows down in Los 

Angeles, like the Pantages [Theater] . And then they had 

the ornate theaters. 

MASON: It would be like the Mayan [Theater] . 

RIDDLE: Yeah, yeah. And this was an ornate theater here. 

I think originally at one time it was called the Gordon 

[Theater] back when that area-- That area was the first 

suburban area of Atlanta, a white bedroom community area. 

And they had this theater called the Gordon that had-- 

When the Black Christian Nationalists first took over the 

church, it had these huge plaster reliefs of these Aryan 

kind of semi -nude men and women, but they were white. But 

they were more Aryan than Greek. They were like in the 

old Greek statue kind of thing. 

MASON: Yeah. It sounds like something they'd do in the 


RIDDLE: Yeah, but you could tell that they looked more 

like the Hitler supermen and women. They definitely had 

that European character. They were definitely pure white. 

They were all-- You know, that was the decor. So they 

took some chisels and just knocked all that out and 

cleaned it all up and replastered the walls. So I painted 


four sixteen-by- twenty foot murals in there. And then 

when I got through, my kids started dropping out of 

church. They wanted my wife to be in charge of the 

nursery, and here she had just had six kids, so she didn't 

want to take care of no more kids in life. So she quit, 

then I quit. 

^4AS0N: What were the murals called and what did they look 

like? They're still there, you said. 

RIDDLE: No, they're covered up. 

MASON: They're covered up. 

RIDDLE: They're not painted over, but-- 

MASON: They dropped the ceiling down. 

RIDDLE: They dropped the ceiling down. The place was so 

tall, they could drop the ceiling down and still have 

probably about a sixteen foot ceiling. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: And it would still cover the bottom of the 


MASON: I see. So they're there and they're not really 

being taken care of? 

RIDDLE: Who knows. But I didn't paint them to-- See, 

this friend of mine, he painted his on plywood and put the 

plywood up on the wall. He painted the pieces behind the 

altar. And I painted mine right on the plaster because I 

thought it was more-- 


MASON : Permanent ? 

RIDDLE: No. When the building goes, the art goes. I 
don't believe in saving art. You know, because I just 
thought when the building is gone--they tear down the 
building or it falls down--the art is gone, too. But that 
seemed more in the realm of the artist to make it 
permanent, because nothing is permanent anyway. 

Then that was basically church. Except we used to 
dress up, clean up, wash up all our kids and put them in 
line and march them off to church every Sunday. I still 
have pictures of that in memory and in photo albums. But 
here as older people, we-- I haven't been to church in so 
long, I'd hate to confess how long ago it was. 
MASON: So, let's see. How was your family involved in, 
say, the civil rights movement? 
RIDDLE: Which one? 

MASON: Well, say, in the fifties in Los Angeles around, I 
don't know, the Rumford Fair Housing Act and those kinds 
of issues - 

RIDDLE: Oh, I was in between, because I had joined the 
air force in '53 and I got out in ' 57 . I was married and 
I had the beginnings of a family and I didn't really 
participate in anything. I mean, there was a lot of 
things that you saw, like-- 

You know, it really came down to what Malcolm [X] 


said, "If you're south of the Canadian border, you're in 
the South." It didn't matter whether you lived on the 
West Coast, the East Coast, Michigan or Mississippi. I 
mean, again, to quote Malcolm, because he summed it up so 
well, "You catch hell in America because you're black, not 
because you're a Christian or a Republican or a Democrat 
or any of those other hyphenateds . " I mean, black people 
just have had a harder time. 

Los Angeles has a slicker way of segregation and 
prejudicial treatment than, say, Louisiana. Because in 
Louisiana, they just put up a sign, "No niggers allowed." 
But maybe in California they didn't have a sign, but they 
had the same mental attitude. I used to go look for jobs, 
and one time I didn't know I was being discriminated 
against. But now, in hindsight, I look back on some of 
those visual remembrances, and I see all the white boys 
going to get jobs at Southern Bell [telephone company] in 
T-shirts with cigarettes rolled up under their sleeve and 
I was dressed in a fine suit from Meyer and Frank of 
Portland, Oregon, and I couldn't get-- They took my 
application and said, "Well, we'll let you know." I can 
still see those white boys who took the test with me 
walking on back in the back, going to phase two, and I was 
going to phase out. So, I mean, you know, it's-- That 
part's the same. It's the same then as it is now as it 


was epitomized by Rodney King and the insurrection. 
There's nothing changed. I mean, we left-- The most 
brutal police that there ever were to me anywhere I've 
ever been were right there in Los Angeles. 
MASON: I agree. 

RIDDLE: I mean, they were gestapo, you know? I mean, 
they would mess with you just to be messing with you. And 
traffic court--just like people came to say later--was 
Just us. Traffic court was always blacks and Mexicans. 
It's just a system that we paid to keep people employed. 
The LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department], they were 
ruthless. They were ruthless before the Watts riots and 
ruthless after it and ruthless through Dead Wyler right up 
to Rodney King. I mean, they still sic dogs on black 
folks. I mean, that's cold-blooded. And with impunity. 
I hated the LAPD. I thought they were the worst people. 
And at one time, just before I left, they were averaging 
killing eighteen people a year under questionable 
circumstances, which is one and a half people a month. 
I can remember one time they almost killed me for 
nothing. I was running to teach night school at L.A. [Los 
Angeles] High [School], because I used to teach night 
school over there. And I was late, because my friend and 
I, we stopped and drank a pitcher of beer, which I 
shouldn't have done. But anyway, I did. I had three 


hours to kill between the end of school and night school. 
So I parked my car and I slid across the seat, and I 
jumped out on the passenger's side. I was going to run 
across the athletic field because my ceramic room was 
right at the gate coming off the track, and I was late. 
And out of the corner of my eye, I saw this car park 
behind me. I thought it was somebody else coming to go to 
night school. And I saw those doors open. But out of the 
corner of my eye, I saw one man reaching for something. 
And I stopped. It was two plain-clothes police that said 
I had run a boulevard stop down on-- I forget the name of 
that street down on the other side of L.A. High, now. And 
they thought I had seen them and I was trying to escape 
and it was a stolen car. They shot at me. If I hadn't 
seen them and just kept running, they'd have shot me. And 
then they would have said, "Oh, we're sorry. We killed 
this man by mistake." And then when they found out I was 
a teacher and that I hadn't stolen the car, they said, 
"Oh, well, you'd better get on to class." But they felt 
guilty because they was going to kill me. So, I mean, 
L.A. 's like that. It was then; it is now. 


SEPTEMBER 5, 1992 

RIDDLE: That's the environment, you know. But I'm 

getting up, on some levels, to the verge of art. So maybe 

I should back off from that. 

MASON: Okay. So you went to school before you joined the 

air force, then? A little bit? 

RIDDLE: Not really. 

MASON: Okay. 

RIDDLE: I mean, I just went to play bid whist and hang 


MASON : Okay . 

RIDDLE: But then when I went in the service, I came out-- 

You could get the GI Bill if you got good grades. 

MASON: Okay. Where were you stationed? 

RIDDLE: We were inducted in Los Angeles. And we got on 

this bus going up to San Francisco to a place called 

Walnut Creek, which had this Parks Air Force Base, which 

is where they had basic training. And, as black people 

tend to gravitate towards each other, sit together and 

talk-- Everybody had their orders in some brown envelopes 

just like these. So everybody pulled out their-- The bus 

hadn't been on the road ten minutes, and everybody is 

pulling out their orders looking at their name. And you 


see "Riddle, John Thomas, Jr." Then it has the AFC- -that 
was your air force identity. It's almost like your Social 
Security card. It said, "AF 1947 0629." The guy said, 
"You'll never forget that number." And you don't. I 
mean, like, because you say it so much--to get paid, to do 
this, to get tested on- -that you always remembered your 
number. Your rank, your number, and all that. 

Well, anyway, after every black person there was this 
N in parenthesis. Even though I looked at mine 
individually, I think everybody's got one. I see it maybe 
ten or twelve times. But I'm new to all these people and 
I don't realize that all the N's is next to black folk. 
So it doesn't take too much of the stretch of the 
imagination to hopefully think that means Negro. So I 
said, "What's this? Eugene Simpson, N. What's yours?" 
"N. Say, man, that must mean 'nigger.'" We were fifty 
miles out of L.A. now. 

Now, we're figuring they do that to all the blacks so 
that, putting the best light on the picture, they don't 
want to get too many blacks by natural selection process 
into the same group. I mean, you might have a group of 
forty men in the training squad or something like that. 
Maybe sixty-four, because I think it was sixteen to each 
group and there were four groups. And maybe they might 
have by just natural selection put nine blacks over here 


and only two over here. But this way they can say, "Dut, 
dut, dut, dut, black, dut, dut, dut, dut, black, dut, dut, 
dut, dut, black." And they can spread the blacks out 
evenly, thereby having less of a problem by having too 
many blacks together. Because they might get together and 
figure out some other racist stuff that was going on, 
right? So, I mean, this is like fifty miles out of L.A. 
And everybody already knows this much about it and we 
ain't been in the air force but an hour. 

So then you find out when you get to technical 
school-- I got out of basic. When you get out of basic, 
they give you a stripe if you haven't screwed up in basic. 
So you become an airman third class. Yeah. So you get 
out of basic and they send you somewhere. Now, it's 
usually to a training school. Now, I was willing to go to 
Biloxi, Mississippi to go to radio school because I wanted 
to be on flying status. That's why I went into the air 
force anyway, because I wanted to fly all over the world 
in airplanes and stuff. So I look up, and they're sending 
me to Cheyenne, Wyoming. 

Now, Cheyenne, Wyoming is a cowboy hick town. They 
had no blacks living in Cheyenne. No black men, no black 
women, no black families at that time. This was 1953. I 
got up to Cheyenne. That's where all of the menial 
service jobs are: supply school. That's where the school 


was. All the menial stuff listed, all the no-rank. Now, 
the rank was down in Texas at aircraft and engines, air 
speed indicators. Everything, the technical, mechanical 
thing to make these planes fly, because that's what the 
air force is in business for. That's where the white boys 
went. I didn't know that until after I went through 
supply school, got my supply number. There was like a six 
digit number that said what your job was, and mine was in 
aircraft petroleum and lubricants. POL [petroleum, oil, 
and lubricants], or something like that. Anyway, that's 
[who] put the oil and the gas in the planes. 

When I got to Japan, which was my next station, I'm 
out on the flight line, and all I see are white boys. You 
know, but I mean we'll talk to them, because I'm putting 
gas in the planes and stuff. And we're talking, "Where 
you from?" "I'm from Ohio, Mississippi," anyplace. You 
know, "Anyplace USA." "How long have you been in the 
service?" "Oh, I been in here eighteen months." You 
know, just basic talk. This guy's got three, four stripes 
on his arm. I only got the same two that I got when I got 
out of Cheyenne, Wyoming. I never got more than two the 
whole time I was in the air force. I used to look at 
these white guys--they'd be in-- But see, they want to 
keep you if you're highly skilled, because they spend a 
lot of money to train you. So they entice you with rank. 


So all the rank is going to the guys who know how to fix 
the planes and do these technical things. But the people 
who do food service, make sure that the sheets and stuff 
get cleaned and all this menial stuff, they ain't going to 
get no rank. So they're giving all the rank to the white 
boys. All through the service I saw that. 

And I'll end on my service by this: At one time, 
through the service, I was a veterans' counselor, and 
these black guys would come. This was the year when the 
navy and the air force and everybody was trying to purge 
as many blacks out of the service as they could. So they 
would offer these black guys general discharge, anything 
but an honorable. And they had these codes on your 
discharge forms that-- I mean, nobody knows that they're 
there, unless you have the discharge code book, which I 
had as a veterans' counselor. I had access to it at one 
time. They had the worst descriptions. 

I mean, it would say K-3 in some little box. And all 
you see is you got a general discharge and you run out and 
say, "Man, look. I did my time. So give me a job?" See, 
because they would always say, "Have you been in the 
service?" And you'd say, "No." "Well, we can't hire and 
train you and we know Uncle Sam is going to draft you. 
You go take care of your service obligation and come back, 
and we'll give you a job!" That used to be the line 


before you went in the service. That's what they would 
all say to you. These guys would come back, and up on 
here it would say K-3. And you'd look up in the book. 
And K-3 would be "homosexual tendencies." And this guy is 
walking around, and he may be homosexual, he may not be. 
But he's walking not knowing it says that. "Thief." I 
mean, it wouldn't be quite that bad, but it would be 
"distrustful, dishonest." And these employers could look 
and "Sorry, Mr. Jones. We don't have any work today." 
See now, they are shooting people down like that, and 
these people are running around thinking they got a good 

Now, the service was doing that right up until the 
time where they said, "Let's have an all-volunteer army." 
I don't know if you remember that. Because it was a semi- 
peacetime. The white boys could make more money not 
messing with the service. The draft wasn't drafting 
people. So let's have an all-volunteer army. So blacks 
started gravitating towards that, because there's two 
things about the service: If you stay and you do your 
job, you're going to get promoted. And rank rules. A 
sergeant can tell a corporal what to do, a corporal can 
tell a private, a lieutenant can tell a sergeant, the 
captain-- I mean, it's there. It's the rank. And if you 
go against the rank, you get busted. You get put out of 


the service for not cooperating. So here's a chance for 
some blacks to have a skill, have a guaranteed job--which 
is another hard thing for black folk- -and have authority 
over other people based on rank. 

So blacks gravitated to the service, the same way 
they did to the post office. Back in my mother's time, 
she worked in the post office. The joke was, "Where can 
you find more Ph.D.'s than anywhere else in black America? 
In the post office." Because even though you might be a 
Ph.D., you couldn't get no job, so you had to work in a 
post office. You were a clerk. They weren't usually 
carriers, but they were usually the clerks, the people who 
cased up the mail and got the mail ready for the carriers 
to take out. And it was the same there, except it was 
reverse. Blacks had seniority. And then, all of a 
sudden, the next thing you heard coming out of the 
Pentagon, there's too many black people in the army, too 
many in the air force, too many in the marines. We've got 
to abolish this volunteer service, because blacks was 
overusing it. It scared the hell out of them white 
people, just like you said about the art. 

Anytime the white people see the black people making 
progress, it scares the hell out of them. It shouldn't, 
but it does. If you complete your education, and you 
start making headway, it's going to be, "Oh, we've got too 


many tenured blacks on our faculty. Isn't that--" You 
scare white people, because you beat the system. You're 
not in the prison system, you're not on drugs, you're not 
a prostitute, you're not on welfare. You can beat their 
system. That makes you dangerous. They've got to figure 
out how to pick you off some kind of way. "Well, how'd 
this Negro get through? Where did we go wrong?" 
[laughter] "Put out a study." [laughter] Those kinds of 
things. I mean, but that's America. 

MASON: Yeah. Well, how long did you stay in Japan? 
RIDDLE: Two years. Twenty- two months, actually. 
MASON: Did you like it there? Or what did you get out of 
being in Japan, if anything? 

RIDDLE: Well, I think the most memorable was the two 
seventeen-day ocean voyages to Japan. I look back and 
that was magnificent, being in the middle of the Pacific 
Ocean in the middle of the night with the moon shining on 
the water. Everything was silent, even on a night when 
there was no moon and it was pitch black and all you could 
hear was the sound of the water against the ship and the 
ocean in general. I mean, you couldn't see nothing. 
That's spectacular: seeing the ocean-- We went through a 
storm, and seeing the ocean in a storm stage with huge 
waves and gray and misty and you couldn't see that far 
ahead of the ship-- The immensity of the ocean. It's a 


good thing to put you in size and world relationship to 
your surroundings, to be just a little thing. I think 
about it now, and I think about-- That's one of my 
favorite things, is the middle passage. I think about how 
they used to talk about scurvy and beriberi, lack of fresh 
water and this and that. And then you think about those 
black people in the ship. But that was very memorable. 
The thing that I found out, too, it was the first 
time I found out how much black people think alike, 
although we don't admit it and we don't cooperate with 
each other. I remember walking down in Japan in a place 
called Fukuoka City--that's where I was stationed, down at 
Itazuki Air Force Base on the island of Kiushu, down in 
southern Japan. I hadn't been there maybe a month, and I 
passed this black soldier walking down one of these dark 
streets. And he said, "Hey, brother." I said, "Uh-huh, 
what's happening man?" We did the usual black greetings, 
you know. "Where do all the black folk hang out?" I 
always remember that. You know, black folk always want to 
find out when they 're in a strange place where do the 
other black people hang out. And then I noticed how many 
black people have mustaches and beards. And I used to 
wonder-- All black men have mustaches. You couldn't have 
a beard in the service, but they all had mustaches. "Why 
do blacks all have mustaches?" So I cut mine off because 


I didn't want to participate in some blackness that I 
didn't know. I would just be carried along with the mass 
of black folk. Because I like to know why I do what I do, 

I remember that. Then I remember that after you get 
over your initial culture shock about being in a strange 
place, you find out that the Japanese people didn't like 
us at all. 

MASON: They don't like anybody who's not Japanese. 
RIDDLE: Yeah, that's true. They're like the French on 
that level. But the white people that I was with, they 
thought the Japanese loved them. 
MASON: They thought what? 

RIDDLE: I mean, the white guys that were over there in 
Japan, a lot of them thought the Japanese people loved 
them. And yet, to me maybe because I have that-- See, we 
all have that antenna as black people. Anything racial 
and these little antenna come, and they be searching for 
the direction where the racism is coming from, you know. 
Overt, covert, still it would set off them antennas. I 
just noticed that they didn't like us. But I did notice 
that if you took the time to be involved in their culture, 
to learn their language to the degree that you were trying 
to deal with Japanese, to that degree they would accept 
you up to the point of what we call now in current jargon 


the "glass ceiling." There was a certain barrier that 
you'd never cross over if you weren't Japanese. But they 
didn't see that. I used to always see this-- I still, 
when I think about Japan, I see this huge twenty- foot-high 
chain-link fence around the unapproachable parts of the 
Japanese culture that the Americans were not going to be 
involved in. So I remember that. 

MASON: Were you interested at all in the art and 
architecture that was there? No? 

RIDDLE: Uh-uh. [negative] The service is the dawn of my 
interest in art, though. When I left Japan, I went to 
Portland, Oregon, and I was a clerk. I sat at this desk 
right in front of this clock--although the clock was 
probably fifty, sixty feet away--but it was up on this 
wall. It was a big, old clock. And you could sit there 
and watch how much time you had left in the service. Tick 
tock, tick tock. And I mean, just sitting there I learned 
a lot of things. I learned that I smoked cigarettes every 
forty-five minutes. Because I was sitting next to this 
guy named Mudget, a white guy. He smoked every fifteen. 
Every fifteen minutes I could hear him rustling in 
his pocket, getting out his Lucky Strikes. And I was 
always looking at the clock, and I began to see that there 
was a correlation between 12:00, 12:15, 12:30, 12:45, and 
1:00 and Mudget digging in his pockets. Then I started 


noticing that if he was on a time frame, I was too. And I 
noticed mine was every forty- five minutes I lit a 
cigarette. So then I got to the point where I wouldn't 
smoke as long as I could last. And I got so I could get 
to 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00. Then I got to the place 
where I didn't have to smoke no more. So, I mean, I liked 
it for that. 

There was a guy sitting over on this side. He was a 
staff sergeant named Tony Hoffus and he had been in the 
air force long enough to have been a prisoner of war in 
the Second World War. This was like '56 so, you know, he 
was a career soldier. He had a tattoo, one of those kind 
of prison camp tattoos that the Germans put on, like the 
Jews always show their number? See, they would actually 
take and tattoo with India ink a permanent number on you. 
He had one of those numbers from when he was in a prisoner 
of war camp. He had gotten captured by the Germans. But 
he was Dutch, so they didn't kill him like they might have 
a Jewish person. But anyway, he loved Rembrandt, and he 
was always looking at Rembrandt. He said, "John, John, 
look at this." And I'd look at Rembrandt. Then I started 
liking Rembrandt. 

MASON: Was he a practicing artist? 

RIDDLE: No, he was a connoisseur. He liked music and 
art. He was like the classic music appreciation person. 


He felt that music, art was important in his life. He used 
to have my wife and I over to dinner, he and his wife, 
Katie. And they had like a Rembrandt --you know, it was a 
reproduction, obviously--of the girl with the broom in the 
half door. It shows this girl, she's leaning, looking out 
the half door, and there's a broom with her. And I liked 
that picture so much. 

I mean, I learned from him a lot about art, but I also 
learned that in this modern age of black printmakers, for 
instance, and photo-reproduced artworks that everybody 
has-- That they're popular. Like Varnette. I mean, I know 
Varnette Honeywood, because she was a student when I was 
teaching at L.A. High. I never had her in a class, but I 
knew her then, and I still do. But see, black people will 
pay a lot of money for a reproduction of a print, not even 
a handmade one by the artist actually doing the work, but a 
machine-made copy in additions--like Ernie Barnes--of 
thirty thousand, right? And I learned from Tony that if 
you could go buy a reproduction of a Rembrandt for two 
dollars, that reproductions only have value aesthetically. 
They didn't have value of appreciation as art. They 
didn't have value of appreciation as an investment or any 
of that-- just appreciation of the work itself. And it's 
hanging in your house because you like it. 

So, I mean, I learned a lot of things, but I didn't 


know that I was going to like art. Because I got out of 
the service and you could go to school on the GI Bill. I 
wanted to be a geologist, because I liked earth science. 
So I studied that through almost two years at LACC [Los 
Angeles City College] . The place where I used to go play 
bid whist, now, I was back at the same place studying. I 
got my first degree I ever got in any kind of educational 
institute. I didn't get a high school diploma; I didn't 
get a junior high diploma. I always hung with the bad 
kids, and I always managed to get kicked out of the school 
by graduation time. So the first diploma I ever got was 
associate of arts from L.A. City College over there on 
Vermont. And that was right at the time it was turning 
into-- The Cal[ifornia] State Pomona campus was on L.A. 
City College's campus. Then they moved out there, out San 
Bernardino freeway to where they are now. It's now Cal 
State University, L.A. 
MASON : Okay . 

RIDDLE: But at that time, it was at City College campus. 
Then it moved out and started the campus that ' s out there 
now. A lot of my friends transferred, because they said 
they wanted to go to a state college. I stayed because it 
was cheaper. You could go to City College for six dollars 
a semester plus books. So you couldn't beat that. 
MASON : No . 


RIDDLE: Plus, I mean, it was right in town, whereas you 
had to go way out there to the San Bernardino freeway to 
get to-- It seemed like a long way, but after I started 
going there, it wasn't that long a way anyway. 

But I got an associate of arts, and it was the first 
time I ever got to wear one of those caps and gowns. That 
kind of was very influential, because when I got to the 
junior and senior year of college, I made the dean's honor 
list. So I had gone off from being what my mother and 
father wanted me to be like when I was in public school to 
finally what I should have been. But it took the maturity 
of the service. I don't know. I come back and all --not 
all, but a lot--of my friends were dead, a lot of them in 
jail, a lot of them whose lives was all screwed up. So it 
was good for me to get out of L.A. 

MASON: You can get that way from playing bid whist all 
the time? 

RIDDLE: Well, that was-- Well, yeah. See, we used to 
ditch school and play bid whist and go over to this friend 
of mine, where all the kids hung out, named Earl Tatum. 
Instead of going to high school, we would go hang out at 
Earl's house and play bid whist and get in trouble. But 
you know, the weird thing is that there was no incentive 
even then for emphasis on black males to become all they 
could be. The emphasis then, as it is now, is a kind of 


self -destructive thing. 

I remember I did a piece of art once called The Pre- 
programmed , and it was based on the fact that black youth 
were pre-programmed to do what they're doing now. Except 
the drive-by shootings and the murder thing wasn't in it 
when I grew up, but everything else was. It was just 
negative behaviour. Negative outlook. Develop your 
exterior. Have a front. Be cool. Be hip. Even if you 
don't have nothing, look hip. Look like you had 
everything. Walk like you had everything. Have a 
pimpstep in your walk. Talk plenty of stuff, and let all 
of that exterior-- Stand on the corner with the other men 
and hold your private parts to show you was a man. All 
those other black games that we still play that spin off 
into basketball and other things. You know? But black 
people have always-- Black men have always emphasized the 
exterior, the illusion that "Yeah, man, I've got it all." 
They ain't got nothing. And everybody else know you don't 
have nothing, but nobody said, "Man, you ain't got 
nothing." They said, "You bad, man." They know you ain't 
got nothing. Talking about you bad because you got on 
some $200 tennis shoes. So it was fronting then, and it's 
fronting now. 

MASON: What medium was that piece that you were talking 


RIDDLE: It was a painting. But I always have done-- Not 
always. I kind of wanted to just be an abstract painter. 
But then I remember when I read Seize the Time : [ The 
Story of the Black Panther Party ] in ' 68 and Bobby Seale 
said in there-- He's a got a line in there where he says, 
"Art ain't shit." And when I read that I was just 
completing nine years of night school, because I always 
went to school at night because I always had a family. It 
took me nine years from the time I went to City College to 
the time I graduated from Cal State with a B.A. in 
education. It took me nine years of night school to pick 
up four years' worth of credentials. But, I mean, I never 
quit. I used to think, if you quit-- Wherever you stop on 
any odyssey in your life, if you quit, that's where you'll 
be. Now, you may have to cut back from running to 
crawling, but you've got to keep making a little forward 
progress. You've got to do that. Because once you stop, 
it's harder to start it all up again. 
MASON: So what degree were you going for at night? 
RIDDLE: Well, I switched from geology and earth science 
to art. And then I was in art and English. I said I'd 
better get a job teaching school, because I had a family. 
And then I switched from geology to art with an art minor 
and an English major. And then art, I started liking it 
more. So art took over as a major, English took the 


minor. By the time I graduated, I had a B.A. in education 
with an emphasis on being an art teacher. 
MASON: Did you have to pick a medium? Painting or 

RIDDLE: Actually, I started off painting, but I liked-- I 
found an interesting thing in school, because you had to 
take all the different classes. I can remember when I 
took ceramics just as an elective. And I remember one day 
sitting at the potter's wheel, and I was making-- Because 
they won't let you on the potter's wheel at first. They 
make you do hand construction, learn the theory and 
techniques and all of that, some glazes. The thing I 
remember was making a piece of pottery, and I lost it on 
the wheel. I took it off and I set it over there, and I 
started on another. I was centering and I happened to 
look over at this piece, and I realized that it was a 
three-dimensional blob. It created its own shadows, it 
occupied its own space. You didn't have to draw it 
because it was already there. You didn't have to try to 
render shadows and values and everything because they were 
already there. You didn't have to try to figure out where 
the opening in the piece would be, what they call the 
negative space, because it was already there. 

I became intrigued with that. I said, "Well, I like 
sculpture better." Because even though I might not be 


able to draw that exact edge that I want, I could take 
that clay and I could push it and bend it until I saw the 
formal relationship between what I was trying to do and 
what came in the next part. I could see that continuity 
because it was there. If you turned it real slow and it 
made sense over here, but you turned it over here and 
there was no relationship, then you had to effect some 
kind of change between this side and that side. And then 
you start thinking analytically, like, "What would an ant 
see if he crawled along the table and he looked up?" 
Because you've got all these views. 
^4AS0N: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: But you didn't have to draw them. Like, you try 
to sit up and draw six views of the same vase from one 
position. So you're only seeing one reality, the other 
five are your imagination. But if you put it on a 
turntable and you turn it slowly, you can use that energy 
that you're trying to imagine; you can put that direct 
energy into the transformation of concept to reality. So 
I liked that, you know. And so I began to think-- 
MASON: So you stopped painting, and then you went into 
RIDDLE: Well-- 
MASON: Well-- 
RIDDLE: Sort of. 


MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, in a way. And then a weird thing happened 
one time, because I like printmaking, too. Etching. But, 
I mean, you had to work like hell for an etching. You had 
to work the plates and you had to ink them and you had to 
soak the paper and put it in a blotter so it would be just 
right when you put it through the press. You had to wipe 
the plates where the highlights were supposed to be and 
all the ink was in the right place. You'd run it through 
the press and then you ' d take the paper and tape it up to 
the wall so the paper wouldn't get crinkled when it dried. 
Because it was really 100 percent rag--good paper. All of 
that for one print, and then you might not like it, you 
know. And I mean it was drudgery. But I mean, it was 
discipline. But it was a form, and I liked it. 

Then one day I went to a faculty art show where all 
the faculty people had the chance to put their art up for 
the students to see. I think this guy's name was Mr. 
Fifer or something like that. Something with an F. Mr. 
Fiedler. And Mr. Fiedler, what had happened at that time, 
he was my printing teacher, but he had paintings. I 
always was familiar with his print work. And to see his 
paintings, I mean, it was like he had been completely 
unchained from the technical drudgery process to the 
direct process. If you want red, you stick your brush in 


the red, hit the canvas. I mean, he had so much freedom 
and just energy and movement. And I was looking at his 
art. And I came back and said, "Mr. Fiedler, I noticed, 
when you don't make prints, you're so free." He said, 
"Oh, I feel so free. I may never go back to printmaking. " 
Because he had just discovered this. 

So then I found out that art is boring. So I found 
out that if you switched from-- You did sculpture till you 
got tired of it, then you switched to painting, and then 
you switched to-- At that particular time, I could do 
painting, sculpture, and ceramics. They were all a 
different medium. But by switching and always seeing what 
I saw as the relationship, anyway, between the three, I 
always had a fresh media to work with. That way I didn't 
get bored and stressed out by the fact that I'm tired of 
this, you see. So that way I felt like I could keep a 
continual kind of growth going, and that's how I evolved 
into always switching media. So like, right now, I'm 
painting, but I'm thinking I've got to move to assemblage, 
because assemblage is the beginning of the manipulation of 
physical objects, even if they're painted. Still, you've 
got to start using nail and glue and other things besides 

MASON: What was the first assemblage that you can 


RIDDLE: The first ones I really did were-- I mean, I 

guess I had done some others. Well, I had been welding, 

too. I used to love to weld found objects. I think all 

my materials I wanted to come out of things that people 

had discarded that I could reclaim-- Burnish up, polish 

up. You always had to cut a piece or a part off. I had 

this rule: you couldn't take the found object in its 

exact context and stick it in some art. You had to cut a 

piece off; you had to do something to it so it wasn't the 

same as what you found. But it was still either 

symbolically recognizable as being what it was or fit some 

other purpose in the context of parts. 

MASON: I think you have one picture of one of the earlier 


RIDDLE: Oh, yeah. Those are funny pieces. 

MASON: They're what pieces? 

RIDDLE: That's when I used to sweep stuff out of the 

middle of the street . 

MASON: Okay. This is from Black Artists on Art and it's 

called Street Trial and it's dated 1968 and it's welded 


RIDDLE: We were talking about how cold-blooded the police 

are. And that was like the police arrested you, tried 

you, and convicted you right in the street with their 

guns. That's why that man had that big hole in him. But 


like all of these pieces-- I used to get up in the 
morning, like on Sunday morning, and take a cardboard box, 
a dustpan, and a broom, and drive and park. 

I don't know how long you've been in Los Angeles, but 
at one time in Los Angeles they used to have these signs 
that the traffic department would put out and then pick 
them up every day. And they would say "No left turn." 
And they would put them right in the middle of the 
intersection. And they would be facing so that-- You 
know, what directions the people could-- If they didn't 
want anybody to turn left, they'd have two facing this way 
and two facing this way. So everybody saw "No left turn" 
during certain hours. Then they would come along with 
this truck, and a guy would pick them up and put them back 
in the truck. The truck would never stop rolling. He 
would just go real slow. He'd take them up and stash them 
somewhere till the next day. But now, in the center of 
the intersections, even after they stopped using that 
method of traffic control in Los Angeles, all the debris 
from the tires is pushed to the middle. It's still there. 

If you drive through the middle of the intersection 
in the left-hand lane, [if] you get right in the middle, 
you'll see "od" from "Ford" where somebody hit somebody 
else and part of their grille parts had fallen off. Now, 
this was before everything was plastic, too. See, most of 


the stuff in the street was metal. Now it's plastic and 
rubber, so it was harder to deal with. But there were 
always screws and nuts and bolts and bottle caps and all 
kinds of weird things that you would never expect. So I 
would go out and harvest the intersections . I'd sweep up 
five or six intersections, come home, dump the stuff out 
on a big table and sort the dirt. Because you'd get all 
the rocks and glass and everything, too. And if I found 
an interesting piece, I'd set that aside. 

So I would have me this whole collection of just what 
I called fragments that I was going to turn into ghetto 
flowers. I was just going to take some brass rod and weld 
them, fuse them together by dripping. I used to have all 
kinds of methods. One time I took a hubcap. It didn't 
melt. I don't know what it was made of, but brass 
wouldn't stick to it. I could just put ghetto parts in 
there from the intersections, and they'd all kind of 
gravitate to the concave surface. And I could just use 
that and drop molten brass rod in there, and that would 
stick all these different parts together. Then I would 
have something that was shaped like the inside of the 
hubcap. But it was all these different fragments. So I 
put a stem on it, and it was a ghetto flower. 

But then when I got more interested in the prison and 
in the police and all that, I started making people. But 


these people actually evolved from ceramics when I used to 
do ceramics. This is probably a machine cut out that was 
kind of bent. And this is a glob of something that was in 
an intersection. I used to just go around just looking. 

One of the most interesting-- I don't know if you 
know Bill [William E.] Pajaud? 
MASON: Yeah, we interviewed him. 

RIDDLE: Me and Pajaud-- He was at Atlanta Life. He was a 
curator for their art collection. He was an artist, but 
he had quit doing art though. He said, "Man, art's too 
hard. I quit. I ain't doing it." So I used to go get 
him on Saturday and drag him. "Come on, Pajaud. We're 
going to do art." And he would go sketch, and I would go 
sketch. But we sketched totally different things. But 
every Saturday morning I'd go get Pajaud and I'd sweep up 
some intersections and go to the junkyard and we'd hang 
out for maybe three or four hours . 

I talked to Pajaud yesterday. He's in Las Vegas, 
now. I found a picture of his father [William E. Pajaud, 
Sr.]. His father was a musician in the Eureka Brass Band. 
He used to always do those Eureka Brass Bands. And I was 
in the library researching--that ' s one of the things I 
freak out on. I'd rather do research than the art. So I 
was in there researching one day, and I saw his father's 
picture in an old book of New Orleans jazz musicians. And 


I said, "This has got to be Pajaud's dad," because his 
name was spelled the same, and I remembered Pajaud said 
his father played trombone. He was in the hall of fame 
in this book. So I xeroxed that page, and I want to send 
it to Pajaud. So I got his address yesterday. 

But Pajaud and I would go out. I got to the place 
where I used to call it--it's a word that starts with an 
"R. " I can't even think of it now. But it was like 
going out and finding junk. One of my games I used to 
love to play was-- Over on the east side there were still 
some railroad tracks, and some of these railroad tracks 
led to places where they ground up cars, smashed them up, 
ground them up into little bits--little twisted, gnarled, 
rusty bits of metal . They would ship them in these 
boxcars over to Long Beach. They had this big conveyor- - 
because I followed the trail one day, and they had this 
big conveyor. All the metal scrap would go up this 
conveyor and you'd see it dropping off, making noise by 
falling in the hull of this ship. This was like in the 
real early seventies, late sixties, between '65 and '70. 
All these ships had Japanese names: the Nara Maru , the 
Suzi Moru . the Ekudu Moru . All these ground-up car parts 
were going to Japan to come back as Toyotas, Datsuns, all 
these cars. But at the time, the Japanese hadn't come 
back. See, the Japanese just made compact cars originally. 


MASON : Yeah . 

RIDDLE: Little gas mileage cars. 

MASON: Yeah, because we have better steel than they do. 
RIDDLE: Yeah. And they ground up our cars, took the 
ground-up parts to Japan, created these little tinny, 
thirty-mile-a-gallon cars, when we were getting sixteen 
and twelve, called them compact cars. It killed us. You 
could drive those from suburbia to Los Angeles. It saves 
huge amounts on your gas bills, because at the same time 
our cars were evolving to the big fins, and they were 
getting more and more gaudy. The gaudier they were-- The 
big headlights and ornaments. And here the Japanese were 
making these little compacts. 

I did a piece of art about this. This is a 
divergence. But I remember one time there was a police 
station that's gone now. It was up on Pico just by 
Rimpau. In fact, that's the street I almost got shot on, 
was Rimpau . 
MASON: Oh, yeah. 

RIDDLE: It was right next to a Sears store up there on 
Pico. It sat right out on the sidewalk. It was a 
classic police station. It had the steps going up and 
glass balls on the little lampposts and you could look in 
there and see what was happening. So I used to like to 
go sketch in front of the police station. But it was in 


the days of the Black Panthers and all that, and they 
thought that I was some kind of revolutionary drawing 
diagrams. They used to send people out to ask me what 
the hell I was doing and all this. And I used to like it 
after I got used to it. Because at first, they'd always 
send out some little rookie, and you could tell because 
his hat was all down on his ears. "What are you doing, 
fella?" You'd tell him and he'd be confused and he'd go 
back and they would send a more senior person out. And 
you could always get them to talk about the Jews . I was 
teaching in Beverly Hills, so it must have been '70, 
about then. You start talking about the Jews, and those 
old racist crackers would forget what you were there for. 
They'd start talking about the Jews, too. Then you'd let 
them run off about the Jews and anti-Semitism for four or 
five minutes. They'd say, "Well, see you later, buddy." 
And they ' d go on back and leave you alone . 
MASON: You were a friend after- - 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh. That's how I knew how to get rid of 

So anyway, I was doing two kinds of sketches. I 
just wanted to sit there and look at the police 
department. Now, this was the Vietnam era, too, and the 
police they were recruiting were Vietnam veterans. They 
still were wearing their crew cuts and they had the-- I 


remember one night I'll never forget. It was changing 
shifts and these cops came, they were going into the 
police station. There was about six of them, and they 
were kind of playing because it wasn't their routine. 
They got in line and one guy said, "Hut, two--" and they 
went marching in just like they were in the Marine Corps. 
But the other thing I saw was they all came in Datsuns 
and Toyotas. So I put that in my picture. Because, see, 
all the police at that time-- Not all, because-- Just 
like they were in Simi Valley, you know, where they tried 
Rodney King. They were all in Redondo Beach, Hermosa 
Beach, Huntington Beach, all down the coast, which meant 
they had to come a hell of a long way to get to this 
police station in the black neighborhood up on Pico, to 
do their eight hours of occupation duty. And they drove 
these little compact cars, because they had a sixty-, 
seventy-mile round trip. See, I was looking at all that. 
That ' s how I remember when the Datsuns and the Toyotas 
were just little teeny cars. That's how I see that 
relationship through art. That's why, to me, I can see a 
lot of social relationships, which goes back to the 
beginning of this long discourse on Bobby Seale saying, 
"Art ain't shit. " 
MASON: Okay. You know, I should stop you here, because 


the tape is going to run out and I don't want you to get 
started and then we have to stop. 
RIDDLE: Okay. 


SEPTEMBER 5, 1992 

MASON: You were around the police station and Bobby Seale 

RIDDLE: You know, I was right at a place where I met my 
first black artist--who I consider my first black artist: 
Noah Purifoy. I knew Ruth [G.] Waddy. I was out of 
school then, but I was at a crossroads when I read what 
Bobby Seale said. I didn't really want to do social 
commentary as much as I wanted to just do great big 
abstract, expressionistic pieces that let you have the 
freedom to splash color and do all those kinds of things. 
MASON: Is that how you had been painting in school? 
RIDDLE: No, I had never even done it. I had never 
considered it. I mean, it was just-- It was like I still 
got the urge for it. Maybe I'll never do it; maybe I'll 
never get the courage to just be abstract, because it 
takes a different courage to stand on a reputation of 
color and form and that kind of expression devoid of 
classic subject matter. You can get a reputation off 
classic subject matter. You can draw like Charles [E.] 
White: over and over are different images, but it still 
becomes Charles White's style. 

So anyway, that's another thing. It was right before 


the Watt riots, and I met Ruth Waddy. 

MASON: How did you meet her? 

RIDDLE: I don't remember. It's like when you meet people 

that you always have known and liked. Sometimes it's real 

hard to remember because maybe the meeting was so 

inauspicious that you just don't remember, you know. But 

you remember some of the things that came after. 

I remember Ruth didn't live too far from me up ■ 
Western [Avenue] . I lived at Western and Twenty- seventh 
[Street] , and she lived just above Venice [Boulevard] on 
Western. So we were neighbors of sorts. I remember one 
time Ruth called one Saturday. It was a cloudy Saturday, 
kind of like this, except it was a little more threatening 
looking. And she said, "John, I want you to meet 
somebody. Could you come by and pick me up?" I came by 
and picked her up. She took me over to Noah Purifoy's 
house . 

He lived on La Brea [Avenue] , somewhere between Adams 
[Boulevard] and Washington [Boulevard] , or Washington and 
Venice. Somewhere right in that part of it. We went over 
there, and here was this man living in this little house 
in the back. He had made everything in the house: the 
couches, the rugs, the beds, the paneling, the door. It 
was the most artistic thing. Everything had the stamp of 
Noah Purifoy: collector of odds, ends, scraps, discarded 


stuff turned into really elegant things. So he talked and 

we talked and we got to be friends. It was probably '64, 

because when the riot came I was into collecting this 


MASON: That was Noah Purifoy's influence, then? 

RIDDLE: Yeah. Well, I mean, he was an assemblage person. 

I liked assemblage, too, but I was getting ready to like 

it more than I had ever liked it. Because when the riots 

came, all these burned-out buildings were there. There 

were charred remains and this and that. What was really 

weird was I met some black artists poking through the 

ruins. And I was in there with my little box, poking 

through the ruins just like they did. That cash register 

was like-- I found a burned-out cash register. 

MASON: This is called The Ghetto Merchant . 

RIDDLE: The idea was to take a cash register and 

dismantle it with screwdrivers and stuff till I got to the 

part where the part I liked was left. And I just put some 

legs on it and called it The Ghetto Merchant . 

MASON: Where did you get the--? Is all of this part of 

the cash register that you dismantled? Or--? 

RIDDLE: No, it's junk. Now, see those others? Like that 

thing up at the top? 

MASON: Uh-huh. 

RIDDLE: I was telling you about when I went off on a 


divergence about the Toyotas and the Datsuns and the 
little bent-up metal-- I used to love to walk up the 
railroad tracks, and I used to play this game. I'd take a 
box--I had this box that had a handle on it so I could 
carry it--and I'd walk as far as I could walk up the 
railroad tracks, picking up only those things that caught 
my eye. Because you saw a whole myriad of things, but you 
got to the point where your eye would see the thing you 
wanted out of forty things. Because you do it every day. 
You don't know what you're going to use it for in art, but 
you're walking and you pick up that. You could only walk 
as far as you knew you could carry that box back when it 
was too full and too heavy to carry. Now, if it took you 
longer to find interesting things, you walked further. 
Just grabbing up everything you saw, you couldn't walk as 
far because the box got heavy, and then you'd have to walk 
back to your car and throw the box in the car. So every 
day on the weekend I would do that, you know. 

I used to go down alleys, industrial alleys, anywhere 
where I thought I might see something. Then I got to a 
place where, if my instincts told me to turn here, I'd go. 
I'd find things like the legs on that Street Trial . I 
found this place that did castings. And here, that man's 
legs were dripping from the foundries. I guess they 
dumped the drippings, and somebody picked them up. 


I used to love to go to places that did fabricating. 
They had these big metal things [and] the trash truck 
would come and pick up the whole thing. I don't know if 
you've ever seen one. They have these long things-- 
They're made so that a truck can come and scoop them up, 
and it turns into part of the truck. They just haul the 
whole thing away. But people who do metal fabricating, 
they throw [out] all of their punch parts, bent parts, 
things like this thing. They throw out things like that 
that they've actually fabricated something out of. But I 
like them because the cut outs were clean, made by great 
big break machines where it would just punch a hole right 
through a piece of metal a quarter inch thick. So you get 
a nice clean hole rather than if you had to try to cut it 
out yourself with a torch. It would be ragged, and you'd 
have to file it. So you got minimalism with minimal 
effort. So I liked them for that. 
MASON: Where did the legs come from? 

RIDDLE: Oh, with some other junk I have. I used to have 
a junk pile in my backyard. In fact, when I left L.A., it 
took my pickup truck about five, six trips to the junkyard 
to resell this metal. And I was getting like eighty, 
ninety dollars a trip. 
^4AS0N : Wow ! 
RIDDLE: So I ' d take my truck-- They'd always weigh your 


truck with the junk on it. You unload the junk, then you 

put your truck back on the scale. They weigh it again, 

and they owe you the difference. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: So I was like making these trips and my truck was 

barely touching the ground in the front, it was so loaded 

down. But I had like these piles of resource material 

that-- Sometimes I would remember right away, "I've got 

some things that would go perfect here, " and I could pull 

them right out. And I had some stuff that if I just went 

through the junk I'd find, "Ooh, this is nice." You know, 


MASON: So if you left it outside it must have gotten 

rained on, as much as it rains in L.A. 

RIDDLE: Yeah. 

MASON: And probably the texture changed sometimes. 

RIDDLE: Well, I used to-- 

MASON: Because I noticed these are all polished up. 

RIDDLE: I used to try to shine the things up. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: That was part of it, too. But I tried to get rid 

of the rust. And then I would put polyurethane or 

something on. Wirebrush the stuff. I even got to the 

place where I found a guy who sandblasted, and I had him 

sandblast some things. 


MASON: So that was an important part of the whole 
aesthetic of the piece? The shine and the--? 
RIDDLE: Yeah. And the natural patina of the metal. So 
you've got a contrast between highly polished-- Because at 
the same time I was starting to see-- I saw David Smith, 
the minimalist sculptor. I didn't like his work, and then 
I saw a piece in front of a museum one night. It was in 
1972, it was an art and technology show, and they had a 
David Smith out front. I was just going into the museum, 
and I saw the way he burnished those surfaces with his 
grinder. It was like it was five, six surfaces. And I'd 
always tried to get that effect of multi-levels of 
transparency as a painter, and here this guy was doing it 
on the surface of this metal. So I just freaked out. 
Then I started really looking at his stuff more closely. 
Then I started seeing the fact that one of the things 
about minimalism was that you could create the illusion of 
mass with his forms. They looked heavy and strong, but 
yet they were hollow. You had the illusion of mass 
without the weight of mass. So I started liking that kind 
of idea, too. He was a major influence on me. I mean, 
he's somebody I still like. But-- I don't know where I am 
anymore . 

MASON: I guess the other guestion I had was, did they 
teach welded sculpture at school? Or was that something 


that you had learned--? 

RIDDLE: Not to me. No, because like, see, I went to 

night school. They never had sculpture classes at night. 

When I went back for my master's, I would have gotten a 

degree in sculpture, except they didn't teach it except in 

the daytime. So I've never had a class in sculpture. 

MASON: It was just interesting. I was reading about-- 

When you read things about Mel[vin E.] Edwards and Ed 

Love, you know, they always say that they were attracted 

to welded sculpture. And I think Ed Love said something 

about seeing a piece of P'lla Mills in the Golden State 

[Mutual Life Insurance Company] collection. 

RIDDLE: The same thing I saw. 

MASON: Huh? 

RIDDLE: Same one. You've got a picture here. I know 

it's the same one. It's the same one as-- 

MASON: Oh, yeah. The Star of Bethlehem . This was a page 

that talks about the-- 

RIDDLE: That was the P'lla Mills in the-- That was it, 


MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: We used to love that. That was when I started 

liking sculpture, was in those days. This is the kind of 

metal that I used to go get with [William E.] Pajaud. 

MASON: This is Control Force. 


RIDDLE: I remember the day I found that. There was a 

great big gear ring in the junkyard, and I was with Pajaud 

that day. I used to like things like alarm bells and-- 

That was some kind of bird. I don't know what kind of 

bird that was, but it definitely is a bird with wings. 

And what is it called? 

MASON: It's called Control Force . There's no date on 


RIDDLE: No, I would have never called it that. I don't 

know where that came from. 

MASON: Oh, okay. Well, this is from the International 

Review f of African American Art ] . 

RIDDLE: People put titles on your stuff. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: If I did that, it was probably "Bird of Prey" or 

something, because I think that was an eagle, and it was 

like a bird of prey. But he had some kind of owl kind of 

bird, because they're birds of prey. But it was an 

Oalarmist kind of thing. Yeah, like how they always catch 

those-- Like they always have those birds of prey with 

snakes and things and lizards that they've caught when 

they fly back up on their perch. So I was probably 

dealing with that, because I see on there the fact that I 

used alarm bells. 

I used to love to find electric boxes, you know, that 


had fuses and things that were-- So that you could see 
that it was some kind of an electronically related thing. 
Schematic designs and things like that, because they 
always reminded me of technology. 

MASON: How was technology important? Because I noticed 
most of the-- When you're talking about a lot of the junk 
for-- You know, getting junk out of intersections, you 
talked a lot about finding car parts and things like that. 
You know, why were car parts more attractive--? Well, you 
talked about that whole Japan thing. 

RIDDLE: Well, because they were really good suppliers. I 
mean, all the junk in the intersection is car related. 
Because the cars had wrecks, the car tires swept the junk 
into the middle. You know, that was just how it 
accumulated, by cars going this way and this way and this 
way and this way. [tape recorder off] 
MASON: I was just asking about your interest in car 
parts, your attraction to car parts and technology. 
RIDDLE: Yeah, I was just saying that in the 
intersections, they were like the producers of the debris. 
But my real interest was in junkyards and scrap piles, 
because I was interested in welding. Now, Noah, his real 
interest was in--just to use him as an example-- He did 
his gathering from secondhand stores. Now, he would go 
into a secondhand store--I used to go with him sometimes-- 


he would go in there and he'd say, "How much for this pair 
of shoes?" And they'd say, "Those are two dollars, sir." 
And he'd say, "What if I buy all fifty pairs?" And she'd 
say, "I'll sell that to you for twenty-five dollars." 
He'd give her twenty- five dollars, pull out two big 
gunnysacks, throw all the shoes in the gunnysack, take 
them home and do a piece about shoes. He'd have all these 
shoes lined up, [and] that would be his piece of art. The 
same way that Wayne Thiebaud would paint slices of pie in 
the bakery shop showcase. So now that's where he got his, 
but I loved the metal yard. 

I like the secondhand, like the flea market in 
Pasadena. You go out there, and these people are trying 
to sell memorabilia and things. But there's so much art 
stuff out there. If you go out there just thinking you're 
going to make some art, and you're not trying to get some 
collectibles, but something that strikes you-- And it's 
that same energy that ' s in the walking down the railroad 
tracks, playing "I'm only going to pick up that which 
catches my eye." And anything that doesn't really catch 
my eye, I'm not even going to give it a second thought. 
You get that same mentality, and you get accustomed. 
Because the human mind, once it adapts to a certain 
procedure, it can become-- The more it does it, the more 
sophisticated and the more it separates itself from other 


human beings who don't do that. And then they say, "Well, 
that's easy." It may be easy what they see, and it may be 
easy the way they see you do it. But they may not know 
that you put ten years of practice and development into 
cultivating the ability to do this thing. Which isn't 
speaking about me: that's about anything that you do 
repetitiously and long enough. You become proficient at 

So like my favorite was to just do-- Like David 
Hammons and another friend of mine, we developed this 
theory that if you see something you want out by the curb 
for the trashman, if you stop and you get it, then it's 
yours. But if you drive off and you say, "Gosh, I should 
have gotten that. Dog, I should have gotten that!" and 
you go back, it's never there. It's never there. The 
only time it can still be there is if you get down to the 
corner and turn around and go right back. But if you go 
on about where you were going when you saw it and then 
come back later, forget it. I mean I've got a whole 
collection of mental imagery of things that I should have 
gotten that I didn't. Michael Jackson one time. A life- 
size Michael Jackson sticking out of somebody's trash with 
the glove and one of those Michael Jackson poses and his 
Geri-curled hair and all that. And I said, "Oh, man." I 
drove on down the street. And all the way driving down I 


said, "Dog, I could make a bad piece of art out of that. 

I don't know what piece it is yet, but I know I could use 

it." By the time I went back and got it, all that trash 

was still there, but Michael Jackson was gone. Somebody 

else said, "Ooh, Michael Jackson, " and put it in their 

record room . 

MASON: So when you see--? 

RIDDLE: Anything that really catches your eye. 

MASON: So you don't know what piece you're going to make. 

Or is the piece suggested by the thing that you find? Or 

how does that process work? 

RIDDLE: Oh, yeah. I mean, a lot of times it's like-- My 

titles always precede my art. I always have a name of a 

piece before the piece ever comes . I may change the name 

of the piece after I get into it and make it a little more 

explanatory, but I always have a-- 

I remember one time I found a box, and next to it 
there was an old wooden door that somebody put out. It 
said "employees only" on it. You know, they always have 
that. Somebody had stenciled it on there. And I saved 
that part that said "employees only." I had that thing in 
my basement here in this house for a long time. And then 
one day I was thinking about the United States and Central 
and Latin America and South America, too, because I 
thought about Salvador Allende and [Augusto] Pinochet in 


Chile and how [Henry] Kissinger, [Richard M. ] Nixon, etc., 
all got rid of Salvador Allende in '72 because Chile was 
the leading producer of copper. This was before fiber 
optics and the microchips were really booming and 
everything. They were still using copper wire. And AT&T 
[American Telephone and Telegraph Company] and ITT 
[International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation], if 
you think about them, they were all copper wire. I mean, 
that's what their foundation was, copper wire. They 
didn't want what they considered to be a Marxist--even 
though he was elected in a democratic election--to be in 
charge of copper any more than they wanted Saddam Hussein 
to be in charge of the oil. Even though the British 
partition-- Iraq had made Kuwait at the turn of the 
century so that they could steal that oil out of there 
which wasn't theirs in the first place. But it's always 
the same thing . 

So they got rid of Allende. And then I started 
thinking about [how] they got rid of Omar Torrijos in 
Panama. [James E.] Carter had just gotten with Torrijos 
and made a contract to cede the Panama Canal back to the 
Panamanian people, and all these Reagan kind of people 
going out of their damn minds, and right after that, now, 
Torrijos was in a helicopter crash. All of a sudden, who 
took his place? Manuel Noriega, you know, who we loved 


right up until the time that we needed a scapegoat. So 
then we dumped him off because he wouldn't help us with 
the Contra training so that we could get rid of Daniel 
Ortega. So I saw all of this piece as evolving out of 
this "employees only." Who did they kill? They killed 
Maurice Bishop, they killed Torrijos, and they killed 
Allende, even though they had surrogates to do it. Still, 
they got rid of him. Then the only three that were still 
bothering them, really, that they didn't get to 
kill--although they intended to kill Noriega, it just 
happened that they didn't get him- -Noriega, [Fidel] 
Castro, and Ortega. 

I loved to look through American Rifle Association and 
hunting magazines, because they always show "Get this 
bullet!" And they show these bullets that can kill with 
the greatest killing power that you can get on a rifle. 
They show these mushroom bullet heads that are all 
flattened out and say, "Compare this with this. This is 
what you want." I always cut those pictures out. And so I 
collaged bullets that are spent and used in these ads. And 
I put one next to Allende, Bishop, and Omar Torrijos. But, 
yet, I have nice clean unused bullets next to Noriega, 
Castro, and Ortega, because they haven't knocked them off 
yet. I like to make those kinds of plays on things. 

But when I got that door that said "employees only, " 


I had no idea that the employees would be Pinochet-- I had 
this really nice picture of Pinochet and the generals all 
standing at attention. I collaged that in a very 
painterly way over the part of the door that says 
"employees only. " And then I show, on the outside edge, a 
separation of about six inches of the non-employees to be 
assassinated, because they don't fit in with what we want 
South America, Central America to be. 

MASON: That's in the William Grant Still [Community Arts 
Cemter] show that's up now. 
RIDDLE: Yeah. That's-- 

MASON: What date was that? That was in '70 something. 
RIDDLE: My piece has evolved. I mean, I've been working 
on it ever since I thought of it. It probably took me 
about two years, but I didn't paint on it every day. I 
might see an article in the newspaper or something and 
say, "Ooh, this fits." And then I'd go back and work on 
it. But I like to let them evolve because-- I mean, the 
reason is I had no idea that that would become what it 

MASON: Well, I was thinking that since you've done so 
many things, even though it's really artificial to divide 
everything up, maybe we could just talk about-- Since 
we're talking about sculpture, maybe we could just talk 
about sculpture and then assemblage and then ceramics and 


then painting, even though it's kind of all mixed up 


RIDDLE: Well, I don't mind. It would probably help you. 

MASON: Yeah, it would help me. [laughter] That's what 

I'm saying, it would actually help me. 

RIDDLE: You set it up like you want it. I don't have any 

problem with that. 

MASON: Okay. Because otherwise I'll just forget or-- 

Because we were talking about assemblage. We haven't 

talked about your Made in Mississippi series and how that 

came about yet. I wanted to ask you-- 

RIDDLE: That was a funny thing. 

MASON: What was one of the first pieces of assemblage 

that you saw? Was it the Watts Towers? Or was it 

another--? I guess I'm wondering what gave you the 


RIDDLE: I was still painting when I saw Watts Towers. 

MASON: So I was just wondering, what was the impetus for 

feeling that junk could be art? 

RIDDLE: Well, back to-- Like I said, I saw how Noah did 

it, and then I saw-- I was attracted to it because, again, 

it came out of that prior ceramic experience of the 

manipulation of real things rather than trying to draw the 

real thing. Because I know in drawing, if it's not quite 

right, you've got to erase it. But if it's not quite 


right in metal, say it's stiff metal, you can heat it and 
bend it until it's right. The Tightness of it comes from 
as you bend it; you see maybe it crosses over another form 
that's either in front of it or behind it. And all of a 
sudden you see a nice connection between the two. So that 
in the--we're talking about assemblage now--additive form 
of sculpture rather than the-- Well, it could be 
subtractive, too. But a good example was I did a piece of 
Malcolm X. 

It was supposed to be a man who had been down. So I 
let myself lay on the floor and I studied the way that you 
would normally get up if you were flat on your back, but 
now you're coming up. You would have one elbow up, 
pushing yourself up; your legs would be a certain way. So 
once I got that, I made a wax model of Malcolm. I was 
almost through with it, and I went to the flea market. My 
son [Anthony Thomas Riddle] was going to look for comics 
and I was looking around. He was looking for comics; I'm 
looking for what I want to look for. And I saw a 
blowtorch, an old-fashioned painter's blowtorch that they 
used to use to heat up paint. That was before they had 
chemical paint remover. They would heat paint with this 
blowtorch, and then they would take a putty knife when the 
paint started blistering, but before it could catch on 
fire, and they would scrape it off. That was one of the 


ways-- They probably still do multilayer, but now they've 
got chemicals [where] it would come right off easier. 

It's a piece of art itself, the blowtorch. But I 
noticed when I put it under Malcolm-- See, Malcolm's hand 
had been-- I didn't want to do a real hand with fingers. 
So, I mean, I made it like a hand-- I made this part of 
the hand, actually. I had Malcolm's hand coming up, and 
it was turned this way. And I noticed, one day, I had 
this blowtorch and I just stuck it up under there to say, 
"Suppose Malcolm was coming up off the ground with a 
blowtorch in his hand. That would make an extra serious 
piece. I mean, Malcolm's been down, but know he's coming 
up to put some heat." So I really liked that idea. But, 
now, the unexpected came when I got behind the hand and 
the knob on the blowtorch is like--it's got little notches 
in it all the way around so the guy could turn up the fuel 
and increase the flame. But it's just like in the Adinkra 
symbol book that shows a symbol that has eight notches in 
it, and it's the star which is the son of God. You know? 
So I saw that. But also, with his hand going like that, 
it's like the star and crescent. And all of a sudden, I 
saw all of these Muslim connotations just because, now, 
there's a blowtorch in Malcolm's hand, where that was 
never the intention when I made Malcolm's hand. 

So I see a lot of times in the development of a 


piece, if you let the piece develop for a while, and then 
when you don't see [anything] [John] Coltrane like about 
it-- Or you don't see spontaneity, where you're contriving 
parts instead of the parts just spontaneously-- Like when 
Coltrane and them would be playing some jazz, you know. 
All of this skill is there, but the show, like an art 
show, is when they're playing extemporaneously, and an 
accumulation of all their skill, all their ideas, their 
playing right at the ultimate minute of how they're 
thinking-- If it wasn't for a recording, a lot of times 
they might not be able to replay that. They might be able 
to transcribe it and replay it here. But if they don't 
have that, the only evolution on the piece is coming out 
as they play the changes and the things that they achieve. 
They say, "Yeah, I've been trying to get to that." 

The same thing happens in sculpture. I mean, it 
happens in painting, too. But that's why I liked-- In 
sculpture, you're dealing with real objects, and you have 
the ability, in this case, to mix recognizable, discarded 
junk with lines and images that you've created. So that 
pretty soon this three-dimensional collage of parts or 
assemblage becomes like [Louise] Nevelson's pieces: if 
you take it out of context, it's a whole bunch of 
banisters and wood turnings and different cut outs and 
things. But if you take it all and put it all in a form 


and paint it all one color, then it become one thing with 
a whole bunch of very interesting subparts contained 
within the boundary of this one thing. So I like 
sculpture from that standpoint. And I love things in the 
streets still that get run over and smashed, because 
they've acquired their shape as art parts accidentally. 
Nobody sat there with a hammer. 

There was a piece in the Grant Still show that I 
still-- This is a still assemblage. I wanted to tear open 
some bags, because I found all of these wonderful bags 
with Statues of Liberty printed on them. I wanted to tear 
one open to show Nixon had been busted. But [when] I 
tried to tear a bag, I was caught up in this "How do you 
tear it?" because it's a conceived thing, the pressure. 
And I didn't want that. So one day I took it to work and 
I got a plastic bag, filled it up with water, put the 
plastic bag inside the paper bag, went up on the upper 
level above where we parked this morning, and threw it off 
the upper level. And it hit the ground. The bag tore and 
splattered in every which direction. And I ran 
downstairs, and it was the most amazing thing. The part 
of the bag that had the Statue of Liberty didn't get one 
tear on it. The rest of the bag just was torn to shreds. 
And I took it like I used to see my mother do with Ivory 
Snow. I used to have Ivory flakes or something you used 


to put on fine sweaters, like wool sweaters and stuff, 
because you had to wash them by hand. Then you would put 
newspaper out and you'd block the sweaters out. You laid 
them out so that they were just like they were. And then, 
that way, when they dry, they wouldn't be all distorted. 
MASON: Yeah, they would keep their shape. 
RIDDLE: Yeah. So I did that paper bag the same way. I 
ran home from work with the paper bag. It was still wet. 
I went down to the basement and laid it out, made sure it 
was just like it tore. And then I was able to create the 
piece Nixon: the 20th Anniversary, Busted . Because he got 
busted just like that paper bag, just like brothers get 
busted. But, I mean, it was like that accidental thing. 
I like that in sculpture. 

The sculpture and assemblage parts that are in my 
head now, I would like to create certain parts out of wax 
and cast them. My plan is to cast them in my backyard, 
somewhere along the creek so that I have some nice 
setting, and I'll be out there. You know. But the idea 
of making parts or casting real things, which is easy to 
do in casting-- But being able to create the exact parts 
you want and mix them with things that you find and weld 
them together to create the object that you're trying to 
express yourself with-- See, I mean, to me, that's like 
the ultimate: to be able to deliberately create 


something, but combine it with something that you had no 
hand in developing its shape. You only have a hand in 
making it part of this other thing, to become a whole 
something . 

That's why I like sculpture, though; it's because — 
The other thing I think about sculpture is that the first 
time that you make something that you can stand on, that 
you can actually make something and then stand on it, 
that's amazing, because it changes your whole view. 
Because if you're five feet tall, everything you see is 
basically from the five-foot level. But if you make 
something that makes you five foot seven, you actually 
have a different perspective on everything, because you're 
seeing it from a different viewpoint. I used to always 
think [about] that, plus something that could fall on you 
and break your arm or kill you- -that you made. 
MASON: Like the Richard Serra Tilted Arc kind of thing. 
RIDDLE: Yeah. Well, I mean, definitely if one of his 
pieces fell on you, you'd die. Or you'd be hurt when one 
of those big old poles flying over hit you. 
^4AS0N: Why was that danger an important element in your 
work? Or potential for danger? 

RIDDLE: Not so much that, but the fact that you made 
something that now you have to wear a hard hat to be 
around. I thought that was nice. I mean, just that idea 


that something that you made was big enough to kill you. 
You know, it's just like when Christo did those pieces, 
and the umbrella flew off. And I mean, it's sad the 
woman got killed, but--you know--it's the size of the 
umbrellas and the ability of those umbrellas to pick up 
currents of wind. Obviously, he probably didn't 
anticipate that one would ever kill anybody. But just 
that idea that the pieces assume a kind of life of their 
own physically, aside from what they look like. But 
that's what sculpture has that painting doesn't have, 
because painting is all-- Painting is more like an 
illusion. You can create depth, you can create photo- 
realism, you can create excitement with color, but it's 
much more of an abstract thing. And it's all what you 
can do through your hand, through this inanimate object, 
the brush, back to the bristles which you are actually 
putting paint on. Sculpture is just you get more dirty, 
it's more physical work, and that's nice to be--the 
physical thing. You're wrestling with things. You've 
got to see "Can I make something big enough to--? I've 
got to get a chain hoist in my studio so I can go-- 
Because it's too heavy to hold in place." 

I remember one thing about sculpture, too, that-- 
this is in the era of table model sculpture, which could 
hardly fall on you or anything--you needed three hands. 


You needed a hand to hold the torch, a hand to hold the 
rod, and a hand to hold the object that was being welded. 
I hated clamp-on tools; they were like illegal. So I 
discovered balance for myself. I mean, I went through a 
year where I used to think, "If the piece I want to attach 
can stay right where I want it, because it's balanced--" A 
little part is over here, and a little more is over here. 
If it can stay-- Sometimes I'd spend a half hour, and just 
when I got ready to weld, a piece would fall off. If I 
could let it stay in place long enough for me to weld, 
then I felt like, physically, because of balance, that's 
where the piece went. So that became like a law for a 
long time, that I would practice that. 

MASON: Well, in the earlier-- This one doesn't have a 
pedestal. Street Trial . But others do have a pedestal for 
some-- Was that a decision: pedestal or not pedestal? 
RIDDLE: Only in that it was easier to make things stand 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: Whereas, like, I could see now, where the three 
points on the plane would be-- [tape recorder off] 

I'd like to get to the place where I did 
architectural sculpture. I gave up printmaking because 
it's not healthy. Because you use too much petroleum 
salts, so I didn't want to-- Now, that kind of way isn't 


dangerous as much as it could be foolhardy. If you know 
the chemicals are carcinogenic or that they can be liver 
damaging and different things, you know, nerve damaging- - 
I mean, it says that on all the warning labels. Why keep 
doing it? So I mean, if I die, I don't want to die 
because the chemicals killed me. If I had to go art-wise, 
I'd definitely want it to be an accident. "Yeah, he died 
while he was doing his art." You know, I'd rather have 
that than, "Yeah, he knew he was going to die, but he kept 
doing it anyway." That seems somewhat stupid. But 
anyway, I switched to painting. 
MASON: Well, I wanted to-- 
RIDDLE: I'm sorry. 

MASON: Before we talk about that, I wanted to talk about 
how the Made in Mississippi came about. 
RIDDLE: Yeah. That's what I'm trying to get to now. 
MASON: Oh, okay. 

RIDDLE: But that's cool. That was the reason I said I 
switched to painting. But, as I'm painting right now, I'm 
beginning to put physical forms in the painting. Like I'm 
actually beginning to attach things, because that's a 
prelude to sculpture, which those boxes were. I had said 
earlier I wanted to get a sculptural degree, but I couldn't 
get one. And so the man at Cal[ifornia] State [University, 
Los Angeles] said he gave me the option in graduate school 


to-- As a painter, I could do assemblage, and I couldn't 
actually do sculpture. So in my junking forays- - 

I remember one day John Outterbridge and I were out 
junking around- -that ' s not the word we used to use either. 
But I was out there somewhere, and Bridge knew where this 
junkyard was. In fact, those pieces in that one, the Hoe , 
because it's a hoe and some stove legs-- I was at one of 
Bridge's junkyards when I found those parts. We were 
someplace looking for junk, and this guy had ammunition 
boxes. They used to hold mortar shells, circa the Korean 
War. The guy had a big stack of them, I said, "Hey, how 
much for one of them?" And he told me. I said, "How much 
for twelve of them?" And he gave a real --like two dollars 
a piece or something. So I bought twelve of them. And 
they sat around in my basement, in my backyard, in my 
studio for a long time. 

One day I started thinking about them, because I had 
to do a master's thesis. And the guy said, "You could 
either do a written thesis, or you could do a visual 
presentation, " but you had to write a paper. So I wrote 
this paper called "Spirit vs. Technology," and my premise 
was that technology was a corpse unless it was imbued by 
spirit. I used the analogy further that you could take a 
car, which was a technical process, and you could let it 
sit in your driveway and nobody would drive it, nobody 


would touch it, and it would slowly deteriorate. If it 
sat there long enough, it would deteriorate, even if it 
had been brand-new, to the point where it was inoperable. 
It took the spirituality of a person getting in there, 
turning on the ignition, starting up the car, doing all 
the processes that are involved in driving. So technology 
without spirit couldn't function. And then also, from the 
other angle, that famous line in George Jackson's 
"Technology was a headless beast at the controls of a 
machine gone mad, " talking about American ideas and 
things. So to me, I was trying to show spirit and 

I think that first piece that I tried to use was 
Bird and Diz . It was right there. I was showing that 
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie-- I had found some old 
horns and some pressure gauges and things. I remember 
going to a secondhand store and buying a beautiful piece 
of dark blue pinstripe suit and cutting that up in there 
and putting that as a liner in the bottom of the box and 
then showing that Dizzy Gillespie and Bird [Charlie 
Parker] were a good [example] of how the technical 
process, that created those instruments primarily for 
classical music, had no idea in the creator's mind that 
Bird was going to pick up the horn and play it like he 
did. Or that Dizzy Gillespie-- Or that Bird and Diz and 


Thelonius Monk and them would all come together and make 
be-bop. That's what spirit does to technology. Spirit 
can take technology on an evolution that the technology ' s 
creator never intended it to go. So then I took the-- 
I ' m sorry . 

MASON: Did you work on the surface of the boxes at all? 
RIDDLE: Uh-huh. Like I said, I lined the inside of the 
musical side with a kind of suit material that the 
brothers used to wear on those sets back in the old be-bop 
era when the musicians were well-dressed and everything. 
Then I took the front surface of the door-- 

I had an artist friend named Danny [Daniel] LaRue 
Johnson. I remember when Danny and I were first starting 
to deal with art in L.A. I was over to Danny's house one 
time. I was sitting there talking, and he was rubbing on 
this box, on a piece of wood, a Joseph Cornell kind of 
assemblage. He used to do a lot of rat traps and paint 
American flags black and have black dolls caught in the 
rat traps. But he'd paint them all black, like Louise 
Nevelson, to combine all the different fragmented parts 
into the commonality of being one color. So that made 
them one, even though they were separate. I always liked 
how-- But he was rubbing on this box, and I said, "Man, 
why do you spend so much time rubbing and polishing?" He 
said, "Some people call it the finish fetish, " and he 


started laughing. He said, "But, you know, I do it 
because not only is it peaceful, it--as an artist--gives 
me time to think and relaxes me." He said, "But it's 
craftsmanship. " And he said, "No matter what a piece 
looks like or what it is, if it has craftsmanship as an 
integral part of it, it will always be presentable just on 
a craftsmanship level." 

Now, once you draw people into the craftsmanship, 
then you rip them apart with the concept within the 
craftsmanship. You see, craftsmanship has the ability to 
draw people to itself, just because it's a thing of such 
quality that everybody recognizes it. Well, not 
everybody, but enough people. You know, they'll say, 
"Well, that's--" And they'll touch it, and then all of a 
sudden, they'll look around the edge of this smooth 
surface and here's something that's as sharp as a razor 
blade trying to cut their- - 


SEPTEMBER 5, 1992 

RIDDLE: That's the only piece in that whole series where 
the parts extended outside of the box, too. I mean, I did 
that on purpose, because I wanted to show that the 
brothers' technology was breaking out of the boxes. 

Now, I used anununition boxes for two reasons, 
because-- They had those rope handles so they could hang. 
All I had to do was take a two-by-four and mount each one 
on a two-by-four and I could exhibit them like that with 
the doors closed so that the viewer had to unlatch it-- 
it ' s just a simple latch on the front--but they had to 
unlatch those two hinges and open up the art to see what 
was happening in there. So I kind of liked that, because 
it made people have to do a participatory thing. 

So it was really my master's thesis, and that was 
nice. It was a self-contained kind of storage thing, too. 
You'd close the lid, put the little latches on, and stack 
them up, because they were meant to be stacked up on top 
of each other. Therefore, they wouldn't take up much 
space; the lids kept dust and dirt out of them. They sat 
over at Bridge's house from the time I left Atlanta to the 
time the California [African American] Museum bought them. 
So they probably sat in Bridge's house-- They bought them 


in '89, I left in '74, so they sat at Bridge's house for 
about fifteen years, you know. 

MASON: Were they all meant to be seen together? 
RIDDLE: Uh-huh. 

MASON: I remember I saw this show and I think there was 
one they put at the end that was closed and you couldn ' t 
open the door. 

RIDDLE: I did that on purpose because I was tired of 
doing them boxes. I promised them I would have ten for 
the show, or nine for the show, and so I did one you 
couldn't open. There ain't nothing in that one. You 
know, like just humor. Humor and laziness. But I did 
that on purpose, because everybody said, "What's in that 
one?" I used to say, "You'll never know." [laughter] 
MASON: You are very mysterious. 

RIDDLE: That's assemblage, too, that Charlie Parker. I 
like the bebop era. So this piece has all assembled parts 
on the bottom. I put little boxes on the bottom that 
showed African instruments to show that their heritage is 
basically African instruments. But the rest of it's two- 
dimensional . 
MASON: Okay. 

RIDDLE: There might be some balsa wood thickness pieces 
in there like there's an African person over here 
somewhere that grew out of his bass fiddle. It's hard to 


see in that, but I always liked that. That's a real 

picture that had Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and 

John Coltrane when he was a real young musician. He was 

in the background just asking could he sit in. And I 

always liked that because it has historical significance. 

MASON: And here's an Olmec. Maybe it's an Olmec head- I 

don ' t know . 

RIDDLE: Yeah, it's an Olmec. I like to try to show-- And 

then, again, there was Liberty. 

MASON: Yeah, the Statue of Liberty. 

RIDDLE: I was using Liberty in that case to say that-- 

[tape recorder off] [Carmen Riddle joins interview] 

MASON: We started off with Bill Pajaud. We wanted to get 

some of the older people in the arts community. We talked 

with Ruth Waddy, Betye Saar. And then we started to talk 

to people who were younger, but who had had galleries, 

like Alonzo Davis. And I just did Suzanne Jackson a 

couple of weeks ago. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Where is Suzanne? 

MASON: She's up in San Francisco. She just got her 

degree from Yale. She just got an MFA [master of fine 

arts], and she's working in costume design right now. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, that's what she's doing? 

MASON: Yeah. I mean she's still painting, but she's 

earning her living now as a costume designer in between. 


Well, she says she hasn't really wanted to show yet, but I 

don ' t know . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: She was doing those chickens when we saw 

her last time. 

MASON: She's just trying to make money to get supplies. 

RIDDLE: You know, before when you were asking about the 

different family stuff-- She has a whole family story that 

fits in very well with me. That's why-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: What's that? 

RIDDLE: Well, I told her about how the first house I ever 

lived in was your grandmother's, Alice Garrott's. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah. Well, our families knew each other 

generations back. 

RIDDLE: And her family was one of the first black 

families in Glendale. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: No, California. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, but I mean when they lived out in Glendale. 

MASON: When did they come to California? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, my grandfather was the first black 

dentist. And they came to California before slavery was 


MASON: So he was before [John A.] Somerville then? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Somerville and my grandfather. Yeah, he 

said that was wrong. [laughter] So it wasn't-- 

MASON: Yeah, it's always wrong. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: No, it was wrong. 
MASON: It's always wrong. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It is wrong, because Dr. Garrott-- That's 
just something that's happened in the last few years that 
they've said Somerville. But Dr. Garrott was the first 
one, and then Somerville. 

MASON: Of course, he wrote his autobiography [ Man of 
Color: An Autobiography of J. Alexander Somerville ] , too. 
So he'd probably say, "Well, you know, I was the first." 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, there's an argument there. But 
anyway, they were there in the 1800s and everything like 
that. But our families were connected the whole time. 
RIDDLE: We used to live close to each other. Her mother 
and father lived right almost next door to my mother 
[Helen Louise Wheeler] and father [John Thomas Riddle] 's 
two best friends. Ruby and Ollie Terry. And, yet, we 
didn't know each other. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And, you know, the thing that they had at 
the black museum-- You know, the California history thing? 
MASON: Yeah, yeah. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, our families are in there. Yeah, 
from that-- We went to that show the last time we were 
there. And so it was really interesting seeing that. 
RIDDLE: She had parts of her family in it and parts of my 
family. And yet, we didn't know each other. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, we did, but we didn't pay any 

attention to each other. They used to have the 

pharmaceutical doctors and lawyers breakfast in Griffith 

Park every summer. They had a breakfast, and we always 

went. We saw a picture after we got married where he was 

at one end and I was at the other, and we didn't even know 

that we were both there. 

MASON: Yeah, that's pretty funny. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He didn't start art until after we were 


RIDDLE: See, she's telling it. She knows it. See, she 

actually saved me. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: We won't go into all that. [laughter] 

But he didn't do any art until we were married. And then 

he did the same picture over and over again, on one piece 

of canvas . 

RIDDLE: I just kept painting it over. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Because he was in the air force- - 

RIDDLE: And I threw it away. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He did the same piece over and over again, 

but it was something that he seemed to like and be 

interested in. So when he got out of the service, he went 

to art school at Cal[ifornia] State [University, Los 

Angeles] . But what I was going to ask is, now, who else 

did you see? Because, see, there was a time when all of 


them-- It was so much fun in California, because they had 

this group of artists and families that we all did 

everything together . 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: Yeah. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: With Dan Concholar and Alonzo Davis. 

MASON: Yeah, we interviewed Alonzo. 

RIDDLE: And Bridge. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Dale [Davis] and Bridge and-- 

RIDDLE: And Yvonne Cole Meo. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And Betye Saar. And, of course, Ruth 

Waddy was always in on every-- She helped get the people 

together, too, along with Alonzo. 

MASON: Yeah. At the same time, there was this other 

group of artists. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Who was that? 

MASON: You mentioned Daniel LaRue Johnson and people 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, Danny Johnson was along that time, but 

Danny was a very individual-type person. He wasn't a 

joiner. He was a very good artist, but he was not very 

sociable and he didn't want to be around other people. He 

took his family and went to New York. 

RIDDLE: He preceded Mel[vin] [Edwards] and them to New 



CARMEN RIDDLE: Mel was a friend of Danny's. Now, I guess, 

that was about his best friend. So they both went to New 


RIDDLE: That was in '58. 

MASON: And then he went to study in Paris. 

RIDDLE: That was in '58, because he came by and said, 

"Man, we ought to go to New York." And I thought about it, 

but I was afraid. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, he-- 

MASON: But I-- Oh, I'm sorry. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Go ahead. Go ahead. 

MASON: No, I was just going to talk about some of the 

other artists who were in the black shows, like [Los 

Angeles 1972: A ] Panorama [ of Black Artists ] and then they 

kind of went off on their own. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Who was that? 

MASON: Like Fred [Frederick J.] Eversley and, let's see, 

Marvin-- Marvin Harden wasn't in the-- 

RIDDLE: Fred was real white. Because he went out to the 

white artists, because they were doing resin casts. He did 

those beautiful resin-casted pieces. But he was hanging 

out with the-- 

MASON: Plus he-- He really — 

RIDDLE: He became an artist though. I mean, Fred became-- 

I'm not saying we weren't artists. But he became an 


accepted artist in corporate America, because he had, 

like — 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Commercially. 

RIDDLE: Pieces in plazas and, I mean, before anybody was 

doing that. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah. He was more into crafts, and he was 

very commercial. He could make money off of-- Around 

whites a lot, you know. 

MASON: Do you want me to turn the tape off? Or--? 


RIDDLE: No. Is it off or on? 

MASON: It's on. 

RIDDLE: Yeah. I tell you, you could edit this out. She 

knows a lot of stuff. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh. Well, I don't know. I didn't know you 

had the tape on. 

RIDDLE: See, now she's going to clam up. She's not going 

to tell you about what her mother is like. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: She doesn't care about that! 

RIDDLE: Yeah, well, she asked about all the parents and 


MASON: Yeah, well — 

RIDDLE: Like, her mother is, right now, she's ninety-six. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: She's probably ninety-eight, but she puts 

her age back. 


RIDDLE: And she's blind, completely blind. And she lives 
by herself, and she do what she did. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: She knew everybody in California. 
RIDDLE: She's got like--because probably her blindness, 
too, but even before that-- She's the keeper of the 
history. She can tell you about every family back in 
certain eras and things and all the relationships between 
this person and what happened to that kid, this kid. It's 
amazing. I mean, she's like out of the tradition of the 
old African tradition where the Creoles and the people kept 
the oral history to pass it on. She has, outside of her 
blindness — and now she says she's tired of living so long-- 
nothing wrong with her. I mean, she can bend down and get 
things out of the lowest shelf on the cupboard and not have 
to pull herself up on the countertop or anything. I mean, 
she fell and broke a rib when we were out there last 
Thanksgiving. She was healed in two weeks. 
MASON : Wow . 

RIDDLE: I mean, she's an amazing person. Her mother and 
father's side is a whole history. But without that part a 
lot of me is missing, because we've been together, like I 
said, about forty years, that I've known her. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: We met the first day at City College, LACC 
[Los Angeles City College], and we've been together ever 


MASON: Yeah. Well, that's amazing, because it's like most 

of the artists I talk to, and even non-artists-- You know, 

Cecil Fergerson talks about being married three and four 

times and stuff. I don't know how many times he's been 

married, but, you know it seems to just-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: I know, everybody. 

MASON: It seems to just really destroy- - 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They just didn't make it. You don't have 

Dan Concholar on there? 

MASON: We have kind of a-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He doesn't do art now, but he was a great 

artist in his own way. But when his wife [Olivia 

Concholar] left him, he was just so crushed-- 

RIDDLE: Never done art since. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He went to New York and hasn't done art 


MASON: Suzanne Jackson ran into him in New York. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: New York, yeah. 

MASON: But I can't remember what she said. 


MASON: He has some administrative kind of job. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, that's what he's doing. 

RIDDLE: He promotes other artists. 

MASON: Yeah, right. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah. But he was great. And he lived like 


an artist. I mean, he and his wife just lived like 


RIDDLE: They lived on Budlong [Avenue]. They used to 

always live on Budlong. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They lived on Budlong, this old house, but 

they were both from Arizona. She was Hispanic. But their 

lives were so interesting. And then, David Hammons. I 

don't know if you know David Hammons? 

MASON: Yeah. We were going to interview him, but he's 

living in Italy now. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah. David had a family in Los Angeles. 

Now, he gave up his family. He had the nicest wife and two 

little kids. They're grown now, but-- 

RIDDLE: Carmen, David, and Becky. Becky was his wife. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But he left his family in order to pursue 

his art career. So I felt bad about that, because I just 

don't think anything is worth that. But he has since gone 

on to bigger and better things in the world of art. But, 

you know, his kids kind of resent it. 

RIDDLE: But now, one thing about-- Now David, he was a-- 

The thing good about David was he had a super sense of 

humor . 

MASON: Did you say sense of humor? 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh. I mean, really, a great sense of humor, 

to me. It was the same kind of sense of humor that I had 


one similar to. So we always saw the humorous side of all 
the things related to art, which gives you a whole other 

MASON: Yeah. If you look at some of his pieces now-- I 
remember seeing a piece of fried chicken. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And the funniest thing is he's-- I call him 
a con artist, because at the museum he had a show here a 
year or two ago and he had ribs hanging up there. And the 
white people would come up, everybody had their champagne 
and [were] dressed up and everything, and they would say, 
"And, uh, how do you explain this?" He had been talking to 
us, laughing at how much money he had made, and he doesn't 
have to put out any money on these things because he just 
picks up stuff. He never pays for his material. When he 
did things with hair, he just went to the barbershops. And 
when he did [inaudible] art when he was here, you know, 
anything free. Then all his money just comes to him when 
he gets paid for it. 

So he said, "Oh, yeah. These people, you just tell 
them anything." So the lady said, "Now, how did you happen 
to think of this rib. Is this a rib? A barbecue rib?" 
And what did he say? He said, "Well, yes. The way I feel 
about this--" And he went into some long dissertation, and 
she just thought it was great and brought her friends over. 
And that's why I call him the con artist. Because he does 


stuff like bottle caps and then makes it into something. 

MASON: Yeah. There's one in here that's like a 

basketball . 


RIDDLE: He has ingenious ways of doing-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He never spends a cent. And I do admire 

him for his money-making ways, because he makes plenty of 

money . 

RIDDLE: He's got one in that book where he's just got 

Skillets . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He just gathers up whatever he can free. 

RIDDLE: Skillets in the Closet . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He never pays for a thing. 

MASON: Yeah, there are the bottle caps. 


MASON: The basketball. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Uh-huh. And they didn't like it when he 

did a piece of art-- What was it? 

RIDDLE: The one that he did on Jesse [L,] Jackson. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Jesse Jackson. 

MASON: Yeah. How Ya Like Me Now . 

RIDDLE: They painted him white. 

MASON: Yeah. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But he didn't mean that. 

RIDDLE: They smashed him up with some sledgehammers. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: And that must have really made him feel 


RIDDLE: He felt bad at the time. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: --because he likes to feel like he ' s a 

black artist, and for blacks not to relate to it made him 

feel really bad. 

RIDDLE: But see, he was too abstract in that-- I mean, 

for black people. Because one thing about black people, 

we're not abstract. We would like everything, like, what 

it is. We want it more simplified. I saw that in the 

movies . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: I want to see people and color and stuff. 

MASON: Yeah, but when you say abstract, I mean, you know, 

African art is really abstract. So-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: I don't think so. 

MASON: You don't think so? 


RIDDLE: No, I don't either. I think the African artists 

now who do art, it's somewhat abstract. But I think when 

it was in its original form-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Utilitarian. 

RIDDLE: --when it was artifact-- Yeah, utilitarian. 

Because it wasn't really viewed in the sense-- I mean, be 

adding something that's not there-- It wasn't really 

viewed for its aesthetic. I think if the aesthetic was 


there, it was there because of the pride and the tradition 
of carving, because they weren't looking at avant-garde 
things, they were looking at keeping a tradition through 
repetition. And the more you could keep the tradition, 
the better you were. Whereas in the Western art, which 
isn't artifact, it's like "Come up with this new thing and 
get it patented." And everybody says, "Well, Alexander 
Calder does kinetic art mobiles. Therefore, nobody else 
can do mobiles." That's why you don't see the advancement 
on his principle of balance and kineticism through 
mobiles, because if you do, then everybody would say, 
"Man, you're just copying Calder." So then what you might 
really feel would contribute doesn't get a chance to 
perpetuate what Calder did, and that's a sad thing, but 
that's the way the West looks at it. It's got to be 
something new and different. It's like new for new's 

Now, David's piece you just showed me with the bottle 
caps and the basketball, if you look at that from a 
distance, that has qualities of African art about it, just 
in the shape of the design. 
MASON: The pattern. 

RIDDLE: The patterns. I remember when David first — We 
used to argue about that in the days Carmen speaks of. 
Was there black art in the days of the penitentiary and 


all of that? Was there black art at the riots? You know, 

that was the big question. Is there black art or is it 

just black people doing art? Or is there such a thing as 

black art? And those arguments used to rage. And David 

used to be in the position that there was no such thing as 

black art. We used to get into almost cussing at each 

other about those. It was all in Alonzo ' s Brockman 

Gallery on Saturdays. The artists would meet. But it was 

healthy, because you had to come back the next time they 

met with visual proof of your position. You couldn't just 

verbalize. And they could come back and show me some 

black art. So we would get into that. The Wilbur Haynie. 

Now, he was a great artist. I don't know what happened to 


MASON: Yeah, I think he went-- 

RIDDLE: Wilbur was bad, boy. 

MASON: Yeah, he did these hard-edged kinds of things. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, maybe just a blue field with a red line 

coming through, but a beautiful red. It wasn't just an 

old jive red. 

MASON: Was he part of Brockman Gallery or was he off on 

his own? 

RIDDLE: Uh, he was a little bit more off, but he came 

through there. And Ernest--what was Ernest's name? — he 

died. Ernest who did the dissertation on BAAism. It was 


a classic one night. 
MASON: On what? 

RIDDLE: BAAism. He got up one night and he talked about 
BAAism which was-- See everywhere at that time in the mid- 
sixties, black groups like AFRI-COBRA and all these people 
were jumping out. But there was always the Black Artists 
of Baltimore, the Black Artists Association of New 
Orleans, the Black Artists Association of L.A. So that 
was BAA. It was always BAA, the Black Artists 
Association. So Ernest did this thing, a dissertation on 
BAAism, and he was putting down all the black artists 
associations. Because this was this: "Was there black 
art or was there just black artists?" I wish somebody had 
taped it, because that was the funniest thing. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Who was that? 

RIDDLE: This guy, I can't think of his name. Ernest 
Herbert. He died. But he was a really good artist, an 
abstract artist. And so he was against black art. He 
just thought they were black artists and some of them did 
black art and he taught the whole concept of these--all 
over the country- -black groups and he called it BAAism. 
He would start baying like a sheep at the end of each kind 
of discourse, and he would go "BAAAAism." Well, we would 
just-- That was a hilarious thing, boy. I still remember. 
I don't even remember what he said now, but it was 


hilarious at the time. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: What's Alonzo doing? 

MASON: He works at the San Antonio Art Institute. 

RIDDLE: He's in San Antonio? 

MASON: Yeah, he's on the faculty. He's like dean or 

something of the college of fine arts. 


MASON: Yeah. Or chairman, or something like that. 

RIDDLE: That's where Claude Booker came from, San 


CARMEN RIDDLE: There's a lot of Mexicans there. 

MASON: Urn, yeah. I went around to the school. The 

student body seemed kind of mixed. He had one student who 

was Native American, another student who was Mexican, but 

she was, like, you know, white Mexican. And some blacks. 

It was really mixed. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It's an art school? 

MASON: Yeah. Yeah, a fine arts school. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He always did find those administrative 


RIDDLE: Mm-hmm. I met Alonzo the first time I ever 

taught ceramics. I didn't know how to fire the kiln at 

L.A. High [School], and they said, "Well, there's a guy 

over there at Manual Arts [High School] who knows how." 

So I went over there, and that's when I met Alonzo, He 


was in there cussing his students out. When I walked in 

the door he was calling them all kinds of names. And I 

thought, "God, what kind of school is this?" 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Those were great days, though. His 

gallery had great turnouts, Brockman Gallery. Everybody 

came to those shows. 

RIDDLE: Mm-hmm. That was the place to be. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: To either see the art or to be seen. 

Because they had great outfits and they had-- He had 

music, and it was really a lot of fun. A lot of fun. 

MASON: Somebody said the difference between Suzanne 

Jackson's Gallery 32 and the Brockman Gallery was that the 

Brockman Gallery showed all the artists with MFA's, and 

Suzanne Jackson's gallery showed everybody else. Because 

she had like Emory Douglas. She showed-- Or is his name 

Douglas Emory? I always get that mixed up. But the 


RIDDLE: Well, she was more like-- Because she had poetry 

reading and stuff, too. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: She was more like an artist herself, too. 

I mean, she wasn't-- 

RIDDLE: Well-- Yeah, I understand. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Alonzo was more administrative. Alonzo 

did know art. He's an artist but, for the most part, he 

did know good art. And Suzanne was a piece of art. She 


had a marriage where they drove off on a motorcycle. They 

had their marriage- - 

RIDDLE: In that same place at-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Up there in Griffith Park. 

RIDDLE: Up there where all the little ferns were-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And everybody came-- 

RIDDLE: Had a breakfast-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And they drove off on a-- 

RIDDLE: And they drove off on the back of Pete's 

motorcycle . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: A motorcycle. 

RIDDLE: She was in a bridal gown and the whole thing. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: I didn't know he was married at the time. 

RIDDLE: And he drove off, and her gown and her thing was 

just flowing in the back. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: She was really a character. Plus, she 

went with Bernie [Bernard T.]-- 

RIDDLE: Casey. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: --Casey for a long time. And she was just 

really far out. 

MASON: She actually had grown up in Alaska and San 


CARMEN RIDDLE: She was, I guess, the ultimate of 


RIDDLE: And then she had, like, poetry readings and other 


kinds of, like you say. Panther kinds of things. She had 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Happenings there. 

RIDDLE: You know, social, avant-garde things that mixed 

with art. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But see, Alonzo had a lot of the society 

and art and bodies. 

RIDDLE: He was right over there by where all the black 

people live. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That's where Sidney Poitier came and 

bought some of his art there. He had a lot of stars that 

came to his. 

RIDDLE: And other galleries were raiding Alonzo ' s 

artists, like Ben[jamin] Horowitz and Ankrum Gallery and 

those people wanted-- They would come to Alonzo ' s and try 

to pick some of his artists off. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Black artists. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: But Alonzo and them, they did a lot. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It was great because they brought the 

black artists together. 

RIDDLE: And then David Hammons, he said one of the 

funniest things. It's so true. But one night, like 

Carmen said, everybody went, I mean, to be seen at 

Brockman Gallery. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: And then you'd have outfits, special 
outfits just for Brockman Gallery. 

RIDDLE: And I remember one time David said-- He wasn't 
there. And everybody said, "Where's David? Where's 
David? Where's David?" And everybody was in a panic 
because they thought he had died or something, because 
nobody missed an opening at Brockman' s. So I rushed home 
and said, 

"David! David, are you all right?" 

He said, "Yeah. " 

I said, "Man, how come you didn't come to the art 

He said, "John," he said, "I knew--" He always talked 
funny. He said, "John, I knew that I was the only black 
artist in Los Angeles doing art because all the other 
artists were at Brockman. And it felt so good to be the 
only black artist in Los Angeles doing art." Because he 
knew that at that exact hour, none of the other black 
artists were doing art because they were all at 
Brockman' s. So he stayed home and did art. 

MASON: Well, I have a thing from you. You did your first 
one-man show at Brockman Gallery, right? In '68? 
CARMEN RIDDLE: That was the beginning of Brockman 


[This portion of the text has been sealed.] 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, I still think that was the beginning 
of the black artist group that they were in. 
RIDDLE: It was. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And that's the one that's the most well- 
known on the whole coast, you know. 
MASON: What about Art-West [Associated], though? 
RIDDLE: Well, that was Fred Eversley. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That was just something that came out of 

RIDDLE: Now, Fred Eversley was-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They wanted to have something else. 
RIDDLE: You know who his brother is, is Ron Karenga. 
MASON: Fred Eversley 's brother is Ron Karenga? 
RIDDLE: Not Fred Eversley. What's his name? Fred-- What 
was Ron Karenga ' s other name? 
CARMEN RIDDLE: I don't know. 

RIDDLE: See, Ruth Waddy started Art-West with this guy. 
The guy who was in it, he was a gay. But this was like 
when gay was-- 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, you mean that real tall gay one? 

RIDDLE: When gay wasn't like gay is now. And he wore-- 

MASON: Was it William Smith? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He was effeminate. 

RIDDLE: Wesley Gale. And he would come with horsetail 

fly swishers. I mean, he was like-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He was really outlandish. 

RIDDLE: "I'm Wesley Gale." I mean, he was outlandish. 

But now, Ruth's group, Ron-- What was Ron [now Maulana] 

Karenga ' s name before he was Ron Karenga? Because he used 

to always be at Halver Milley's, at those parties arguing. 

But he was a social worker. And his brother was an 

artist, because he was in Art-West. And I remember 

afterwards when I found out-- Because his brother was 

real, kind of like-- There was a lot of feminine men 

artists in Art-West, and his brother was one of them. And 

I remember later when Ron Karenga became Ron Karenga, I 

used to tease him about his brother, because Ron was out 

there being all militant and everything. 

MASON: He's very, very macho. 

RIDDLE: But he went too far, because he was torturing 

women . 

MASON: Yeah, I heard he's been arrested. 

RIDDLE: We used to go to some of his things and the 

people were saying, "Ron Karenga I Ron Karenga!" It was 


like idolizing Ron Karenga rather than-- I mean, it 

actually culminated in the war with the Panthers. 

MASON: Yeah, "Bunchy" Carter- - 

RIDDLE: In fact, two guys at UCLA, Bunchy Carter and 

[John] Huggins, got killed out there on campus. 

^4AS0N: Why was that? I mean, because-- 

RIDDLE: Because the FBI and them had infiltrated the--or 

whatever part of the American government- -organizations. 

And you know, it's like, "Man, they talking about your 

momma over there," with us. And then they would tell the 

Black Panthers, "Man, they say your momma was a dog." 

"Man, what ' d you say about my momma?" And then all of 

that black hostility spilled over in those killings, but-- 

MASON: Do you think their ideology was that different or 


RIDDLE: Well, it's kind of like DuBois and Booker T. 

[Washington], you know. Malcolm [X] and Martin [Luther 

King, Jr.]. We need it all. There's no one black 

philosophy that's going to cover all the black diversity 

and bring everybody together. Again, like art in the 

Watts riots. My first real art stuff came when I met Noah 

[Purifoy] and them after the riots, because we put 

together the first Watts [Summer] Festival [of Art] . 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: The very first one. 


MASON: Were you part of the 66 Signs of Neon , too? 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh. That's in that show with Noah when he 

has Sir Watts . See, that's when I met Noah. He was 

making that thing out of those safety pins, because he had 

gotten all that out of a cleaners that had burned up. But 

Signs of Neon was like, to me, when I first met real black 

artists and they were doing stuff. And we had those art 

festivals out there in Watts. But Alonzo had like the 

first black gallery. 

MASON: Yeah. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And gathering. 

RIDDLE: Those were the greatest Saturday meetings when 

you had to bring a piece to critique. And it couldn't be 

no old piece; it had to be something you just worked on. 

You had to stick it up there in front of everybody, and 

everybody sat on the other wall at Brockman on the floor. 

And there was a couple of jugs of paisano wine, and 

everybody sat back and-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They drank and partied. 

RIDDLE: You know, and you had to prove your point through 

your art . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That's right. And they were all such 

great artists, just great. 

RIDDLE: And I got to really be friends with these people 

I had never met, like Bridge and David and John. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Did you do Outterbridge? 

MASON: Yeah, Richard [Candida] Smith--I guess you talked 

to him on the phone--did John Outterbridge. It was a long 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, really? 

MASON: He had a lot to talk about. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, yeah. He can talk a lot about 

everything . 

MASON: What about all those organizations that sprang up 

after the Watts uprising, like the Mafundi Institute and 

the Watts Writers Workshop? 

RIDDLE: They were good. [Budd] Schulberg did the Watts 

Writers Workshop. And it gave people who were in the 

same organized anger an outlet, who were writers- And 

what's the old guy? They still show him. He started 

founding and developing black entrepreneurship. A real 

old guy. 

MASON: Jim Woods? 

RIDDLE: It's a real old guy. He was young then, but he's 

real old. I see him on TV still, and he had a 

manufacturing-- Like the first black baseball bats that 

were ever made for the major league, they had a bat 

factory out there. 

MASON: Okay. I know who you're talking about, but I 

can't remember what his name is. 


RIDDLE: I mean, it folded. I used to go to those 
meetings and that's when I first heard the concept "art 
pimps." I mean, "poverty pimps." These guys would be in 
these meetings and they had like $200 alligator shoes and 
fine clothes, and they would be talking about 
administering this federal money for the masses, and I 
could tell by looking at them where the money was going. 
They would put that money in their pockets, you know. But 
that's when black folks was really-- Poverty pimps, that's 
what they were. We used to call them the poverty pimps, 
and they'd get mad. 

But a lot of things [were] good and a lot of things 
bad. Bridge went out there, for instance, to build this 
tribute to the Watts riots. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: They burnt that sucker up. It was supposed to be 
like a drum kind of tower thing that-- 
CARMEN RIDDLE: He worked in the Watts Towers. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: But those people burned it up. 

MASON: Actually, Richard wanted me to ask you about that, 
because- - 

RIDDLE: It's a vague memory, now. I just remember they 
built it and it burned up. 
MASON: Well, who would have burned it up? Because I know 


there was kind of a-- 

RIDDLE: People out there who didn't like it, you know. 

Because they felt like-- 

MASON: People who didn't like the art or something? 

RIDDLE: They felt like it was in a vacant lot where some 

stuff had burned down, as I recall. And it was like, "We 

need jobs and we need these things, and you're going to 

put this old piece of crap out here? We don't care 

nothing about this!" 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, you know, a lot of people think 

artists are elitists. They feel that art isn't-- "How's 

the art going to help me eat?" and all that. 

RIDDLE: So I mean-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: There's always been kind of a gap between 

art and the lower classes, because art is primarily for-- 

Even though the artists may be for the lower classes, or 

from the lower classes, the people who buy art and get to 

enjoy art are usually the elite, and the people who are 

knowledgeable about it. 

RIDDLE: And people who have expendable cash to buy things 

that are-- Again, it goes into the abstract. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It's like most people-- Say, before we got 

here-- It's a black city now. But before we got here, 

most of the people who were his patrons were white. Even 

though he was doing black art, the people who bought his 


art were white. So it's kind of a conflict. 

MASON: Well, you have some celebrities here. 


MASON: Black celebrities, though. You had like Sidney 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, yeah. Well, he tries to think of the 

blacks living-- 

RIDDLE: Well, he bought in L.A. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: There were more whites that supported him 

than blacks. His idea in doing art, though, was to have 

blacks buy his art and to have it in their homes and to 

have it affordable. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, that was my motto. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Because most of the people who could 

afford it, like doctors and so forth, were not buying art. 

MASON: Like Leon [0.] Banks? 

RIDDLE: It was like quality art at affordable prices. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That's right. 

RIDDLE: That was my motto. That's when I went into 

printmaking, because you could do multiple images and you 

could afford to sell a piece for $200, because you had one 

hundred of them. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, and most people could afford it. 

And here, I mean-- 

RIDDLE: Whereas now you get an original, you want $2,000, 


and you can't find nobody. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He's in everybody's home here. I mean, he 

is just-- 

RIDDLE: That's why I need to get out of here. I've 

saturated the market. [laughter] 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And plus, like Andy [Andrew J.] Young 

[Jr.] and them, they all have-- Andy must have about ten 

pieces of his in his own home. He's really just sold to 

everybody; [everybody] has some of his art here. 

RIDDLE: And he's given me commissions, too. In fact, he 

gave me an Olympic [Games] commission to do a poster for 

the Olympics. And they were mad at first and said, "Well, 

you can't just do this without competition, Andy." And 

Shirley Franklin said, "Well, if Andy says he's going to 

do it, I guess it will happen that way." In fact, I was 

supposed to call him; I didn't call him yet. 

MASON: Yeah. That brings me to a question that I wanted 

to ask you about, this idea of trying to communicate with 

the black community. Because the interview I just did, we 

were talking about the Studio Museum and how the director 

feels that the Studio Museum should be responsible to the 

community in which it resides and it shouldn't talk down 

to people and that sort of thing. But I just wonder, how 

do you find out where people are and what they want and 

what they're thinking about? I was also talking to an 


independent black filmmaker who said that his films, 
although they deal with black life realistically-- I mean, 
just take, like. To Sleep with Anger , Charles Burnett. It 
didn't do as well as Superf ly , and yet it was a film that, 
it seems, a lot of black people could identify with and, 
you know, is exquisitely done. And so, as a black artist 
you're trying to sort of negotiate these things. How do 

CARMEN RIDDLE: I don't think he does. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Just being black and living as a black 
man, he just puts down what he knows. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, there's always resource material that comes 
to you. That's what goes all the way back to the earlier 
comment on Bobby Seale and "Art ain't shit." I had just 
gone through nine years of night school, and I just never 
stopped. And here I was getting ready to be an artist, 
and here's a black person who I respected saying that what 
I did wasn't worth anything. And then the only way I 
could rationalize it was somewhere else. In the next 
couple of paragraphs in his book, he spoke to the issue. 
Unless it advances social consciousness and promotes black 
development and all that- -then it has value. So then once 
I saw that rationalization, I said, "Okay, now I'm 
justified." But I know in another sense it's locked me 


into a process I've never gotten out of, and that's the 

social consciousness of black people through art, where a 

lot of times I'd like just to give that up. But like 

Carmen said, there's always, every day, some resource. It 

could be Rodney King; it can be Somalia versus whatever 

that place is. 

MASON: Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

RIDDLE: Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That's pretty good. 

RIDDLE: And, you know, it's just like it can be even more 


CARMEN RIDDLE: The Haitians. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, the Haitians versus they let all the 

Hispanics come because they work for nothing: you don't 

have to pay any benefits, you don't pay Uncle Sam taxes, 

because this is people that don't really exist except they 

come to work every day. 

MASON: I think they do pay taxes, though. 

RIDDLE: Not on all of them. I mean, there's a lot of 

that Hispanic labor that doesn't exist on paper, but it 

exists in production. And that's profit. Every nickle 

they can save off a worker from salary right on through 

the whole wage, cost of workers, I mean-- But that's why 

they let them come in by the millions. 

MASON: Let me turn this tape over. 


RIDDLE: It's SO the Hispanics can come in by the 


MASON: Well, that's okay-- 

RIDDLE: But, I mean, that's the same way we were talking 

about yesterday. They shot down that plane over there in 

Yugoslavia with the Italian United Nations worker. Now, 

if Saddam Hussein had shot down or even shot at some of 

those inspectors, [George H.W.] Bush would be blowing 

Saddam Hussein up right today. But it just depends. 

They're not going to go over there and jump on other white 

people. That's why George Carlin does that whole comic 

routine: we only blow up black, brown, and yellow people. 

In my lifetime, since the Second World War, there haven't 

been any wars with white people. It's always been some 

white people giving some weapons to some brown-skinned 

people to kill each other. The white people are trying to 

do it themselves, because they started the whole problem 

in Somalia anyway when it was a struggle between the 

United States and Russia over who would control the horn 

of Africa. 

MASON: Yeah. And then they make it seem like, "Oh, these 

poor Africans are too stupid to know how to take care of 

themselves." Even though they were the first people on 




MASON: You know, it's pretty ridiculous. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: I know. Well, at least they're finally 
having to help. I guess, because they sent help to Bosnia 
and all that, they have to give some help to Somalia. 
RIDDLE: They don't realize--and I think this is the role 
of the social artist whether he's black or white--that 
there's just enough resources on the planet to take care 
of the problems of the planet. Because there's very 
little difference between bragging about Saddam Hussein 
didn't have electricity, the kids didn't have milk, the 
people didn't have shelter, they didn't have water, they 
didn't have this-- There's no difference between that and 
Hurricane Andrew going through south Florida. It's the 
same fact. When Bush started [Operation] Desert Storm and 
they said they killed x number of Iraqis, at the same time 
there was a monsoon that went through some place over 
there in India and killed the exact same amount of people. 
One was man-made, one was natural. And there's just 
enough resources to take care of what ' s here without the 
need for implements of war and all this waste and all 

I always tell Carmen, "Art is the prison." The 
criminal justice system in America is the last vestige of 
slavery in the black community, and how much money does 
the total criminal justice system make in America? I 


mean, from the judges, lawyers, all legitimate people-- 
nothing wrong with them--the police, planners, architects, 
builders of the penitentiaries, the people who supply the 
stuff. Now, we need places to keep these prisoners, 
because we raise some bad-thinking people. But if there 
was peace tomorrow, we'd have troubled times, like we're 
having right now, because there's less need for war. But 
if there was the cessation of crime tomorrow, the 
insurance companies who get to sell two cars or two TVs, 
the brokers who get their commissions-- You think about 
every legitimate, honest, upstanding citizen who makes 
money off the fact that people do crime, if they all lost 
their jobs. See, we need crime. That's why crack can 
come in . 

I saw Bush say he's going to rebuild Homestead. But 
when they caught [Eugene] Hasenfus in that drug arms 
plane, when they shot it down in Nicaragua and they let 
him out, and he said, "Yeah, we take arms to Nicaragua for 
the Contras, but we don't believe in coming back with 
empty planes, so we bring cocaine back from Hall's Ranch 
in Costa Rica." And I saw one night on TV infrared 
cameras showed the plane land at Homestead Air Force Base, 
go through a remote part of the runway. They offloaded it 
into some trucks that said "Ramiro's Seafood Wholesalers" 
or something, and the truck drove right off the base. I 


mean, the American government is involved in drug 
smuggling. It's big business. It helps suppress black 
anger about what ' s going on in the community and in the 
country by turning black on black. Put all these vicious 
fools out there killing each other and stealing your 
goods and making you ashamed of black people, making you 
hate black people, making you not come together as a 
community. It's all planned. They couldn't just say, 
"Oh, this is just some coincidence." That's just a 
diabolical plan where crackers make money and we 
eliminate ourselves and they know it. And we're stupid 
enough to be involved in it. But if somebody's not doing 
something against it to pull people's coats, maybe art 
isn't strong enough. 

You said Super fly . I mean, the most black folk got 
out of Superf ly that I noticed was they were wearing 
cocaine spoons on chains and guys were buying those hats 
with hair hanging down in the back so they could look 
like Ron O. Neal . Now, to me, it's one of my favorite 
movies because it's full of symbolism from start to 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: But black people that I talk to, a lot of them 
didn't see that symbolism. Maybe because I deal in 
symbology as an artist, from the beginning to the end, I 


saw nothing but symbols. But a lot of people 
misinterpreted. A lot of people saw that as a sign to 
escalate the cocaine business on every level. To be hip, 
to have chains with coke spoons around your necks, and to 
go off and say, "What's happenin?" and be cool. I mean, 
they got all the wrong-- All the front people saw it as a 
way to have a new front game, the cocaine trade. 
MASON: Yeah. Was the drug culture part of the black 


SEPTEMBER 5, 1992 

MASON: Okay. I guess, we were talking about the drug 

culture. And you were saying- - 

RIDDLE: Like I said, amongst the artists that Carmen and 

I have been speaking of, none of them were-- I can't say 

that either. As the movement of black artists grew, there 

were a couple of guys that I can't-- One of the guys' 

names almost came to my head, but-- 

MASON: You don't have to name any names. 

RIDDLE: No, but I'm just saying, there were a couple of 

people who-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But I remember going to that party. You 

know, the Bohanon party? 

RIDDLE: Mm-hmm. 

MASON: Oh, Gloria Bohanon? 


RIDDLE: And George. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And her husband was a musician. He had a 

lot of musicians there. And I remember some of them were 

taking drugs, and the artists said, "Uh-oh, we'd better 

get out of here." 

RIDDLE: Yeah, I remember one time I was looking for all 

of my friends and they had disappeared. That always was a 


sign that you were missing something if you went to a 
party and all your friends disappeared. I mean, that went 
back to teenage times. So I went looking for them, and 
they were all out in the front on Gloria's wall in front 
of her house. There was about ten people there. And I 
saw Dan [Concholar] , so I went and sat next to Dan. The 
funniest thing-- The people who were out there, they 
weren' t--like Carmen said--artists, but they were at the 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Musicians and Hollywood types. 
RIDDLE: Yeah, and they were snorting cocaine. What they 
had was a dollar bill, or some kind of bill, with cocaine 
on it and they had another dollar bill rolled up. They 
were passing it down this row of people and it got to Dan. 
And there was a guy sitting next to me too. And it got to 
Dan, and I heard him say, "Here, man. " And Dan 
said--he would always talk so cool-- "No thanks, man. 
That's too heavy for me." And I thought that I would fall 
out laughing, boy. But that was basically how the artists 
were . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They would take a bottle of wine around. 
RIDDLE: Kept some paisano's cheap wine. A half gallon. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Paisano. Just drink wine and talk. And 
they really didn't need drugs. 
RIDDLE: They might smoke some pot, but they didn't do 


heavy drugs. 

Now, there was a couple of artists later that were 
really good artists, but they drifted in and out because 
they were using heroin. I just remember that we had a 
show at UCLA one time, and two of the guys in that show 
were really good artists. One of them was a pure heroin 
junkie. I mean, he was one of those nodding-out junkies. 
He was one of the people who said one time at one of the 
things at Brockman [Gallery] that the-- How do you phrase 
it? It was about the loss of human potential. The wasted 
human potential. It was the first time I heard it said 
that poetically, about how all these black people never 
got a chance to be what they could have been, or should 
have been, were just cast off as wasted potential because 
their skin color was wrong. I mean, those are the basic 
tenets of racism that you just disregard people because of 
what they look like. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, I thought you meant because they were 
taking drugs. 

RIDDLE: No. But I mean, that's a phase of the waste that 
takes place when people don't get a chance to explore what 
they should really be about. 

MASON: You think of people like Charlie Parker maybe who 
were not necessarily interested in drugs as, like, 
consciousness expanding. It was more of an escape, I 



CARMEN RIDDLE: Plus the life they led. They had to go 

from town to town. In those days, those musicians were 

like that. They had to see different people every night. 

It was just a hard life. 

RIDDLE: It was an acceptable part of the behavior of 

musicians of that era, because most of them were junkies. 

I mean, if you look at Miles Davis's autobiography and he 

talks about different bands he had with Sonny Rollins and 

one of the Heath brothers, all of them were junkies. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: All of them were junkies. 

RIDDLE: And when they took their break, that's what they 

did--go out and shoot up. You know, there was a lot of 

pressure to be a drug addict if you were playing every 

night live jazz in the bebop era. That was just part of 


CARMEN RIDDLE: I think of all of the artistic things, 

that visual artists have this less. He's probably less of 

a drug addict than a writer. They say most writers have a 

tendency to be alcoholics because it's a very lonely 

thing. But for some reason, the visual artists, the ones 

that I've met, were not into drugs. 

RIDDLE: I've known very few that were into cocaine. Not 

an exception was [Herman] "Kofi" Bailey, because he was a 

death-wish artist. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, he was an alcoholic for the most part. 

RIDDLE: Pills and alcohol. I mean, he'd drop pills and 

then he'd drink. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But a genius, a pure genius at his art. 

RIDDLE: When he had money, he always had a full pint of 

scotch and one that was almost empty, or it might have 

been vodka he drank. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But I think he would have been anyway. He 

had so many problems at Spelman [College] . 

MASON: I understand, though, that he taught Emory 


RIDDLE: He was at Spelman for a while. 

MASON: Oh, okay. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They put him off the campus in his later 

days because he was harassing-- 

RIDDLE: Everybody. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: --the girls at the place. They had to 

tell him not to come back to the campus, and then when he 

died, they gave him a eulogy. 

RIDDLE: He used to come over here and drink and sit out. 

But at the end, he was incoherent. And when I first met 

him, he was incoherent. He was in Claude Booker's car 

that night. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But he could really-- Boy, he was a great 



RIDDLE: Dropped pills at ten in the morning and was 

drinking by ten thirty. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Great artist. 

RIDDLE: I could tell he was the kind of person who was 

trying to kill himself for whatever reason. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But all the others — Jacob Lawrence, Charles 

[E.] White, Romare Bearden--I don't think of them as being 

abusers of any kind of intoxicants, really. Do you? 

RIDDLE: A good example is Bill. 


RIDDLE: I mean. Bill Pajaud. He told me as recently as 

yesterday-- We were talking about those Saturday 

excursions we used to go on. He said, "John, if it hadn't 

been for those, I'd probably just be an old drunk now, 

because all I did was drink." And when he started doing 

art, he put his bottle aside and started-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It's therapy. 

RIDDLE: He'd take up that therapy instead of the negative 

escapism. See, they've both got escapism, but one's 


CARMEN RIDDLE: I don't know if you've heard of Benny 


MASON: Yeah, he ' s a New York artist. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, no. He ' s a Georgia artist, but he 

lives in New York. They're so proud of him here because 


he came from south Georgia. 

RIDDLE: They had an article in the paper about him the 

other day. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He was a-- What do you call [a person] 

that works in the field? 

RIDDLE: A sharecropper. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: A sharecropper, yeah. 

RIDDLE: He and his brother are artists. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: His brother just died. 

RIDDLE: His brother just died. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: His brother's a writer. 

RIDDLE: But I'll tell you the difference between artists 

here when I first moved here. These artists were so 

selfish, for the most part, so into themselves, that they 

could never form an arts association. They tried. It was 

the Black Artists of Atlanta, another BAAism. They tried, 

but it was never like with Alonzo and them. It was like 

other things . 

MASON: What were they competing for? 

RIDDLE: On the social level more than as artists. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, because, you see, it's the South. 

RIDDLE: Don't share your knowledge with other artists, 

because they might be able to do as well as you in your 

field. I mean, all that. Shoot, Lev Mills was the 

classic. I asked him to show me how to silk-screen, and 


he said, "I don't have time to show you how to silk- 
screen." So I went and learned it somewhere else. But if 
somebody had asked me and I had the knowledge, I would 
have said, "Yeah, come on by and the next time I screen, 
I'll let you sit in and you can check it out." But it 
wasn't that, and it wasn't like-- They lived better. They 
had nicer houses here and they had wall-to-wall carpet. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: They didn't believe in the artistic life. 
RIDDLE: They didn't drink wine and sit on the floor. 

RIDDLE: And they didn't talk about anything, and it was 

MASON: Did they have full-time jobs and then paint? Is 

RIDDLE: Yeah. 

MASON: I see. Were they getting exposure in galleries or 
anything? Or crafts? Or anything? 

RIDDLE: Yeah, to an extent. I mean, they were doing as 
well as any-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It's just their lifestyle's completely 
different from the artists on the West Coast. 
RIDDLE: It was more cliquish. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Because on the West Coast, you're admired 
for being different and being an artist. Coming so close 


to Hollywood, I think, too, that has a lot to do with it. 
You're given respect for art. Whereas back here, they're 
closer to slavery, and the main thing is to get away from 
anything that isn't academic. I mean, what they consider 
academic-- Like we are here with all the black colleges, 
and so they want to-- The social academic life is more-- 
RIDDLE: They would spend $3,000 on some outfits for an 
art soiree and then get to the soiree and see $500 on the 
art and say, "Oh, I can't pay that much for that." But 
they would pay $500 for a dress or a suit to go to the 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It's just a different way of thinking. 
RIDDLE: And plus Los Angeles is a pace-setting place. 
California. California sets trends. I heard somebody the 
other day say-- They were talking about Proposition 13 and 
how it's devastated California's tax base. "They need to 
help parts of the problem they got right now." And the 
guy said, "But you'd better watch out, because it started 
in California. And things like that, that start in 
California, have a tendency to cross the United States." 

So I think we were beneficiaries of a much higher 
energy place than this. Because I came here and I had so 
much energy, and then we used to talk about our batteries 
would start running down. And you really need to go 
somewhere else to recharge. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: And our kids, coming from California, it 
was good for them, because they picked up the academic 
part here. And I think you can always go back to 
California and have fun. 
MASON: The lifestyle. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Have fun. But they picked up-- Like they 
all got scholarships and became different things, a lawyer 
and all that kind of stuff. So they got that part from 
here, and they could always return to California, although 
they haven't. But the California lifestyle is so laid- 
back. And our oldest child was a beachcomber, Tony 
[Anthony Thomas Riddle] . 
RIDDLE: With dreds. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: With dredlocks. And then when he got 
here, he changed and became a more responsible person. 
And now he runs a cable station in Minneapolis, which is-- 
I mean, you know, it didn't take away from his artistic 
part; it's just that he can make money now. 
MASON: He was doing assemblages? 
RIDDLE: Jewelry. 
MASON: Jewelry. 

RIDDLE: He's always been like-- He used to be a street 
merchant. He'd make jewelry and sell it. But now-- 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, that was in California. 
RIDDLE: Now he says that that was the hardest time in his 



CARMEN RIDDLE: He hated it. He said, "I hated it." 

RIDDLE: He said he may never make jewelry again. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He used to make us think that was what he 

wanted to do. But that was the California part of him, 

and now he's a very responsible person. He's still 

artistic, but he's doing something else. You know, he's a 

computer type of person and he's making money with it. 

MASON: We were talking about being afraid of New York 

earlier. What did you mean by that? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: We have a daughter in New York. 

RIDDLE: Well, only that-- I mean, at the time it was '58, 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, you mean for art? 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: I had been out of the service two years, had at 

least two kids [Anthony Thomas Riddle and Deborah Lynn 

Riddle] . And New York was like a big unknown. I had 

never been out of California east, not really. And all of 

a sudden to pack up your whole family and just head for 

the great unknown that was New York just seemed a somewhat 

scary proposition. Whereas, it turned out that by '73, we 

did exactly that. We sold everything that we had — house, 

cars- -gave away what we couldn't sell, packed up four 

daughters [Deborah Lynn, Shawn Denise, Pamela Ann, and 


Spring Robin Riddle], and headed for Trinidad. The 

weirdest thing of all, after making that long flight down 

there-- We got to the airport and the airport was like a 

bustling airport, exciting. A half hour later we're the 

only people in the airport, sitting on our luggage. The 

place was a ghost town. It's eleven thirty at night. We 

didn't know that those airports are only hustle-bustle 

when the plane of the day comes in. 

MASON : Yeah . 

RIDDLE: And then people came up and said in this funny 

kind of language we had never heard at all--English was 

almost a foreign language-- "Can we help you?" 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They were checking us out, because they 

couldn't understand why we were there. 

RIDDLE: [imitates an unintelligible language] And we 

were like, "Jesus Christ, what's happening?" Here we are 

these six strangers stranded in the middle of nowhere, six 

thousand miles, twice as far as New York from home, don't 

know a soul, can't understand what these people were 


MASON : Yeah . 

RIDDLE: So we ended up doing the same. Maybe we would 

have been better off to go to New York with Danny [Daniel 

LaRue Johnson] . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: We stayed there a while, and then we came 



MASON: What did you do in Trinidad? 

RIDDLE: Nothing. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: We lived in this beautiful house on a 


RIDDLE: Overlooking-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: We went to the carnival. It was in 


RIDDLE: Right next door to the Mighty Sparrow, the 

favorite musician of carnival, selected each February. We 

always liked that. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: We had a good time, and the people were 

real friendly, real friendly. 

RIDDLE: Now, if we had been con people, we could have 

been rich today. Because everybody saw this family of 

four daughters, and we had no visible means of support, so 

they figured we had great wealth. We always had people 

inviting us to these nice cocktail parties in backyards 

with wealthy people and bankers. "These are the Riddles. 

They just got here from California." And everybody's all 

jumping all over you and wanting us to invest money, open 

accounts in banks, and we ain't got quarters. But, I 

mean, if we had been slick con people with a plan, we 

might have been able to pull something off. 

MASON: Did you make any art out of that experience or 


during that time? 

RIDDLE: No, I just read. It turned out to be like a long 

vacation. I read books, and we sat on our porch all day. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: We went to the carnival at night. 

RIDDLE: Went to carnival at night. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It was amazing because those people danced 

through the streets, and you'd hear the music in all the 

taxis, everywhere. 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh, it was great. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Everybody just dancing through. Did you 

ever see Black Orpheus ? 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, gosh. You should look at that. It's 

a great movie. It's about the carnival in Rio. 

MASON: I see. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: The same thing. 

RIDDLE: It was carnival and you went to "jump-ups" every 

night. And one night-- 

MASON: What is that? 

RIDDLE: That's like what they call a party. 


RIDDLE: And you go and you jump up and down. And we let 

our kids go to the beach. We always laugh now when 

someone says, "Where are your daughters?" She'd say, "Oh, 

they went to the beach." "They went to the beach? 


Alone?" Like nobody ever went to the beach alone. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Then we started getting scared. We said, 
"Oh, my god!" 

RIDDLE: "Our kids are gone forever I" But it was an 
interesting experience. 

And then we came back to Miami . And those Cubans 
that left Castro's Cuba, they want to act more white than 
white people. So they were worse racists than white 

MASON: Yeah, they were real conservative Republicans. 
RIDDLE: So we stayed there about a week and we cut out. 
We came here because we heard this was "little New York." 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Because there was a black mayor [Maynard 
Jackson] . 

RIDDLE: It wasn't little New York. 

MASON: Yeah. You get the impression that Atlanta is a 
black city, but then you wonder how much black people 
really control in terms of the economics. 
RIDDLE: Yeah, that's where the breakdowns come. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: And what kind of black people? 
RIDDLE: Political power--they control it. But in terms 
of economics, it's no contest. That's why at the 
beginning when we were talking about Billy Paine and 
Maynard and them-- I mean, those people just took the 


Olympic's money and the Olympic's operation and said, "No. 

You got us the city. Now get out of the way. We're gonna 

run it. " 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They Still don't got the [inaudible]. 

RIDDLE: They said that in the papers, too. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They did? Today? 

RIDDLE: Not about the [inaudible]. But that they told 

the commissioner, Michael Lomax, who's an exponent of 

cultural arts and things here-- In fact, he's the 

spearhead behind the National Black Arts Festival. And 

they told him-- 

MASON: He isn't related to the Los Angeles Lomax? 

RIDDLE: Same people. 


RIDDLE: They used to live right there on Cimarron 

[Street] and Adams [Boulevard] when I was growing up. 

Melanie [Lomax] , and Wilhemina [Lomax] , the woman who sued 

the [ Los Angeles] Times for the job, because she was a 

reporter-- They had that newspaper-- What's that paper? 

The Sentinel ? 


RIDDLE: The Atlanta-- The L.A. what? Wasn't that the 

Sentinel ? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: The Sentinel or the [ California ] Eagle . 

But that wasn't what they were-- 


RIDDLE: But she had a black newspaper. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They refused to hire her at the Times . 

RIDDLE: As a reporter. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: I wonder if Melanie ever became a lawyer. 

RIDDLE: She got eleven years' back pay. 

MASON : Wow ! 

RIDDLE: Plus the job. 

MASON : Wow ! 

RIDDLE: So, yeah. Michael's one of them. There's about 

five kids. 

MASON: I'm still not sure who controls the Olympics now. 

Is it a big corporation or--? 

RIDDLE: White people. 

MASON: Or is it a corporate interest? 

RIDDLE: Well, it's called the Atlantic Committee for the 

Olympic Games, ACOG. It's under the control of white 

people. There's some black token people, but the white 

people make all the decisions. You know, anytime it's-- 

Like my father said, "Whenever there's a pile of money, 

Johnny, there's always gonna be some criminals around." 

And you're looking at the kind of money L.A. Olympics was 

supposed to have generated, in the billions and billions. 

You probably have people who just follow Olympics all 

around the world, and every four years they get a cut of 

the pie. It wouldn't be unreasonable, because there's a 


lot of expertise in Atlanta now--with the Olympic Games in 
Los Angeles that came here directly from Barcelona. So 
you've got that group of people. Then you've got people 
who right now, like we're doing this interview, they're 
sitting up talking, cutting deals on their share of the 
pie and their middleman fee and their commission for 
hooking up deals and all that. So by the time the people 
find out two weeks before the Olympics, they'll be going 
around, "Where's my part?" And there ain't nothing. You 
can't even get a ticket then. 

MASON: Yeah. And so there's no organization that will 
make black people more aware of what ' s happening? , 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, that's what the mayor is trying to 
do and everything. You know, they're trying. 
RIDDLE: That's why he don't have no power. They left him 
outside. They told him they couldn't do nothing. They 
told Michael-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: The city council tries. They're all in 
there trying. But the thing is-- What they do is, like 
with the city council trying, they hire the city council 
president's sister and wife and all that so that they're-- 
They say, "Okay." You know, they can be bought, too. So 
it's all kind of crafty. Not that bad, though. We make 
it sound so horrible. 
RIDDLE: Well, actually, it makes me mad, because I can 


see that if you're not like an aggressive hustler-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It's probably like that in any city. 

RIDDLE: Like right on. You quit your other job and your 

full-time job is to be in these Olympics making some 

dough. If you don't take it as that kind of an approach, 

there ' s not anything for you . And the other people feel 

like, "Well, I'll just sit back here and benefit." 

Suppose I was an artist who wanted to do some Olympic T- 

shirts or posters or-- Because it's all for this giant 

influx of people. Well, they're going to arrest you. 

They're going to run you off the streets. They're going 

to tell you you can't do this because you're not 

authorized to make money off of the Olympics. Only the 

"in" people can make money off the Olympics. You know, 

this is supposed to be the land of free entrepreneurship. 

You know, creating business. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, you're getting to do something in 


RIDDLE: Yeah, but I mean that's only because I knew 


CARMEN RIDDLE: I know. [laughter] 

RIDDLE: What about the guy who's a better artist than me 

and would be much more enthusiastic than I've been to this 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Thank goodness you knew somebody. 


RIDDLE: --who don't know nobody. He don't have a chance. 

CAP?MEN RIDDLE: It's always the way. 

RIDDLE: That's not-- It doesn't make it right. 

MASON: What kind of people do like you? Black people, 

are they interested? Does anybody do assemblage, for 

example? Or mostly painters? Or--? 


MASON: Yeah, in Atlanta? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: In Atlanta. I guess they have everybody. 

RIDDLE: Well, I could tell you more painters than other 

things. But I think that's probably true most anywhere, 

that there ' s probably more painters than printmakers and 

sculptors. There's probably an equal amount of 

craftspeople if you add them all up together, the weavers 

and the potters and-- But I don't really know, because 

I've kind of dropped out of the art activity--! mean, like 

the social activities, going to shows. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He does go to shows every once in a while. 

RIDDLE: Although when I go, I like them. But I don't 


CARMEN RIDDLE: No, we get about three or four art 

invitations a day for different stuff, but we just never 

go. We never go. 

RIDDLE: I haven't even been going to my own art shows 

lately. I go opening night because you've got to show up, 


but I never go back. I go back and take it off the wall 
when the show is over. 

MASON: You seem tired, so we can take a break here then 
and finish up. [tape recorder off] 

MASON: Let's see. We talked a little about your 
paintings, and I was just wondering how-- Well, in this 
press release, it says you're interested in-- Let's see, 
"recently lectured at the Los Angeles County Museum [of 
Art] on the current phenomenon of black art as related to 
great social protest artists of the past." Some of the 
colors and the structures of the things that you use in 
the paintings seem-- I mean, because it kind of reminds me 
of Jacob Lawrence in some ways. Was that something that 
you were trying to look at and then build on? Did you 
study with Charles White or anything like that? 
RIDDLE: Well, I knew Charles and I taught some of his 
classes at Otis [Parson Art Institute] when he was on a 
sabbatical for gifted black students. That was a program 
sponsored by Golden State [Mutual] Life Insurance 
[Company] . But I think it was like the critics used to 
say, when blacks were emerging on the American art scene 
in a more prominent, conflicting way. They used to always 
say that the black art used bold, primary colors. And I 
think that's just something that Jacob Lawrence plugged 
into along the way, just like myself or Varnette 


[Honeywood] or a lot of the black artists now use bold 

I know AFRI-COBRA's bold colors were African designs 
or motifs, like triangles and repeat patterns and things. 
But I just think the bold color is as much a part of black 
as-- Well, they used to complain that why did blacks dress 
boldly and wear jewelry. They used to call it gaudy 
dress. Now you look and everybody that's hip has open 
collars and gaudy dress, even today where the colors that 
people wear on the street in their sport clothes are 
outlandishly colorful. There is just blatant color now in 
today's fashion. So I just think that it's something 
that's characteristic of the African artists. If you look 
at the modern African artists, they use a lot of bold 
color and primary and secondary colors without a lot of 
tint and hue in them. I just think it's part of the 
argument that we used to espouse: "Is there or is there 
not black art?" And I think there are certain 
characteristics that black artists used that do make up a 
black art. 

^4AS0N: I was just thinking of trying to find a painting 
that you have. Yeah, this one: "Untitled 1967." In the 
middle it's got a photograph of a family; it looks like 
one of these WPA [Works Progress Administration] 
photographs of the 1930s. 


RIDDLE: Oh, I remember that piece. It wasn't really 
untitled. It is a part of the collection of Jackie and Al 
Ryan of Los Angeles. It was called The Olympic Stand , and 
it's the 1972 Olympic Games when-- I can't think of these 
two guys' names anymore that make up the border of this 
piece. But it was Williams and another black who were on 
the victory stand, but they weren't standing at attention 
when they played the national anthem. They were standing- - 
I remember it said in Life magazine, where I took these 
pictures--with their arms akimbo. It was the same Olympics 
that the Israeli wrestling team had been taken hostage by 
the Palestinians and the showdown at the Munich airport. 
They rushed the helicopter and somebody in the helicopter 
set off a hand grenade and everybody in the helicopter got 
killed. And they were very mad at the Palestinians, so 
they took it out on these two brothers because they didn't 
stand for the Olympics at attention. 

They thought somehow that was some kind of a Mexico 
City, [John] Carlos and [Thomas "Tommie"] Smith black fist 
protest, which it wasn't. And they banned these guys from 
Olympic competition for life. And yet they didn't ban Dave 
Wattle, who stood on the victory stand with a baseball hat 
on his head and never took his hat off, or the little girl 
who won some swimming medals I saw on TV crying and rubbing 
her eyes rather than stand at attention during the 


emotionalism of the ceremony. But they picked these two 
brothers off the relay team and banned them for life in the 

So inside the frame, I showed a repetition of these 
people with yokes around their necks and their hands tied 
behind their back coming from across the blue space that 
was water and ending up behind a mule and plowing and also 
picking cotton. And all these repetitions end up with this 
George [who] is sitting in front of this bench, and all the 
seats in front of the bench are black folk. And this line 
here from this man's leg becomes this tree, which was a 
famous lynching scene where they lynched two brothers at 
the same time. It's in all the lynching pictures. And 
people are standing around, even the little kids. It's 
like a very gala festivity with these two broken-neck 
brothers hanging out of this tree. And I was noticing that 
white people stand at attention for things like that, when 
black folks are hanging out of trees. 

I also show here a brother protesting, like throwing a 
rock or whatever, and he was in a bull's-eye. And then the 
patrol of poverty and this repressed, suppressed zone of 
black folk with the typical L.A. "To Protect and Serve" 
police car-- And then [there are] these very rigid, very 
faded people that I always used to paint in a red, white, 
and blue mixture, and mix it down real pastel so you have 


these cold pinks and cold blues and cold whites. They're 
all standing at attention looking at-- Some of them are at 
attention looking at these two brothers on the TV screen, 
and also one of them's in the chaise lounge. 

So, I mean, white people don't stand up for the 
national anthem either. It was just a case of persecution 
to show protest and placate, in my opinion, at that 
particular time, our Jewish population, because they were 
the recipients of a very sad affair in Munich. And that's 
what that piece was. It definitely wouldn't have been 
untitled if I'd-- I never use the word "untitled." 
MASON: Well, there are a lot of mistakes in this catalog 
as far as dates-- 

RIDDLE: Yeah, that's what I was saying. My titles 
precede--they always precede the work. I think up the 
titles before I ever even do the piece. Because I do all 
my pieces conceptually in my head, and then if I decide I 
don't want to do them, then I never do. Sometimes I get 
satisfaction just doing them in my head, and they never 
come out to be-- 
MASON: Yeah, conceptual art. 

RIDDLE: That was a Watts riot piece right there. 
MASON: The Clubs Is Trumps ? 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh. Because it was a play on black folks 
playing bid whist, and the fact that blacks-- We have all 


the spades. We have the ace of spades. If you've ever 
played whist, you know that sometimes you could have a 
heavy-suited hand. So in this case, clubs is trumps. We 
just happen to have no clubs. And a deuce of clubs can 
trump any spade in this particular formation of hand. I 
used mattress ticking from the prison mattress to show that 
our consciousness was asleep to our power. And the ace-- 
Sometimes in whist like that, the ace may turn a book, the 
king may turn a book, if you're lucky. I mean, there's 
little likelihood. The queen was like stylish women; the 
jacks were like men in old-fashioned clothes. The ten was 
party. The nine was the big ride, the front. The eight 
was idleness. The seven was minimum wage- -even though it 
was honest work- -minimum wage work. Six was matriarchal 
mother out in the streets with an umbrella carrying home 
the groceries and stuff when she should be as retired as 
some of those retirees in Florida. The five was a bad 
diet. And, you know, the four was chump change and the 
brothers grumbling over chump change. And one brother only 
had one leg, to show that that's how disabled we are at 
that level. The three was the penitentiary. 

And the two was a brother with a dew rag 
[handkerchief] that I got out of another Life magazine one 
time. The snarling brother at the Watts riots — Underneath 
it said "Get whitey." But it's just here's the brother 


that's powerless, but he's filled with anger. And to me, 
going back on DuBois and Booker T. [Washington]-- See now, 
DuBois said the "intellectual tenth," you know, that 
talented tenth-- And Booker T. said, "Train the masses to 
vocational skill." And now if you put that brother with 
them, you have the perfect black scenario. You've got the 
angry, hostile black who's getting ready to tear off his 
shirt and give up his life to get whitey. The 
insurrectionist. So then the white people always say, 
"Well, what do they want? What do they want? What do you 
people want?" 

Then, that's when DuBois centers in with the talented 
tenth who negotiate the wants. Then he steps aside, and 
Booker T. comes in and fills the positions with skilled 
people. And then he steps aside and the angry Mr. T-type 
brother jumps back out and says, "Raaaaah!" And the crowd 
says, "Oh, what does he want? What does he want?" And you 
just keep that scenario going. Because you see, 
segregation and exploitation are twenty-four hours. They 
work three shifts. And if you don't work three shifts with 
them, all your gains are eroded in the time that you're 
resting. So that's what that piece was about. 
MASON: The tire floating around. [refers to the creek 
outside the window] 
RIDDLE: The debris. As long as it doesn't stop in my part 


of the creek. 

MASON: Okay. And then you have the Statue of Liberty 

RIDDLE: Well, in that particular case she represents what 
liberty was supposed to represent, freedom. Freedom and 
liberty are supposed to be, in Western thinking, the top 
values, the top concepts of the individual's right. So I 
equated [that] with the ace, which is the top card in the 
deck. Now, the king was education, because education is 
very important. So I equated important things with the 
highest two cards in the deck, because-- Again, they might 
turn. If you're not lucky, they're going to run a Boston 
on you. 

Then I put at the end of the piece, at the bottom, 
because I used to play so much whist-- A lot of times black 
people would get bad hands and they would try to throw 
their hands in and say, "Misdeal, man! Reshuffle the 
cards!" and try to throw their hands in. So I ' m saying in 
this piece, "We got a misdeal here, and we need to 
reshuffle the cards and shuffle for a better, stronger hand 
so that we could survive." 

MASON: Yeah. So in taking things like the Statue of 
Liberty or the national anthem, do you feel that that's 
what protest art is: to take given symbols and then 
reinvest them with meaning? 


RIDDLE: Yeah. Because there was a guy named Willy Ricks. 
He didn't get credit in the black power movement for saying 
"Black Power, " but he was in SNCC [Student Nonviolent 
Coordinating Committee] with Stokely Carmichael. He was 
living down here when I moved down here. And a lot of 
knowledgeable people used to say, "You know, Willy, he's 
the one who used to say it." But Stokely Carmichael was 
there when the mikes were there. He was the one that fate 
chose, according to this scenario of history, to be the one 
to say "Black Power!" 

But anyway, I used to talk to Willy all the time, and 
one time I asked Willy about SNCC. And I said, "Well, 
what's the role of a student in a revolution?" And he had 
a very clear answer. He said, "To articulate the 
contradiction." So therefore, he would say, you study and 
you learn and you get this knowledge and then you're able 
to articulate the contradictions between what ' s being put 
on you and how it should be. So I feel like in art you 
take those standard symbols, and you articulate the 
contradiction between what that symbol is and what it's 
supposed to be. 

And I fell in love with the copy machine, because at 
that time I realized-- The same way I realized 
sculpturally, that you don't have to create your own 
shadows; the sculpture creates its own shadows by its 


actual space taking. It's the same with Xerox. I found 
out I didn't have to draw if I didn't want to. If I saw 
something that I could make a Xerox copy of that was better 
than what I could draw, that could take me directly to the 
point. I would use that. So that's how collage-- 

Now, I felt like collage is an important part of art. 
I had a teacher named Frank Williams at Cal[ifornia] State 
[University, Los Angeles] , and he was a-- A lot of people 
didn't like him as a teacher. Some students thought he was 
too loose; some thought he was too rigid. He was the kind 
of guy-- He was a painter, but he just liked technique. 
He'd give you technique, and you could do whatever you 
wanted. And he showed us this method with acrylics of 
painting matte medium on a photograph, seven or eight 
coats. Let them dry and, in between coats, soak it in 
water, turn it upside down. You could peel all the paper 
off the back and all the ink would stick to the medium. 
Where there was no ink, you would have transparency. Where 
there was ink you would still have the image. And so, I 
mean, I still do that, 

I think that's the greatest thing in the world, that I 
can take what I call transparent films- -what David Hammons 
and I used to call motionless film--that you could tell 
stories in sequence but you didn't have film, like in 
moviemaking. You had motionless film, because it was 


static. But [it] was still frame A, B, C, D, twenty-three, 
and there's the picture. So I found by using this 
transparency-- Which I had always wanted to paint ten 
layers of transparency on top of each other in my art 
anyway. That was one of my early goals. But this helped 
me very well to be able to use technique to be able to 
create imagery. 

I still feel that way, except now I'm interested in 
using large pieces of torn billboard, like when they scrape 
off billboards to put up new billboards. I go by and ask 
those guys, "Can I have that billboard stuff?" And they 
say, "Yeah, I don't know what you want it for." You bring 
it home and you soak it in your bathtub. And you might 
have six layers, and you don't know what's under there. 
But as the glue dissolves, if you're very careful, you can 
separate the layers. And you get very nice collages, kind 
of like what [George] Braque and them had to create, where 
they had parts of words and parts of textures and colors 
and things. That's one of the reasons I want to go bigger 
in painting, so that I can explore some of those torn 
fragments from the billboards, combined with black social 
consciousness ideas. 


SEPTEMBER 5, 1992 

MASON: Okay. 

RIDDLE: Let me just conclude with one other thought about 
painting that holds true for me in most art forms. I'm an 
experimenter. I always want to try something new, because 
that's where the excitement is. I think if you hit upon 
something that everybody likes, and they say, "Oh, that's 
a perfect form" I can't just stay with it, because it 
becomes boring. Even though I've done it, I've got to 
move on. If somebody else comes along and does it and 
then they get credit for doing that same style, I don't 
care for two reasons. One, I didn't invent it. I just 
evolved myself from the mass ideas of art and expression 
that are already out there, and I'm going to go to some 
other place. And I know if somebody else sees something-- 
I remember one time I was doing something, and somebody 
asked me, "Well, how do you do that?" And they were 
another artist, and I told them. And I thought to myself 
afterwards, I said, "Well, if that person is willing to go 
through what I just went through to get this particular 
process, they're welcome to it." But they've got to go 
through — If they want exactly what I just did, they've 
got to put out these same hours. So I explained it to him. 


It was like a picture of Sammy Davis [Jr.] hugging 
[Richard M. ] Nixon in Miami at the convention. And I had 
to do seventy-two repetitions of Sammy Davis hugging 
Nixon, and I had to scrape the paper off the back. But I 
had used paper that was very hard to get the back off of. 
In fact, I had to steel wool it off. I finally got my 
seventy-two images. And I noticed in the process that a 
repetition of the same image seventy-two times in black 
and white--it became very lace-like. It was almost like 
curtains, because it lost its single identity and it 
became a pattern of repeated identities. And it became 
something that I hadn't even thought of. I was really 
happy that that happened, but at the same time anybody 
else who wanted to do that would either have to do it like 
I did it or come up with a better, quicker way to do it. 
But either way, if you don't invest, you don't get the 
return. And I think that combined with the fact that it's 
boring if you do something just because people liked it. 
To just do it over and over because you could make some 
money, to me that's very boring. 

MASON: Okay. Well, unless you have anything to add, like 
about the Black Arts Council or anything like that, we 
could end here. Is there anything else you wanted to add 
about your life in Los Angeles? Or--? 
RIDDLE: No, I just wasn't-- As a teenager, I wasn't that 


successful. I wish I had made my parents more proud than 
I did. I wish I hadn't put myself down as far as I did. 
I wish I had been more positive, because I could have been 
a lot of things that I wasn't. I guess I still have a 
chance to be some of the things that I wasn't through art 
now, but success takes hard work, discipline, and 
sacrifice no matter what it is. Whether you're trying to 
play sports or figure out your art ideas, it takes the 
same commitment, discipline. All the characteristics that 
are in success in one area are in the others. I don't 
think Picasso worked any harder than Michael Jordan to get 
to the top of what he did. They both had to give up a lot 
to get there. But then maybe when you get there, there's 
a lot that you get that others don't. I feel that way. 
And that's about it, I guess, of John Riddle as an 
artist. I wouldn't let my kids be artists. They always 
say, "Can I be an artist?" And I'd say, "No, go to school 
and learn how to do something that you can make a living 
at." Because you can always do art. And that was the 
great argument that David [Hammons] and I had at one time. 
He felt that you had to sacrifice all your other functions 
and primarily be an artist. And I used to say, "No, you 
have to raise a family first, and then you can do art." 
And he did it the way he believed, which I have no 
complaints or any-- You know, I think he did the right 


thing for him. I feel like I've done the right thing for 
me. Now, at fifty-nine, I think, "Boy, God, just-- All 
these kids are grown; I can retire in six years from a 
straight job. Give me twenty years to just do art where 
Monday and Tuesday just become the next day. " And you get 
up in the morning and-- Now, success-- People think you're 
successful-- I might even be in this interview because 
somebody thought I had reached success as a black artist 
to some level. But, to me, success isn't fame and it's 
not money. Success is when you can get up in the morning- - 
Before you even get up, you wake up in the morning, you 
thank God for the day, and you say to yourself, "Shall I 
paint? Shall I rest? Shall I lay in the hammock and read 
a book? What shall I do today that would really make me 
have a worthwhile, fulfilling day?" And you don't have to 
worry about bills [that] aren't paid because you're not 
out there humping and working. To me, that's the ultimate 
in success, to be able to have that control over what you 
want to do each day. If I can have me a few years of that 
at the end of all of this, then I can say, "Hey, I've 
crossed over the success line. " 
MASON: Okay. Well, thank you very much. 


JUNE 26, 1993 

MASON: I just wanted to ask some follow-up questions from 

our interview. The last time I made some notes for myself 

that wouldn't necessarily correspond to the order that I 

typed up the letter. But the same questions would be, 

more or less, included in the follow-up, if that's okay. 

RIDDLE: Oh, I wasn't listening. 

MASON: I was saying that I made some notes after-- I 

typed those up from my handwritten notes. And then after 

I listened to the tape, I made some other notes, other 

kind of follow-up questions that don't necessarily 

correspond to the order. But, yeah, it's the same thing. 

RIDDLE: What are you going to deal with first? These 

questions? Or these names? Or--? 

MASON: No, I guess I had more or less some follow-up-- 

Well, the name list I can just take home, because that's 

just for the transcriber, so they can get the correct 

names and stuff. 

RIDDLE: I just scribbled all over your paper. 

MASON: Oh, that's okay. Because I can just-- 

RIDDLE: But I put arrows to the scribbles. 

MASON: Okay. Well, I can just retype this. It's no big 

thing. Yeah, mostly just some follow-up questions about 


your work, because there were some things that weren't 

clear in the first tape. Then, you know, go to the other 

questions about the institutions and Black Arts Council 

and things like that. 

RIDDLE: Okay. 

MASON: Okay. One of the things I was wondering about was 

you mentioned your father [John Thomas Riddle, Sr.] had a 

degree in architecture, and sometimes he would point out 

some houses that he and Harold Williams worked on 


RIDDLE: That's Paul Williams. 

MASON: Paul Williams--! 'm sorry--worked on together. So 

I was just wondering whether architecture was something 

that was part of discussion in your house, architectural 

styles or architectural history. 

RIDDLE: Not so much any of that as the fact that there 

were architectural materials, like pencils and rulers and 

T-squares and triangles and drawing boards. I always saw 

my father hovering over the drafting table. So I think 

that was probably an influence that was greater than the 

natural discussions of architectural periods. I don't 

remember any of that. 

MASON: Yeah. Okay. You and John Outterbridge-- Uh-oh. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, I'm sorry. Did I hit your foot? 

RIDDLE: I was moving it when I felt it coming. That's 


all right. 

MASON: You and John Outterbridge collaborated on a 
project for a doctor's office in Compton. Is that 
RIDDLE: Uh-huh. 

MASON: Could you talk about that, how that came about and 
what you did for it? 

RIDDLE: Well, it was basically just an outgrowth of John 
and I. We had an affinity for material and content. We 
both liked social commentary. We both liked making stuff 
out of discarded material, so we had that in common. We 
used to always go out on forays into secondhand stores, 
junkyards, anyplace where we might find material. It was 
almost like we were prospectors for art material. And out 
of that we were given a commission by a veterinarian and 
a-- That husband was a veterinarian, and the wife was a 
pediatrician. They had a real big doctor's office that 
they had just built, and they wanted art. So we 
collaborated on some murals and things. We were good 
friends, so it was very easy. Plus, it goes back to the 
African tradition too, in my mind, that artists don't work 
as individuals. They work in a collaborative. Whether 
it's building drums or carving totems or any other 
artifacts or stamping cloth designs, it was a group 
activity rather than an isolated individual activity. So 


I always felt that was part of what artists should do. 

It's just a Western concept of individualism that lures us 

away from that. 

MASON: Yeah. Do they still exist--do you know--the 


RIDDLE: I never went back to look, because I think art is 

like-- Nothing is permanent in the world, so art shouldn't 

be considered as permanent either. It might last four 

hundred years, a thousand years, two thousand years, or as 

old as cave paintings. But, eventually, there won't be 

any. So I never think of it like that. I mean, if you 

put some murals on a wall, you know that wall isn't going 

to stay up forever. When the wall goes, the art goes. 

That's just the way it is. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: It's temporary. Long-term temporary. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: You did those murals at BCN and they got 

painted over. 

RIDDLE: That's true. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Beautiful murals. 


RIDDLE: Black Christian Nationalist Church. 

MASON: Oh, yeah. You mentioned that. 

RIDDLE: In reference to Albert Cleage. I spent a year of 

my life in there. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: He was up there endangering his life, 

putting the most beautiful murals up there. And how long 

was it before they painted white over it? 

RIDDLE: Actually, they lowered the ceiling. 

MASON: Oh, right. Yeah. 

RIDDLE: They had an old-fashioned theater ceiling. And 

they put in a suspended acoustical ceiling, and the 

ceiling was lower than the mural. They're still up there, 

but they're up above the ceiling. 

MASON: Yeah, I think you mentioned that the other artist 

who worked went and got his. They were done on panels or 


RIDDLE: He did his on four-by-eight panels. I could have 

done that, but I felt it was much more exotic just to prep 

the walls and paint on the walls like Michelangelo. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Then he got out of the church, so they 

didn't feel as warmly towards him. 

RIDDLE: Well, the murals lasted a long time. They lasted 

five or six years after I left the church. But I painted 

a black ankh on the front of the church and it's still 

there. Every time I see it, I remember how terrified I 

was on a little one-foot-wide scaffold at about forty feet 

off the ground. I had to paint fast and get off of that. 

MASON: What was the subject of the--? 

RIDDLE: That was seventeen years ago, because our son 


[Diallo Amir Riddle] will be eighteen in June and he 

wasn't born yet. So that was a long time ago. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He was first baby of the nation, and he 

was first artist of the nation. And then when we got out, 

those things were painted over. Our family was destroyed 

by it, because we saw him put his heart and soul into 

those murals. They were the most gorgeous murals. They 

had a tour of Atlanta where busloads of people came to see 

these murals. Then when we got out, they painted over 

them. And it was sad, because they'll never find any art 

that beautiful. It was like the Sistine Chapel, really. 

RIDDLE: Well, I still feel that-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Magnificent art. 

RIDDLE: I feel that art is temporary, even though it can 

last a long time. On the scale of the time that the 

planets have been here, it's temporary. So it stays as 

long as it can, then it's gone. 

MASON: Yeah. What was the subject of the doctor's 


RIDDLE: You know, at this point I don't even remember. I 

remember that Bridge and I were having-- I was teaching 

ceramics at Beverly Hills [High School] , so we felt that 

we should use available material-- I had access to the 

classroom on the weekends-- I remember we laid out eight 

by sixteen feet of clay, and we didn't know what to do 


with it. So then I remember we were talking very 

abstractly about, "What are we going to do with all this 

clay?" And I said, "Well, let's just fill the--" I 

remember Bridge and I were talking, and we said, "Well, 

let's try to communicate with the ancestors." And we just 

said that kind of as a-- And it was really amazing, 

because it's kind of hazy now. But I remember there was 

kind of like a communication with the Caribbean. It 

sounds corny now. But we were talking; we were just both 

doing it. And then we realized after we talked about it 

that we had gone through the Caribbean and back across the 

Atlantic Ocean to Africa. So that's the only thing I 

really remember about the project was that that was the 

highlight, that we had felt we had made communication with 

the ancestors, 

MASON: Yeah, like a reverse middle passage. 

RIDDLE: But as far as what the subject matter was, I 

don ' t remember . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He and Bridge loved working together, 

though, because they're both Pisces and they're both 

artists and they're just about the same age. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, he's one year older than me. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They just really merged as compatible 


RIDDLE: And then we used to — Like I said, the forays 


with Bridge, going to look for material-- I mean, he would 
be looking for a totally different thing than I would. 
And he had places that he went habitually to look that I 
had never been to before; and I had been, conversely, to 
places he had never been. So by cross-referencing our 
sources-- And we'd always take-- "How much are we going to 
spend today?" "Twenty bucks." And we'd have these limits 
to make sure we just didn't overload with junk, buy up 
everything. So we became selective. I remember going 
with Bridge was a lot of fun, because the creative juice 
started when I would be going to his house or he would be 
coming to mine. Then it continued as we went to a place, 
talking about art and social events that were happening 
and then actually getting to a place. And then you have 
like these pre-programmed ideas in your head-- Kind of 
like you don't know what you're looking for, but you know 
if you see it. It's going to strike a bell with some 
piece you're working on, some piece that needs some 
material to fit the concept that's just in your head and 
hasn't even gotten out yet. It was just a very nice 
thing. We used to do that, and that worked right up 
through when Bridge opened the Communicative Arts Academy. 
We used to consult on that, and I was on this board. That 
was a lot of fun, because it was very spontaneous. We 
always had like a spontaneous relationship anyway. So 


that's — 

MASON: What about Tony Hill? 

RIDDLE: Well, he died. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: I mean, as soon as I met Tony he died. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He was one of the older guys. 

RIDDLE: He had a heart attack. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: My mother's friends knew him because he 

used to do ceramics for their houses. He was more of a 

commercial -like artist. 

MASON: Yeah. He had this big business where he sold 


RIDDLE: Yeah. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It wasn't real big. It was just a small 


MASON: Well, but he made a lot of money, though. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, no. Not really. 

RIDDLE: Well, he supported himself. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: I mean, it wasn't like-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: The people that knew him would support 

him, you know? He was the person they would go get to 

make a lamp or a vase or something, because he was a 

social friend, too. 

RIDDLE: And he had a showroom with lamps and bowls and 


vessels and things. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He probably didn't make as much as he 
should have. 

RIDDLE: But he had the techniques: casting from slip, 
glazes, firing techniques. But he didn't have a mass 
production situation, because his studio was in a wooden- 
frame, one-story house with a garage and some outdoor 
covered facilities behind his house. We had talked 
about--When I told him I might go to Atlanta and there was 
a big boomtown hotel kind of thing here-- When I got here 
I saw that. And, you know, we discussed about, "Man, 
there's no black vendors supplying these hotel rooms, 
hundreds of hotel rooms. They all got lamps; they all 
have planters in the lobby. We could probably crack into 
that concept, the minority joint venture." I said, "Look, 
we've got to have lamps. Well, you're not buying any 
lamps from black folks. You're not buying any prints from 
black folks to be on your walls. You're not letting black 
framers frame some of these thousands and thousands of 
pictures in these hundreds and hundreds of rooms. Give us 
10 percent of the action," which we thought we'd get rich. 
Then he went to Egypt, and then somebody wrote me and told 
me he died. So that was just an idea that never brought 
any financial fruition, but it was a good idea at the 


MASON: Yeah. Do you know some people who might have some 

of his lamps? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They're probably dead and gone, too. In 

Los Angeles- - 

RIDDLE: I just remember where his living room was was his 

showroom . 

MASON: Where did he live? Did he live with Mel [Melvin] 

Edwards or live near Mel Edwards or something? 

RIDDLE: No, Mel lived just below Vernon [Avenue West] on 

either Arlington [Avenue] or Van Ness [Avenue South] or 

one of those streets. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He lives on Washington [Boulevard] or Pico 

[Boulevard] . 

RIDDLE: Tony was on either Jefferson [Boulevard] or 

Exposition [Boulevard] . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, out there by Culver City. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, between Crenshaw [Boulevard] and La Brea 

[Boulevard] . But it was either on Exposition or 

Jefferson. I think it was Jefferson. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: It was just a little place. 

RIDDLE: It was just a house, and his front room was his 

showroom. Mel lived in an apartment over a storefront 

just below whatever street it is this side, one block 

east, of Arlington at Vernon. He lived down there. 

MASON: Okay. 


RIDDLE: I think, probably, the other two black artists I 
liked best-- Well, no, I can't say "liked," but whose art 
was the most influential, I'd say were being around Noah 
Purifoy and David Hammons. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: And Ruth [G.] Waddy and Dan Concholar. They were 
like artists, but they were also like good friends. They 
were all very active as artists, and we always shared 
stuff. We always talked about art, criticized each 
other's work- -that kind of thing. Alonzo Davis was 
influential, too, because he had a space that artists 
would come together and talk and communicate and argue. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: We'd always try to tell each other that art 
wasn't worth anything. I mean, it was a serious, honest 
evaluation. "I don't like that. You need to change that 
part." If you had the courage to go, it was good for you. 
MASON: Yeah, yeah. Would you say there was kind of an 
avant-garde at some point? 
RIDDLE: Amongst us? 
MASON: Uh-huh. 

RIDDLE: Well, I think more than an avant-garde. I saw it 
more as a competition. But it wasn't a cutthroat 
competition. It was the kind of a situation that 
encouraged you to do the best you could, because you knew 


people that you respected as artists and you liked as 
friends were going to see your work. Therefore you 
couldn't be dillydallying. You had to push your own edges 
forward. If it crossed into avant-garde, so be it. But 
you had to push your own style of expression, because you 
wanted to be-- You didn't want-- I guess just because you 
knew all your friends were doing it. 

I mean, one time David Hammons-- Everybody went to an 
art show, and he didn't go. And everybody said, "How come 
you didn't go to the art show, man? Where were you? 
Where were you?" And David said, "I knew all the black 
artists in Los Angeles were going to be at that art show. 
And I knew if I stayed home, I would be the only black 
artist in Los Angeles doing art." So I mean, it was that 
kind of a thing. It was humorous. I remember one time 
there was a big art show and I didn't go, and I tried 
that. And there was a definite feeling that you got 
knowing all your friends were at the art show chitchatting 
and lollygagging, and you were home pushing your 
experience. You was getting a jump on them. It was a 
funny feeling just to do that just for that. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: So we were friends and we were artists, and we 
liked each other and we hung out together. And that's 


CARMEN RIDDLE: Plus, they had families. 

RIDDLE: And they all had families. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They'd all hang out together. We had 

picnics and parties and they would do art and bring a 

glass of wine and then they'd have art shows. All these 

same people would be in the art shows and talk about the 

people who came to critique and talk about the people who 

came to buy and talk about Aurelia [Brooks] and all the 

different people. 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They had so much in common, because they 

were-- Why? I don't know why. Because they all came 

from different places. But they just had a-- 

RIDDLE: But we all came together around the Watts riot. 


RIDDLE: I mean, that was like the coalescence point. 

Because there was like this need, but it was kind of like 

an intuitive need to make some expression out of the 

Watts riot. And that first show in Watts at--I can't 

even think of the name of that park- -Will Rogers Park, in 

the gym, the first annual Watts arts festival [Summer 

Festival Art]-- And all of a sudden, here are all these 

people who had collected debris and junk. We were 

basically all assemblage people, transference of-- We 

used to call it taking discarded social artif acts--things 


that had been originally created for use in this society 
but not intended as art--modifying them and reassembling 
them as symbols to depict what we were trying to say. I 
mean, that was Noah, that was David and, to some extent, 
Dan, because he was more of a painter. But definitely 
Noah. And all these people and a host of other people 
just all come together with the same ideas. Then out of 
that initial coming together, there were bonds made that 
to this day, if we got on a conference call, we'd all 
start laughing about. Because nobody really had bad 
feelings about it; it was a good time. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They had to stick together because the 
white critics would say it wasn't really art. They said, 
"It wasn't really art. They were just angry people." 
RIDDLE: They always used to attack anybody who did the 
American eagle's claws dripping with blood. But the 
thing that I found about the critics, that I liked about 
the white critics, was that if they panned you or 
applauded you, it took energy. They had to use time out 
of their life to say your art stunk or your art was good. 
But if they didn't, if they were indifferent and didn't 
write about you, that was the worst. It didn't matter if 
they said you were good or bad. But if they didn't see 
your art, that meant something was wrong with your art. 
Your art didn't have the ability-- Like one guy said in 


that group, "Art should be able to snatch your attention 
for a split second, at least." If you're at an art show, 
you'll have to look and say, "Wow I" Then you may 
discount it, but it should, at least for a split second, 
be able to grab your attention and hopefully pull you 
into it and make you deal with it. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: And so that was like a fundamental premise in 
all our art, that you had to have someplace in that art 
that was-- Color, composition, whatever-- Something had 
to put you into that art. And then if you drifted on out 
of it, that was cool. But if you didn't even see it, I 
mean, that was a sad state. 

We used to talk about the critics. We'd get 
together over at somebody ' s house and break out the 
paisano, and everybody would just sit around- -no art, 
except art that might be hanging in somebody's house--and 
just discuss these matters. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Betye Saar and — 

RIDDLE: Lots of people. There was probably about-- I 
had a picture in one of those rooms. 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh, Tim [Timothy] Washington. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Washington. 
RIDDLE: We had lots of guys and lots of ladies. Suzanne 


Jackson, Samella [Lewis], Ruth. I mean, there were a lot 

of people involved . 

MASON: Do you think there would have been a difference 

if there had been black critics, meaning black people who 

had sort of an art historical background, but who maybe 

weren't a part of the group and who may be outside? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: The black critics were-- Like Samella, 

she wrote books . 

MASON: But she was part of the group, though. 

RIDDLE: Well, but even-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Not really. She was supposed to be an 

author . 

RIDDLE: She did art, but she was a lesser artist. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Now she does more art than she did then. 

Now, Ruth wasn't an artist. She started very late, very 

late in life. 

RIDDLE: Printmaking and woodcuts and stuff. But I think 

the difference I saw between the black critics and the 

white critics was that the black critics--they approached 

since they were-- It was like they had a better sense of 

the visual language just because they were black. White 

critics needed subtitles sometimes, but the black 

critics, they spoke the language. So, to me, the black 

critics-- It was, "Do they have an understanding of what 

you're doing? Can they look at the symbols of what 


you ' re saying and expressing and see it in the context of 

the black experience?" Where white people, as critics, 

didn't always have-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Who were the black critics then? 

RIDDLE: Well, there were some. I mean, it's hard to say 


CARMEN RIDDLE: I don't remember any. 

RIDDLE: It's been so long ago, but there were some. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Just like most of the people buying the 

art were white. 

RIDDLE: Just like there's some now. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: They were white people buying art. 

RIDDLE: At the very beginning, when art was real cheap. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, that's what you're talking about. 

RIDDLE: No, but I mean-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That's right. When they had the Watts 

festival, all the white people came out there and they 

were buying art. They were the ones who were into art, 

for the most part. The white galleries on La Cienega 

were the ones showing black art, except for Brockman 


RIDDLE: Well, that came after, though. That was 

probably three or four years after the Watts festival. 

MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: But that's like-- [William] Pajaud [Jr.] always 


teases me about selling that picture to that lady north 

on Canon. He said the white lady wanted to pay $400 and 

the black lady wanted to pay $90, because she said it 

reminded her of her mother- -because she went out every 

day to do maid service in Beverly Hills. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And he was so happy that a black person 

wanted art that he practically gave it to her. Because 

to this day, most black people think that you just buy 

something in Rich's [Department Store]. 

RIDDLE: Art is a luxury. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: You don't know about Rich's. But just in 

a store is the same as buying art. They haven't really 

gotten into art as much as the whites have, and that's 

the contradiction. 

RIDDLE: But there were-- Carmen's right about that. I 

think there are more black people interested in art now 


I think that there are a lot more black buyers, but 
they don't-- Well, it's like that article right there 
that we just read today about the invisible artists. I 
mean, that's what it's about. And they speak to the 
living artists and the dead artists, mostly all male 
artists, too, by the way. [Henry O.] Tanner, [Romare] 
Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and people--they ' re just now 
becoming uninvisible. So the artists that are up 


underneath them like me, and other people-- I mean, if 
they're invisible, we don't exist. 
MASON: Yeah, 

RIDDLE: But it's improved, because there's a lot more 
people who buy black art. But there are a lot of black 
people who bought art then. I think the black art focus 
has changed from social commentary then to genre art now. 
Which is like black people now that buy art and spend 
money- -in my opinion- -for art that has non-social 
commentary subject matter. 
MASON: You mean non-confrontational? 

RIDDLE: Yeah. Now it's more like people sitting on the 
porch whittling, the older lady having her hair done by 
two generations, like grandmother, granddaughter combing 

MASON: African women with babies on their back, 
RIDDLE: Quilting. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: But Jacob Lawrence did that kind, too, 
though. It's just not as good art. I don't think 
they're as well-versed on art. But then, people buy what 
they want. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: Well, Jacob, he's still basically a social- 
commentary artist, and John Biggers is probably a mixture 


of social commentary and excellent craftsmanship. But 

you look at the Paul Goodnights and the artists that 

right now are really making the money, the William 

Tollivers and the people like that. I mean, they do good 

art, but it's like "Nubian Queen" or "Black Woman with 

Lillies" you know. Something that you go home and it's 

peaceful and it doesn't-- 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Charles White. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, Charles White was like-- But Charles White 

was a crossover, too, because you might see Charles White 

do Harriet Tubman like he did her big strong, as big as 

Arnold Schwarzenegger- - 

MASON: Like the one at the Golden State [Mutual Life 

Insurance Company] . 

RIDDLE: Because of her power. Yeah. So he had like 

social commentary mixed in kind of like Riggers in my 

mind. It's clothed in a beautifully done, natural 


MASON: Yeah. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, that's what-- 

RIDDLE: And then these materials, they're hidden as 

subsurface things. You buy it because it's so-- You're 

attracted because it's so beautifully done. And then it 

may be later on at the secondary or third level that you 

realize that he has put a very social, powerful message 


in on top of it. But it's kind of done subtly. I used 

to think that was the way to do slave ships and 

everything else, is to paint this magnificent ship on the 

high seas at full sail. But then very subtly maybe have 

symbols of the middle passage. If the sails were white, 

a slightly off white. Images of anguish that are bound 

in the hull of this ship that you can't see. But you buy 

it because you say, "What a beautiful ship." Until you 

get home and about two weeks later you realize it's a 

ship full of slaves. Whereas if you just put the slaves 

hanging over the side of the boat as the wretched of the 

earth, some people wouldn't buy it. So it's kind of an 

artistic deception. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: When he had this show with [Manuel] 

Noriega, that guy said-- He had all these pieces like 


RIDDLE: Saddam Hussein. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: And the white guy said, "This guy's 

really a hostile person." He was looking at his art. 

But yet he didn't hide it like in that time. He didn't 

hide it in that show. 

RIDDLE: It's just, basically, Noriega went to jail. 

There's a whole picture of all the people like Ollie 

[Oliver] North and them all up there lying. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Yeah, most people wouldn't buy anything 


like that because they don't want to be reminded. 
RIDDLE: The real deal in Central America is the United 
States was involved in drug peddling. And one of these 
things you had asked about was John Hall's ranch, and 
John Hall's ranch in Costa Rica was where-- 
MASON: No, I didn't ask about that. 

RIDDLE: Oh, it's on [the list of questions]. He has a 

MASON: He must have just mentioned it, because I don't 

RIDDLE: But his ranch was where the American planes, 
after they took arms to the Contras, they loaded up with 
cocaine and brought it back to south Florida, to 
Homestead Air Force Base. They caught that guy, [Eugene] 
Hasenf us . I mean, they shot him down. He didn't get 
killed. And when they brought him out of the jungle, he 
said-- I mean, I was looking at the television, looking 
right at him when he said it, so I know I didn't make it 
up. He said, "Well, why should we bring back empty 
planes? Of course, we bring back cocaine." Then all of 
a sudden Hasenf us just kind of faded out and disappeared. 
And to this day he never went on trial; he never-- You 
know, I saw him on 60 Minutes about nine months ago. 
But, I mean, he had damaging testimony. They put it all 
on Noriega. 


You know, it's like there's so much American 
collusion in the drug trade that it's pathetic. But the 
drug trade destroys the black community. It's a greater 
oppressor than any kind of military force or police force 
that could come in. Because it's got black people abusing 
drugs, so that puts them off, and black people killing for 
drugs, so that puts them off. Black babies and young 
children of the next generation [are] the victims of their 
parents being drug abusers and drug users, whether they're 
orphaned by it or whether they're born with birth defects 
by it. It's a way to destroy the black community. It's 
part of what I consider the genocide, and it's for making 
profit for people at the top. It keeps hatred and 
hostility going with people at this level where I have to 
survive, where my wife has to survive. 

It makes me worry every time my son goes out the door 
to go to school or to work that somebody will hijack him 
for his 1984 Honda. It's dangerous out there. In the 
days of the Black Panther Party, you couldn't buy guns. 
But now, in these days of this century, when you want to 
buy guns to kill other black folk, you can get all the 
guns you want. But when it was "get whitey, " you couldn't 
buy guns. Now you can get street sweepers, uzis, grenade 
launchers. Anything you want, they'll sell it to you, as 
long as you're killing somebody in the city. 


MASON: Yeah, like--what's his name?--David Koresh had 
that whole arsenal down there, so god knows you can get 
anything. But how can art address that since it's--? I 
mean, you can address that in the image, but it's 
essentially a private image that exists in a private 
space, or-- Yeah, a private space, like a home or a 

RIDDLE: I see it as a dilemma, because if I do the art 
that I feel passionate about-- And I think any artist in 
any phase of art- -visual art, performing art, literary 
art, any art--I think that the mixture of your creativity 
and your passion are probably two of the essential 
ingredients in the art that you produce. If I still feel 
strong about these social issues-- To me, if I try to 
paint flowers in a vase because I need the money and I 
know somebody might buy flowers painted nicely in a vase, 
that's like going to Sears [Roebuck and Company] for a 
second job, you know, to get money. It's not exciting; it 
doesn't have enthusiasm. 

But if I can depict that racist traffic court I was 
in this last week with my son, maybe nobody will buy it, 
but it will defuse my hostility for the racism I saw in 
that man's court--just blatant racism disguised as traffic 
court justice. I mean, I was so mad it disorientated me. 
I couldn't tell left from right when I left out of there. 


The next day I thought about it. It had at least subsided 
in my anger to a headache. By the third day, I realized 
the only way I could get it out of my system was to do a 
piece of art about this court. So in my head I've already 
done it. And in my notes I took, I've already done it. 
Now what remains is whether or not I'll do it physically. 
And nobody's going to buy it, but that doesn't mean that 
it doesn't need to be done. 

MASON: Yeah. Sounds like a topic for a performance 
piece, something that you could sort of do spontaneously 
and you work through something. But I don't know if 
you're interested in performance. 

RIDDLE: I didn't realize how much I saw, because that 
itself was a performance. I didn't realize just sitting 
there that--like I told my wife [Carmen Garrott Riddle] -- 
the American flag was there, but the Confederate flag, 
the Georgia flag with the Confederate part, it was gone. 
It was just an empty flagpole on the other side of the 
judge. Yet the judge said he had been there thirty-one 
years at one time, and all this stuff he was saying. 
"I've been here thirty-one years. You can't tell me them 
stories. I've done heard everything." And I thought, 
that's like-- You know how they always say so many years 
BC. And I was thinking BC stood for "court before, " the 
before court. That was when, I thought, that was before 


blacks were on the Georgia state patrol; that was before 
blacks were in abundance in the police department here. 
It was before-- And I thought of all the other things 

And then I saw that judge as a harlequin clown 
presiding over a circus, and the tightrope he was walking 
on was the Confederate flag, you know, twisted up into a 
rope. This friend of mine, he works in Corrections here 
in Atlanta--he takes prisoners to different work sites-- 
and he said that man is a known alcoholic. See, I didn't 
know that equation. Then I pictured it in my picture. 
He's not only a tightrope walker in this racist circus, 
but he's also going to be a juggler juggling some liquor 
bottles. And then maybe I'll get some satisfaction out 
of-- Whether anybody buys the piece or not, it will be my 
artistic diary of that day in that terrible court that was 
called a court. Because it was really bad. 

So, to me, that's where my artistic passion still is. 
That's probably when I first met Noah [Purifoy] and all 
these people. That was my overriding passion then as the 
contradiction between what's supposed to be and what is. 
I guess you could sum it up, like my wife says: it's an 
injustice. It's a one-word summary. But Malcolm [X] said 
it, too, because he said he doesn't see democracy, he sees 
hypocrisy. That's what we live in, in a hypocrisy. You 


see like, if my wife did art, maybe her passion would-- 
She doesn't understand how the Haitians can be denied. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: No, I see something worse than that. 
RIDDLE: What? 

CARMEN RIDDLE: When you live in a place where you go in 
the grocery store or anything up here, and these men hang 
out all day and they harass women and sell drugs in our 
neighborhood and everything-- And nobody does anything 
about it. And the kids see that. I just think it's awful 
that we let those men in our race and our culture live in 
our neighborhood like that. Why doesn't someone do 
something about it? I don't understand how that can be. 
If I could do anything, I would clean up the neighborhoods 
so that the kids who live in the projects wouldn't have to 
see all the drugs and killings and all that they have to 
see. Someone should be taking [care of] our kids, 
MASON: Yeah. Well, I guess the problem is still 
overcrowded jails. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: We'll build some more jails. But they 
just take them in and put them back out, and they're up 
here at the corner. They will talk to anybody, sell drugs 
to anybody, and no one does anything about it. 
MASON: Yeah, the only effective thing I've ever heard 
about getting drugs out of projects is when the Black 
Muslims come in and stand-- 


RIDDLE: Uh-huh. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That's right. 

RIDDLE: Because they get the respect and the fear. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That's right. And the men stand up for 

the neighborhood. The men get together and they won't let 

that go on. 

MASON: Yeah. Whether they're armed or not, they just 

stand there. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That's right. 

RIDDLE: Basically, they're unarmed. But I just read-- I 

just finished a book. This Side of Glory I think is the 

name of it. But it's David Milliard's account of the 

history of the Black Panther Party. And there's a point 

he drew in there to the days of the Black Panther Party, 

the sixties and the seventies, where [there was] community 

anger and community action and community gathering to 

improve neighborhoods. In contrast to after he'd been in 

prison, gotten out, cleaned himself up from his drug 

addiction and alcohol abuse, how the young guys that were 

Panthers when he was coming up were now the young guys who 

were the dope dealers who wore the gold, had the fancy 

cars, had a pocket full of cash, will kill you for 

virtually no reason at all. They had gone from concepts 

of group pressure to abject individual material 

gratification. I mean, just anything was permissible, as 


long as you had the $200 Nikes. 

MASON: This was during the [Ronald W.] Reagan years. 
RIDDLE: Yeah. I mean, people don't realize that crack 
cocaine, which is the most addictive of all the drugs that 
have been out there- -all that flourished under Reagan. He 
had drug czars. I mean, that's so much bull that "We're 
doing something about narcotics." Yeah, they were. They 
were opening it up where all the narcotics that could be 
got could get into this country. 

And like Carmen says-- And you mentioned about more 
jails to me. Another piece of art that I haven't done is-- 
When you take real time and consideration [of the 
industry] of the criminal justice system in America, and 
you begin to plug in all the people who make legitimate, 
honest, respectable livings off it: judges, lawyers, 
bailiffs, architects, planners, manufacturers-- And not 
even at these high levels: administrators, social 
workers. All the people that are dependent upon crime for 
their living-- Insurance companies because they get to 
sell two TVs, one for the one that got stolen, and one 
because you're insured. The same with cars. Any material 
stuff that gets stolen is replaced if you've got 
insurance- So that's good for the manufacturers of the 
stolen items, because it increases the purchasing of goods 
and stuff. 


And you consider that black men-- The statistic, last 
I heard, is $32,000 a year to incarcerate somebody. One- 
fourth of all the black males between the age of, say, 
late teens to twenty- five are involved in some phase, from 
parole and probation to waiting trial or being 
incarcerated. You know, all of this. If crime 
disappeared tomorrow, we'd have a much greater collapse of 
the economy than we [have] trying to shift from the cold 
war to what we're in right now: closing bases, reducing 
army, cutting down on military spending. I mean, we're 
catching a hard economic shot at America just from that. 
But if there was no crime, all of those people that make 
big money who are sharing that $32,000 of inmate times a 
couple of million people probably- -where would that money 
go? That money would be gone. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Well, why don't we, as black people, help 

RIDDLE: Because we're neurotic. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: If someone comes and offers me drugs, I'm 
not going to take it. 

RIDDLE: Well, you're not as neurotic as the average black 

CARMEN RIDDLE: I'm not going to buy it. I'm not going to 
sell it. I say we're to blame. 
RIDDLE: Sure, it's our fault. 


CARMEN RIDDLE: We have to bring up our children so that 
they don't think like this and get rid of the bad people 
in our neighborhood. I think we have to do it, because 
nobody's going to care about us but us. We have to take 
care of our own. 

RIDDLE: Well, I agree with that. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Just like people who come from other 
countries. They love this country. They come here and 
get a job washing dishes, doing anything they can, and 
they send their kids to college and they make it. I 
realize we came from slavery. That's the main thing; 
that's the thing that holds us down. But we've got to 
stop thinking like that and help our own people. Get rid 
of those bums up there, bring our children up right, even 
sacrifice having a new car or having a new house or 
something to take care of your children so that they can 
turn out to be good people. 

RIDDLE: Well, I agree with that, too. But, again, it's 
like, to me, our neurosis is so deep as a race of people 
and we're so unorganized to the challenge that she just 
brought up-- Why do we put our own children down if they 
try to do well in school? I mean, you've got black kids 
who are closet scholars. They go home and study like the 
dickens, but when they get to school, they try to act like 


their peers, because it's an embarrassment to be an A 
student. The expression is "Man, you're trying to be 
white 1" But we condemn excellence in our own race. 


JUNE 26, 1993 

RIDDLE: I was just saying, though, that we perpetuate — 
I'll give you a good example. They showed a thing on TV. 
This commercial ran four or five times and disappeared. 
They said, "If Olympic medals were given out for killing, 
the bronze would go to the skinheads." And they showed 
some skinheads, and then they had a statistic like 
annually they're responsible for about five hundred deaths 
a year. And it said, "The silver would go--" And it 
showed a guy in a hood or the Mafia or somebody. And they 
said, "They kill 10 percent more. They kill about--" One 
was three or four hundred, one was three or four thousand. 
They said, "But the gold would go--" And they showed, 
like, brothers standing out there with gold teeth and gold 
around their necks and muscles and crip and brim 
paraphernalia, making signs. And it showed we killed 
thirteen thousand. It started in Detroit. They ran that 
commercial. People in Detroit got mad and said it was a 
racist commercial and it was exploitive. But it was true! 
We kill more people of our own color, ourselves, than the 
Klan could ever kill. You'd have to see thirty brothers a 
day hanging from trees around the country for the Klan to 
match what we do in our own neighborhoods amongst 


ourselves. That's just the people we kill, not the ones 
that are ruined for life because of drug and alcohol 
addiction. Or the fact that black male life expectancy in 
America is shorter than white women, white men, black 
women. And under Reagan, we actually declined down from 
seventy-one down into sixty-nine plus. See, I mean, 
that's real to me. It's like Carmen said, a lot of it is 
our own doing on each other and on ourselves. But Frances 
[Cress] Welsing said at one time on Tony Brown's Journal , 
years ago, "The greatest mental problem in America is 
black people." We're a bunch of neurotic people, and we 
blame other people for our problems, which gives us an 
excuse, in our own minds, to perpetuate the negativity in 
ourselves rather than to say, like you have to do when you 
go to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] or Drugs Anonymous-- 
First, you've got to admit that you've got a problem. 
"Something's wrong with me." And then you can begin to 
clean it up. But as long as you defer what's wrong with 
you to the white man, to an unfair society, to this and 
that, to all those excuses, that allows you to wallow in 
your own negative juices until you just boil away. And I 
understand all that. 

The reason I got into art--into this kind of art--was 
because I felt that-- Somebody said, Bobby Seale or 
somebody said, "The importance of raising black 


consciousness--" That's what the black social 
consciousness movement was about, black nationalism, black 
this, black that, black is beautiful. All of that's about 
raising black consciousness out of this stew of 
negativism. So to me, if black people-- If I can help 
that one iota by letting my black art be about the things 
that I see that are very wrong in this system, then I'll 
paint a picture, eventually, called "The Party." And at 
that party are going to be all the people, the judges, the 
bailiffs, the designers, planners, all those people I said 
that are involved in the criminal justice system. They're 
all going to be drinking cocktails and standing around 
chitchatting, and all the waiters will be in prison suits. 
MASON: That would be a great one. 

RIDDLE: I mean, I've already got it in my head. Maybe 
nobody will buy it. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He's a current event artist, because he's 
a news fanatic. And every day he gets ideas for different 
stuff- If he could do it, he'd probably do current events 
every single day. 

RIDDLE: Uh-huh. I used to think about where do you stop 
on the line between editorial cartooning and fine art. 
Because you have to take the essence of editorial cartoon, 
but you have to, to me, transfer it over into color and 
composition and symbolism arrangement that makes it fine 


art. And you try not to editorialize, but you're trying 
to let people know, I mean, for instance, one day we were 
talking about the middle passage, which is one of my 
favorite subjects. But people may not want it on their 
walls. But I think if they could go down with those 
vacuums-- They look for lost coins from the Spanish 
Armadas and all of that, and they find these treasures. 
If they went down with one of those vacuums and vacuumed 
the path from Goree Island to the Western Hemisphere, 
there's probably a twenty-mile-wide trail of bones that 
are just from all the people that jumped, fell, died, and 
were thrown overboard between Africa and the United 
States. One guy, we were talking about it one day, he 
said, "Yeah, I can just see those bones like cross ties on 
a railroad track." But there must be-- They said that the 
sharks followed the slave ships from Goree Island all the 
way to the United States, to Central America, to the 
Caribbean, wherever the route actually was, because there 
was always food because they were always throwing black 
folk over. And the ship would carry an average of 134 
people. About 10 to 15 percent of the cargo would die. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Did you see his ship in the Golden State 
[Mutual Life Insurance Company collection]? 
MASON: I probably did, but that was so long ago. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, that's so great. Great. Have you 


seen that collection? 

MASON: Yeah, but it was when I first got out here, like 

in '87. 

RIDDLE: I think Bill [Cosby Jr.] took that. 


RIDDLE: Bill said something about he had that at this 

house . 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, really? 

MASON: Yeah, there were some things he kept. 

RIDDLE: He made a trade. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Oh, because that ship he did was 

fantastic. Don't you have any pictures of that ship? 

RIDDLE: This one day a guy sold me a thousand springs, 

little springs about this big around, about that tall, 

about as big around as your thumb. And I said, "I'm going 

to make these into people and pack them into the bottom of 

this hull of a ship." 

CARMEN RIDDLE: That was fantastic. How big was it? 

RIDDLE: That was in my coffee-table art days. See, I 

said if you could sell art the size of people's coffee 

tables, they'll buy it. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: He did some good art, really good art. 

RIDDLE: So that was the middle [passage]. That's when I 

first started liking — I've always been fascinated by the 

middle passage. Because in grammar school, they always 


talked about the explorers, and they always talked about 
the old sailing ships and how there was always like scurvy 
and beriberi. And they named all these old-time, maritime 
diseases that came about because there wasn't adequate 
refrigeration on ships in those days. And people had to 
eat petrified meat and biscuits with weevils in them. I 
mean, they painted this horrible picture. They didn't 
have fresh water. The conditions were bad and people 
died. And then you think about in those same days, in 
those same conditions, back in the 1600s, black folk were 
packed in ships. And they show you those diagrams where 
they pack them like sardines to get the maximum amount of 
cargo to offset the death and the travel. And you think, 
"Did they die of scurvy? Did they die of beriberi?" I 
mean, they couldn't even come up on deck. At least the 
sailors got to be up on deck and breathe fresh air, and 
they had to breathe, you know-- And how many millions of 
people died, and how many millions of ideas, and how much 
creativity, and how much of the future of the planet is on 
the bottom of the ocean. Because all it was was slave 
cargo; it wasn't thinking people. 

Then when you transfer that up into the Statue of 
Liberty, still thinking about those ships, and here come 
all these crackers- -excuse me for saying that--all these 
Europeans. I'll be nicer about it. And "Send us your 


huddled masses." Well, they had twelve million black 
people still sitting around, disenfranchised from the 
Civil War. They could have brought those people to 
Detroit at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and 
used their brains in manufacturing and design. We 
wouldn't have a problem right now. But instead, they went 
and got twelve million more white people and they brought 
trade unionism with them. And they didn't let blacks in 
the trade union. So all of a sudden now, the people who 
built the country can't be plumbers, can't be carpenters, 
can't be brick masons, can't be any of the builders that 
they were originally brought over here to do, and they did 
a good job. 

That's why they showed, last night, black folk 
raising hell on those construction sites in Los Angeles 
after this most recent riot or revolution or uprising-- 
whatever you want to call it. They refused to let 
Mexicans and Orientals and white people come in and 
rebuild our community. They said, "If blacks don't work, 
nobody works." White folks are getting all upset. Well, 
why should they get to come in and build? Let the black 
folk get the money to build it up. Like one guy said, 
they'll have more respect for the property because they'll 
know they built it and they'll have better living 
conditions for a few years and they'll increase their 


skill levels. I mean, the last time we had full 
employment was slavery. See, and I can't put that out of 
my mind to paint rosy pictures. I mean, I could, but I 
don't want to. 

MASON: Well, you worked with kids for a while in Los 
Angeles and also here. How did your ideas come out in 
your teaching and working with children? 
RIDDLE: Well, as an artist, you know-- One thing good 
about being an artist that I've found over the years is 
that you're involved in problem solving, even if it's 
where does red and blue and green go on a picture- I 
mean, it's still constantly making decisions, trying to-- 
If it's manipulative art, like physical pieces, what goes 
here? There? What comes over here? The relationship 
between the objects. I mean, you're dealing with that all 
the time. So when you're dealing with kids, they're — 
Youth is hope. So youth is optimism from birth and an 
early understanding-- You look into little kid's eyes, 
little babies' eyes. They've got perfectly white--and 
perfectly dark pupils around that white. Big, shiny eyes. 
They're not full of any kind of bitterness. They 
represent the optimum opportunity for evolution to the 
highest level they can acquire. And somewhere along the 
way, we begin to erode that and destroy that and turn them 
into pessimistic people, like I may be right now. So you 


can't afford to deal with that with young people. Because 
if they're going to get influenced by it, it will happen 
anyway, but it shouldn't be your fault. So you should 
then deal with them with enthusiasm, with hope, with- -as 
corny as it sounds-- Jesse [L.] Jackson's "You are 
somebody. " You instill in them the confidence that they 
can be whatever they want to be if they'll understand that 
nothing that you ever achieve, that is worthwhile, comes 
without hard work [and] sacrifice. There's certain 
formulas that you have to concoct and master before you 
can be successful. Success, if it was easy, everybody 
would be successful. But everybody has the potential for 
success. But when you run into these hurdles, 
distractions, roadblocks, things that would deflect you 
off into a more negative state, at that point you need to 
be aware that it's coming and be prepared to deal with it 
so that you can get past that and get a little bit further 
in your evolution to the betterment of yourself. So you 
inculcate a philosophy of enthusiasm, of enjoying life, of 
not to be distracted. 

That you get to a certain age and you go from a non- 
sexual person to a person who's considering having to deal 
with the impulses and energies of sex and love and all 
that--a different kind of love than hugging a [stuffed] 
bunny, which is love-- But the bunny doesn't even give 


love back, when you think about it, because it's an 
inanimate object. But yet you give so much love to that 
little fuzzy animal when you're a kid that there's an 
inference that that little fuzzy animal is giving love 
back to you, because it's unconditional love from you. So 
you try to keep unconditional love intact while you're 
instilling other principles of confidence and things so 
that person can build a stronger foundation. 

So in school teaching, the material you teach is just 
a vehicle to try to put those concrete concepts into a 
person. You take their guard down with a piece of clay. 
And while they're involved in this state of concentrating 
on the clay, then you can impart those more concrete ideas 
into them, because they're not resisting. It's like you 
get lost. In Zen, lost is found. So you get this person 
to be so involved in their art that they get lost . And 
then concepts of finding who they are, what they are, what 
they need to do, emerge out of that defenseless state when 
their subconscious is wide open. 

MASON: Yeah. I remember Noah talking about that. And 
so, now, the way you explain it, I understand a lot 

RIDDLE: We used to discuss that. I mean, we used to 
discuss all these things in bits and pieces. And then, 
when you take these bits and pieces and go back into art, 


then when you get lost, some of these things that have 
been planted in your subconscious, which you don't see a 
connection between them, then some of those fall into 
place. And then, that way, you go a little bit further in 
how you see things. So that's how you keep, basically, 
the bitterness that you might have away from people that 
you're charged with the responsibility of trying to, so- 
called, "teach." 

MASON: Yeah. Let's see. Were you involved in that--? 
There was a peace project for Vietnam or against Vietnam 
in like '65 or something like that? 

RIDDLE: Not really. I mean, other than I used to do art 
about the war. Some of my art I enjoyed the most-- 
eventually it sold, too--was anti-war art. I remember 
[Richard M.] Nixon came out with the gradual plan called 
"gradual peace withdrawal." And I remember doing a 
picture with a completely disemboweled part of a soldier. 
To me, the fact that they were still killing and being 
killed, that was a form of gradual troop withdrawal, too. 
Because everybody who got killed or wounded got withdrawn. 
It wasn't like every month we're going to reduce the 
American military involvement by 10,000 men. That might 
be true over here, but they're also reducing it by 270 
killed and wounded every month, too. So [Henry A.] 
Kissinger's, "Peace is at hand"-- When he made that 


statement was the same speech where he made-- That was the 
same day, which was a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, some 
irrational day, where they started the bombing of Hanoi 
with the B-52 bomber. I remember I found an old bomb in a 
surplus store one day. I dismantled it, and then I made a 
cast of a hand, and I cut the hand all up in pieces. So 
it went from "Peace is at hand" and it became Pieces of 
Hand with the bombs falling on a yellow hand and 
fragmenting it. Because there's always--like Carmen says 
about the news- -an irony. 

That's like go back to the Haitians. The Haitians 
can't come in. And here these people-- We prop up 
dictatorial governments from Papa Doc [Duvalier] right up 
till now. Those people live in horrible conditions. And 
when they go back, they beat them and stuff, you know. 
And yet they say, "No, you're not political refugees." 
And yet these people that could blow up the World Trade 
Center, they can come here; boatloads of Chinese can come, 
be falling all out of boats at night and drowning in the 
New York harbor; millions of Hispanics from-- Used to be 
just Mexicans, but now it's probably as far down as the 
tip of Argentina. 

CARMEN RIDDLE: Boy, Los Angeles is all Hispanics. 
RIDDLE: But it's economics. It's because they can hire 
those people; they don't pay taxes. I mean, that showed 


up when Clinton was trying to make a point. They don't 
pay taxes; they don't pay any of that. And yet, they get 
these people for one- third or one- fourth of what they 
could get somebody else for. And again, that impacts 
directly on-- They say, "Blacks don't want to work for 
minimum wage." You know, "Blacks don't want to work for 
four dollars an hour." But they can get these Hispanics 
for one dollar an hour. They wouldn't hire a black for 
four dollars an hour if they could, if they could get four 
Hispanics. They've got all these illegal aliens; they 
don't try to stop them. They say, "Well, there are 
millions. We can't do anything about it." They could 
arrest the people who have these sweat factories where 
they work. Say, "Factory closed, you've got illegal 
aliens in here. Give me that house, you've cheated the 
IRS [Internal Revenue Service] for ten years on taxes." I 
mean, they've got laws, if they want you. That's what 
they got Marcus Garvey for. You know, they can go get 
Marcus Garvey, but they can't go get Julia Steinmetz, 
who's got five hundred people working illegally in a shoe 

MASON: Who was that? 

RIDDLE: Anybody. I'm just making up names. 
MASON: Oh, I get it. 
CARMEN RIDDLE: I haven't heard that one. 


RIDDLE: There's probably some guy who's got some factory 
full of Chinese and Mexicans. You know, I'm not being a 
racist on them. They're trying to make it, too. But, 
you know, put Eastern Airlines back in business by 
grabbing up these people who don't belong here. Fly them 
back to Mexico. Eastern wouldn't have gone out of 
business if they had just had the job from the government 
flying these illegals. Why should we pay for them to go 
to school? We pay for their hospitalization. We pay all 
the taxes while the people who get to go live and be on 
Robin Leach, [Lifestyles ofl the Rich and Famous , are 
skimping. That's not right. Anyway, that's-- 
MASON: Yeah. Let's see. Well, did you want to say 
anything about the Black Arts Council? 

RIDDLE: No. Looking on here, I just remembered that 
those were-- Basically, we discussed them when we talked 
about the artists getting together and talking and 
discussing things. I mean, any black organization, to 
me, that promotes black unity or culture or cooperation — 
friendship--is a valid black organization. Anything that 
has as its by-product- -or its direct product--positivism 
is a valuable black organization. Where they run into 
trouble is when they start dealing with f Robert ' s 1 Rules 
of Order and who's got the money. "Who's collecting the 
money and the dues?" And then they get to fighting. But 


other than that, I mean, I don't have any problem with 
any black organization that's trying to do something 
positive for our race, because we don't have enough of 
it. [tape recorder off] 

We did a thing about the Black Arts Council. We 
just did what they accomplished, in a way. And then it 
says about the Ankrum Gallery and the Brand Library- - 
Yeah, there were always enough venues to exhibit. If you 
had art, there would be some galleries like-- In fact, I 
exhibited at the Heritage Gallery. That was when Bill 
Cosby first bought some of my art. And there was art at 
Brockman. There were always enough places to show- -I 
mean, if you did art--and it's still the case now. If 
you do enough art, and you refuse to show just old art, 
there's always a place to show some art. 

It's just like in that movie about the baseball 
field, Field of Dreams , and a guy said--they make fun of 
it now-- This voice kept telling this guy out in the 
middle of an Iowa cornfield, "Build it and they will 
come," which was like a faith thing, you know. And it's 
the same. If you do enough art even to the point where 
your closets are bulging with art and your storage spaces 
are bulging with unseen art, eventually an art venue will 
appear for you to have a chance to show. 
MASON: I guess I was just asking that because you often 


hear that black artists are excluded from the market and 
they are invisible as artists--well, that's not exactly 
the word-- 

RIDDLE: Well, to me it goes back to you can make up 
these excuses why you don ' t get to show and you don ' t get 
this and you don't get that and you don't get funded. 
You know, "I can't do art unless this art council gives 
me some money." Well, then your overriding desire isn't 
to do art. If your overriding desire is to do visual 
art, if you're a visual artist--to write, if you're a 
writer; to dance, if you're a dancer; to write and figure 
out manuscripts for plays, if you're a playwright- -you ' re 
going to do it. And eventually somebody will say, "Wow! 
This is good stuff." But if you don't do it because you 
don't see the venue or the outlet [up] front, then what 
does it matter if you find a producer or a publisher or 
exhibit space? You don't have no art; you ain't got 
nothing to show anyway- So I think the more important 
thing is to do the art. And don't worry, just do the 
best creative work you can do and, eventually, it will be 
seen. Do it and it will be shown, like "Build it and 
they will come." 

MASON: I guess there is also that romantic idea that, 
well, if black artists didn't have the market to worry 
about, then their art would be somehow more spontaneous 


or more this-- Whereas white artists, they always had 
kind of a market in the back of their minds, and so their 
work tends to be more-- 

RIDDLE: Yeah. That's kind of like a generalization, 
because-- I like to put it in perspective. You think 
about the life of Van Gogh, who supposedly never sold a 
piece of art in his lifetime, and now his work is 
priceless. So the real issue is, if Van Gogh had said, 
"Well, I'm never going to get to sell a piece of art in 
my life; therefore, I'm not going to do art," there 
wouldn't be Van Gogh. So I think the white artists have 
just as hard a time as the black artists. I mean, 
they're white artists who-- You don't have to like the 
work of [Andy] Warhol or somebody who just happened to 
hit the right place at that right time with art. But 
that's no different than when World War II started: 
Churchill was in England, Stalin was in Russia, Roosevelt 
was here. Hitler was in Germany, Mussolini was in-- You 
know, great leaders all at one time, because the time 
required great leaders, because it was a tumultuous time 
in the world. Always, there are people who are in the 
right place at the right time in history that they become 
the acknowledged people. 

There's a question in one of your things about 
Stokely Carmichael and Willy Ricks. And I'm always 


amazed how Willy Ricks was the person who basically 
coined the phrase "black power, " but Stokely Carmichael 
is the one who said it at the right place and the right 
time and it was picked up on the national air waves. And 
Stokely Carmichael became the main SNCC [Student 
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] advocate for black 
power. But look how many people got busted upside the 
head, squirted with water hoses, bitten by dogs, jailed 
by a status quo system, law enforcement and stuff, before 
Stokely, before Willy Ricks. But as the thing peaked to 
a zenith there at the right place, the right time, the 
right man saying it, he became a celebrity. Willy Ricks 
is still alive. But Willy Ricks said things to me that-- 
Like, he's the one who said the role of the student in 
the struggle is to learn, study, get as smart as they 
can, and then articulate the contradiction. And I still 
remember him saying that, because it made sense. 

Willy Ricks is the one I first heard say-- Well, 
I'll tell you another one. Like one of my oldest sons 
[Anthony Thomas Riddle] said-- This had stuck because he 
had said it at the right time. Tony Riddle said, 
"Lifestyle begins where rhetoric ends." So you can talk 
about it, but when you take that action step, that 
becomes lifestyle. All that other stuff is rhetoric. 
And that's a big problem with black people, too. We 


talk, "Man, the white man! The white man! The white 
man!" Well, if you know it's the white, why do we 
continue to let the white man rule? Why don't we begin 
some self-rule? If we know the white man is not doing 
things in our best interest, which is natural anyway, 
because everybody in America is trying to get the best 
they can-- So the white man's not going to say, "Well, 
we've got to sacrifice and give something to these black 
folk." Then black folk make enough money collectively to 
do for self. Just like the Honorable Elijah Muhammad-- A 
lot of people say, "Well, Elijah Muhammad, he's just an 
old fanatic racist clothed in Islam. He ain't talking 
about nothing." But at least he spoke to do for self, 
which is a good concept. 

You know, we don't have grocery stores. But the 
people who sell hair products, fine cars like Cadillacs 
and things-- You look in the black enterprise one hundred 
top corporations, and you see what kind of products they 
do. And then you go look at Fortune 500--the few blacks 
that are in the Fortune 500--Johnson Publishing, hair 
products people, Cadillac dealerships. But they're 
catering goods and services to black people 
professionally. And there's enough black money out there 
to be wealthy if you give black people goods and services. 
But we don't support each other. "Man, I ain't giving no 


money to no nigger. All they do is do you wrong." I 
mean, we don't like ourselves, so we don't like people who 
look like us. So we suffer as a race and then we blame it 
on the white man. We've got to blame that on ourselves. 
Now, I don't even know what that question was about, 
[laughter] You have to stop me, because I will ramble on. 

I didn't know what "cultural nationalism" was. I 
just didn't-- 

^4AS0N: Oh, what we talked about between-- I asked you if 
there were artists who were interested in what the [Black] 
Panthers were saying, because you went through the Bobby 
Seale book. Seize the Time , versus Ron Karenga ' s version 
of cultural nationalism. And you were saying that, you 
know, black people need both, they need Martin [Luther 
King, Jr.] and-- But I was just wondering, if you knew-- 
Do you know any artists who actually studied under Ron 

RIDDLE: Not under Ron. But I used to know some people 
who were inf luenced--I mean, I'm one myself--indirectly 
and directly from being involved in the Black Panther 
Party. Because that was a cultural-- It's like Emory 
Douglas and that paper [ California Eagle ] . But see, that 
paper at one time, it was probably the largest circulation 
of a black newspaper in California. It probably went to 
other states, too. But the Black Panther Party paper had 


at one time a circulation of like three or four hundred 
thousand a week, and it was a major organ in their 
fundraising activity, too. They had people on the streets 
selling the party paper, and they weren't goofing the 
money off. I mean, the money was going to support Panther 
Party programs rather than "Here's a pile of money. Let's 
everybody rip some off." 

And at one time, it was a very good organization, but 
its premise of militarism--the police aren't going to ever 
let that stand. You can have Aryan nation, you could have 
all these white supremacists and ultra right-wing groups 
that can arm themselves to the teeth, but you let some 
black folks start arming and all the paranoia and guilt of 
hundreds of years of knowing that they've done black 
people wrong and that black people would surely, if given 
the opportunity, wreak revenge on them in like manner, the 
way they've treated black people in America-- See, because 
that scares the hell out of white people. 

MASON: No, but they liked that. I mean, because with the 
Panthers and stuff, the students were like "Oh, wow!" 
RIDDLE: But it's not enough of a-- That's like a 
rejection of their parents and the existent culture. But 
like for most of them, if it comes down to assuming the 
life of a black person, the lifestyle of a black person, 
in the gun sights of the FBI [Federal Bureau of 


Investigation] or the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] 
and the local authorities and clandestine operations 
against you and threats of jail from every way that they 
can get you, from tax evasion to something that you might 
have actually done illegal, they don't want that. It's a 
very, very hard, stressful lifestyle. And those 
underground white organizations at the time, like the 
Weathermen and Tom Hayden, the guy who was married to Jane 
Fonda, they affiliated on one level with blacks, but they 
had their own agenda. 

I mean, it's just like, as cold as it sounds, the 
white woman's liberation movement. It wasn't so much 
about the black sisters getting some equality; the white 
women wanted to be higher in the corporate structure than 
they had been allowed to go. They wanted some of the jobs 
that had been reserved exclusively for white men to roll 
over to white women, whether it was on the police forces, 
whether it was in areas where only white men had done the 
work before. It wasn't like they said, "Well, once we 
break this door down, come on, black sisters, you're 
coming with us!" Them white women didn't care nothing 
about that. They didn't then, and they don't now. 
MASON: It's the same with black women during slavery. 
Sometimes there was a split between women's suffrage and 
[inaudible]. It's like why should we expect white women 


to be different than white men? 

RIDDLE: And there's good people. I mean- -like, you know, 
since you brought up the slavery time- -those abolitionists. 
They were real, because they subjected themselves to harsh 
punishment. John Brown, I mean, he died. They say, "Well, 
John Brown, he was a fanatic." But what was he a fanatic 
about? About freedom. I heard somebody the other day on 
the news talking about-- Well, they were talking about 
these Sudanese who just got arrested in New York. And they 
were saying they were using terrorist tactics to try to 
take greater control of the country. It was D'Amato or 
[Alphonse] D'Amato in New York, or whatever his name is. 
And I was thinking, "Wait a minute." What he was saying 
was-- If you applied what he said to how the Americans did 
the Indians, there was no difference. None. 

Like, yesterday. South African extremists went into 
the meeting with [Frederik W.] de Klerk, [Nelson R.] 
Mandela, and [Mangosuthu G.] Buthelezi, where they were 
trying to talk about transference of South Africa's 
government to a majority rule. These crackers came in 
there with their guns, with their camouflage suits, bust 
the windows out of the building and stormed the meeting. 
But yet, in Soweto, they can gun down sixty-nine or 
seventy-- Or like in South Sharpsville or some other 
place. They can gun down hundreds of black people just 


for being out there protesting. No guns. Nothing. Just 
gun them down, have a massacre. But when these crackers 
show up talking about how they're going to overthrow the 
government and they've got guns and they're breaking up 
government property, there's not a shot fired. 

The same way in Sarajevo. The United States and 
France and Britain, they are not going into another 
country and kill white people. They'll go into Somalia 
and kill black people, like they went into Vietnam and 
killed black people. Like they'll go into Nicaragua and 
kill black people. Like they'll go into Panama and kill 
black people. But they are not going into a white 
conclave and kill other white people. They haven't done 
it since the Second World War, and they're not going to do 
it. And yet, they say the Muslims can't have weapons to 
defend themselves against the Croats and the Serbians. 
But it's all right for the Serbians and the Croats to have 
weapons to kill the Muslims. 

I mean, this is going far afield, I know. But see, 
if you go to the ultimate injustice, Algeria-- They had an 
election this year. The fundamentalist Muslims in Algeria 
won a legitimate one-person, one-vote election. 
Democracy. The army invalidated the elections. America 
hasn't said anything, because the real thing is the rise 
of fundamental Islam coming out of Iran, Iraq, over there 


where Muammar Qaddaf i--another one of the bad guys-- All 
these places where fundamentalism is on the rise- -Egypt, 
all through the Middle East--America is against it. But 
it's a legitimate movement. They have enough people to 
have an influence over how they want the part of the world 
they live in to be run. But we're afraid of 
fundamentalists. Fundamentalism is our enemy. We ain't 
afraid of no fundamentalism like Jerry Falwell and some of 
these right-wing wackos, but we're afraid of Muslim 
fundamentalism. So we favor Israel. 

I mean, Israel is like an organ transplant. And the 
only reason it hasn't been rejected by the body that's the 
Middle East is because we've got so many life-support 
systems going in there to keep that transplanted organ in 
that part of the world that it can't be overthrown. You 
can't do that forever. It's like the art we talked about. 
It may last one hundred years [but] it's deteriorating all 
the time. One day the wall goes down; the art got to go 
with it. Them Jews cannot maintain an occupied territory 
through the muzzle of a gun. They can go get ten thousand 
Russians and say, "Now, you Jews kick some Arabs out." 
They are not going to be able to maintain that narrow, 
shaky position for another fifty years. 

It's the same thing in South Africa. Crackers be 
talking about, "We want our own country. We want 


separatism." Now, if you thought about the most logical, 
fair, and just solution to that, you'd say, "Okay, you've 
got it." Give them the same homeland territory that they 
put them black people on. It didn't have a damn thing out 
there. So yeah, "You can have Botswana; you can have this 
little homeland." You know, they put them black folk 
where there was no resources, where there was no scenery. 
It looked like they put them in the middle of Kansas. 
Those crackers want independence, the ones who want to 
stay there. Say [to them], "Okay. The blacks are coming 
to Johannesburg and run the factories, and you can have 
that wasteland you gave them." That's fair. It was good 
enough for the blacks to have their separate homeland. 
Let the crackers take it over and see what they can do 
with it. But they won't. They want the gold mines, they 
want the copper mines, they want the shipping ports. You 
can't have them! So they're going to have a bloodbath 
there. And let me tell you, when the blood starts 
flowing, we ain't going to go there and intervene until 
you see five, six, seven hundred white folk a day dying. 
They'll say, "Oh, stop! Something's got to be done." But 
as long as they see ten thousand black bodies a day, "Oh, 
we deplore the violence." But you let them crackers start 
getting killed, everybody is going to be wanting to run 
over there and intervene then. It's just the way it is. 


That's why I guess I sound-- Nobody at my house talks 
to me because I seem too bitter. [laughter] 
MASON: Yeah, we're in a state of real politics now where 
Ollie [Oliver] North can be called an American hero for 
breaking the law. 
RIDDLE: Yeah, and lying. 
MASON: But it's a matter of-- 
RIDDLE: Just flat out lying. 
MASON: Yeah. 

RIDDLE: He got on TV the next night on Frontline , the 
next night after he got acquitted, and said, "Yeah, I've 
got tapes," and played the tapes. I sat right there and 
read all the tape [of] his voice. They had like the words 
to go along with the tape so you could hear exactly what 
he said. "Yeah, Reagan knew everything. Yeah, I knew 
everything. Yeah, we knew everything. Yeah, we did it." 
Because he had been acquitted. Now he's running for 
senator from North Carolina or some damn place. I can't 
believe it, boy. But, see, the white man's threatened. 
He's threatened in America because the white man is, 
through his own sexual activity in the past, becoming 
extinct himself. He's not going to be a pure white man 
anymore. That scared the hell out of the white man. But 
there's nothing he can do about it, because as the world 
shrinks and as people become more interrelated, there's 


going to be less and less pure white blood. And white men 
have proven with their theories of genetics that dark 
dominates white. You put black and white together, you 
don't get white paint: you get grey. So as the white 
man-- If you put, like, Japanese eyes, oriental eyes, you 
put slant and round, you don't get round as often as you 
get somewhere between slant and round, which is oval. So 
it's like the dominant genes. You take curly and 
straightm, you get more curly than you do straight. You 
may get one straight, one curly, and two mixed. So the 
white man's gene isn't even the dominant gene. How the 
hell does he expect to be the dominant species when he 
doesn't have a dominant gene? 

MASON: By an imagination that can create an atom bomb. 
RIDDLE: Well, that's that same-- That's why in Yacub, he 
was like a mutation in that play, the white man is a 
mutation. He ' s a genetic disease that's come to afflict 
the planet. 

MASON: Oh, you mean that Muslim [inaudible]? 
RIDDLE: Yeah, Yacub. So, I mean, it's not necessarily 
true. But you look at some of the ways other cultures-- 
so-called third-world, subcultures--view their 
relationship to earth. It's like the way we destroy the 
rain forest. I mean, I haven't done any art about that. 
But it doesn't take a great leap of imagination to 


consider that the most exotic plants in the world, some of 
them are in the Amazon region of Central America, South 
America. And who knows if some of those plants-- If we 
had as many botanists down there as they have low-priced 
labor cutting old growth trees and clear-cutting the 
Amazon, who's to say that that many botanists down there 
couldn't have the cure to AIDS, cancer, that every major 
medical affliction that's bothering people on the face of 
the planet couldn't be, somehow, culled naturally from the 
flora and fauna that exists down there? 


JUNE 26, 1993 

RIDDLE: Actually, it's right next to some of the so- 
called West. The Russians were excluded because they were 
our antagonists, so they didn't get to be the West. It's 
the silliest thing. It's like saying the Middle East is 
in Africa. You look at parts of what they call the Middle 
East--a lot of that's Africa. But they don't want you to 
say Africa, because then you realize that that's part of 
the dark continent, the part of the continent where we 
come from. So by geographically calling it the Middle 
East, somehow it disassociates it from Africa. 
MASON: I think with Russia the division was because of 
the church, the division between the Catholic Church and 
the Eastern Orthodox Church. 

RIDDLE: To me, it's all convenient. It's like Western 
art. What is Western--? When they say Western art, they 
go right back and get Europe and the United States. But 
here's Haiti closer to the United States than Europe. 
They don't call Haitian art no Western art. It's Haitian 
art. Mexico is closer than Haiti: Columbian art. And 
then they named that after Columbus. Pre-Columbian. I 
mean, come on! But yet they don't talk about all the 
black people who came to Central America and Mexico 


before Columbus. I mean, where did the Olmec heads come 
from? Out of the imagination of the indigenous people? 
Or were they influenced by people who came over on reed 
boats, like the Ra? That's why Thor Heyerdahl didn't get 
no glory after-- As soon as he docked that boat, I mean, 
he started-- He should be an American or Western 
civilization hero, because he proved that you could sail 
from the mouth of the Nile with indigenous material-- 
material that was local to the region--follow the currents 
and sail across the ocean. But they didn't-- 

Same with [Louis S.] Leakey. I mean, all his 
discoveries in Africa. He should be the most preeminent 
anthropologist for human remains on the planet. But he 
and his son [Richard E. Leakey], they don't get no real 
glory like they should because they show the origins of 
man coming from the Rift Valley in Olduvai Gorge in 
Tanganyika rather than in France. You know, so these 
things do, to me- -maybe it's just personal prejudice- -but 
they fly in the face of what Western civilization would 
lead you to believe. "Christ is white." I mean, come on. 
How could a white Christ be in the region that Christ is 
supposed to have come from where it was inhabited by 
darker- skinned people than white people? So, to me, it's 
all like a grand game to make you think that you're not as 
good or as worthy as the people who want to control the 


resources of the earth. 

Like people never think about England. To me, 
England is worse than Hitler, worse than any of them, 
because they tried to conquer the world. They used to 
brag, "The sun never sets on the British Empire." I mean, 
they couldn't conquer China, so they brought in drugs. 
Maybe that ' s where the pattern for control of black folk 
in America was drawn. Make big money and control-- That's 
why we got mad at Malcolm [X] when he said that time, the 
queen- -whoever the queen was at that time-- [is] the 
biggest drug dealer in the history of the world. But it's 
like they tried to conquer India. Look how long they 
controlled India. What right do they have to tell an 
Indian--there are many more people in India than there are 
in England--that they should be British? The reason you 
never hear why the First World War was fought is because 
there was fighting over Africa. They were kicking Germany 
out of Africa. They were kicking Germany out of Africa. 
MASON: But, I mean, in the whole history of the world, 
there's always been-- I mean, even if you look at West 
Africa and the Asante, I mean, they were a powerful 
kingdom and they went out and conquered other people. The 
Romans and Alexander the Great. I mean, maybe there were 
some Native American tribes who stayed at home. But most 
people seemed to-- I don't know. They think they're going 


to run out of resources. 

RIDDLE: Well, maybe man has always--like you said-- 
History probably documents that man has always been 
warlike with his neighbors, aggressive towards his 
neighbors and territory and stuff. But I wasn't around 
then; I'm around now. And I see how since the Second 
World War that the United States has not fought a hot war 
with white people. I've seen us fight the Koreans, the 
Vietnamese, the-- Any kind of dark people you can name, 
we've fought. But we don't fight white people. And, to 
me, I don't like it. 

I think the whole war thing, military weaponry, 
trillions of dollars that we're in debt-- That's welfare 
for white people, because they've got the jobs and the 
technology. They make the big checks for nuclear weapons, 
for warheads, for missiles. I mean, you can't even use 
them. If you use the stuff, you destroy the world. And 
if you don't use it beyond the blackmail power that it had 
to keep Russia and America from jumping on each other--and 
then when China got some, they couldn't jump on China-- 
aside from that deterrent value, it's worthless. What do 
you do with a used warhead? What do you do with ten tons 
of deadly nerve gas? What do you do with it? You can't 
do nothing with it. You know, what do you do with a space 
station--? They say, "Well, we might find a cure for 


cancer on a space station." You take $15 billion and put 
it into cancer research, you'll find a cure a hell of a 
lot quicker. 

But I saw something out here that's totally 
different. It's not like any of that at all. It's like 
fresh air. You asked the question, "Would you say more 
about your interest in bebop?" And I think, very briefly, 
that music-- I wrote on this, "Jazz provides the thinking 
rhythm that goes with the art." Because you don't have 
to-- It's an audio thing. It goes through the ears, but 
your hands and your mind are still free to work in 
conjunction with what you hear in the music. So it 
provides like an audio setting and a rhythmic energy. 
You're listening to creativity expressed a lot of times on 
the spot without sheet music- -sometimes without rehearsal, 
sometimes with--but very brilliant ideas expressed 
audibly. And that's an inspiration that can allow you to 
try to express yourself visually the way the-- 

That ' s one of the things, too, that's nice, that it's 
usually groups of musicians working together, which goes 
back to, again, my romanticized view of everything of how 
the African artisans worked together. They followed 
tradition. They had a basic structure that you had to 
adhere to, but you followed tradition. Like maybe the 
bebop, for instance, was a school, and men who played 


bebop worked within the parameters of that school on one 
level, but they're always trying to push the evolution of 
the school out the other side into that avant-garde period 
that you speak of, because that's part of the evolution. 
But there's a foundation, and then there's growth and 
experimentation away from that foundation. And I think 
that that's closer to-- 

Maybe that's why black people put together what they 
call black classical music, i.e., jazz. It came from the 
basic rhythmic instruments that black people--I hate to 
say — invented. But I think black rhythmic music, even if 
you hear it played contemporarily in different countries 
with those long wooden horns and the drums and the 
shekere, there's a rhythm there that's basic. It's basic 
all the way through Elvis Presley and anything else you 
want to put together. 

It's different from classical music, because the 
interpretations of a great classical pianist playing a 
concerto-- They like to say, "Well, I liked his 
interpretation and the power he brings to the 
performance." But still, it's within the context of the 
repetition of those exact notes, you know, where they're 
playing over and over those same notes. You might put an 
emphasis here or there, but basically you're not going to 
just take a pen and write changes to all the chords and 


notes of Chopin, you know. But with jazz, you're allowed 
to do that. 

MASON: And you were saying with visual art, there is no 
classical music because you are working with-- 
RIDDLE: To me, there's no rules for visual art. 
MASON: I mean, what you were saying about African art, 
how it was traditional and-- 

RIDDLE: Yeah, artifact. Because it wasn't really 
intended to be art. 
MASON: Right. 

RIDDLE: It was intended to be ceremonial and ritual. I 
remember reading once in this book about southern Africa 
before the Boers and the British and the Dutch and all 
that. And they were talking about how to build this 
particular ceremonial drum. It could only be taken from a 
tree that was a certain age, a certain kind of wood, at a 
certain time of year. And you had the keeper of the 
tradition at the top of the hierarchy, and you had the 
skilled person under him who would take his place when he 
passed on to the spiritual world. And down to the very 
bottom of these different levels of drum makers, you had 
the apprentice just learning. I got out of that 
particular story that the making of the drum, as closely 
as it could be made to how the drum had been made for 
centuries, was much more important than you getting off in 


a corner and saying, "Hey, I've got this new idea about 
these drums." The Western view is to push the mainstream 
ever forward and ever changing, whereas artifact and 
tradition and spirituality was like you're supposed to try 
to maintain the tradition. I think jazz is like trying to 
constantly create at the edge, where classical is more a 
reinterpretation of what was. Then I see where art is 
more like-- I don't see any rules for art. Art is 
anything you want to do. In a way it has, like, 
traditions, and in another way, "anything goes" in art. 
Non-art is art. 

I saw a show once where the guy didn ' t have anything 
hanging on the wall and won a prize at the Barnsdall Park. 
Congruent Reality . He had a title, but there wasn't 
nothing hanging up there. And that won a prize. So no 
art was art. On one level, that's as far as you-- He 
could only take it one step further, if he hadn't put a 
title up there. Even if he said Untitled it would have 
taken it a step further than some kind of make-believe 

MASON: You wouldn't have this presence there in the 

RIDDLE: Yeah, you wouldn't even know it was art. Only 
the curator would know. [laughter] And then in the 
catalog, they could put something in the catalog, "Did you 


notice that one wall was blank?" And say, "I noticed 
that. Why did they put--?" The art was there, but it was 
the ultimate of abstract expressionism- -whatever . There's 
some word . 

MASON: Dematerialization. 

RIDDLE: Yeah, yeah. I knew there was some word. 
Dematerialization of form. But that's-- 

MASON: Well, how did assemblage fit into not an African 
tradition specifically, but an African American? Did I 
ask you how you learned about African American art? Like 
the older artists? Was that like with Charles White? 
RIDDLE: You'll probably get bits and pieces. And then I 
like to read, because I like research more than art. 
Because research leads-- You do a lot of art conceptually 
after researching that I had never gotten around to 
actually doing in reality. You read about the different 
black artists. I forget the guy's name now, but he was a 
great landscape painter. Buchannan might be his name. 
But there's lots of artists, like [Henry 0.] Tanner, and 
then there's-- And it helps as a black artist if you can 
relate to your own kind. 

I mean, it's like the Bible never made sense till I 
went to BCN, Black Christian Nationalist Church. The 
opening premise: Jesus was black because God is black, 
and then all of a sudden, you had a whole new perspective 


on Jesus. It makes way more sense to think that somebody 
who was running around on the continent of Africa was 
black instead of white. And when you read in The Bible as 
History at Cal[ifornia] State [University, Long Beach] 
that on the shore of-- I guess it might be lake- -wherever 
Uganda is--it's probably Lake Tanganyika. That's where, 
biblically, they think the Garden of Eden would have been 
if there had been a Garden of Eden. It's one of the 
places they offered Israel when they were making an offer 
to Palestine. I think it was around '48. But the fact 
that it could have been in Africa, the Garden of Eden, I 
mean, that's not in New York City. That's some dark- 
skinned people there. So maybe Adam and Eve were black. 
You don't know. When you think about it, there's more 
dark-skinned people on the planet than white people. Why 
would God, if he made people in his image, pick the race 
that had the least amount of people and say, "This is what 
I look like." It's an interpretation. So when I heard 
that Jesus was black and God was black-- I used to go to 
church and they started pointing out that he had "hair of 
wool and feet of bronze." 

You don't hear anything in history about the Moors. 
Then you read, one time, how they conquered Spain and you 
read about Moorish art and Moorish architecture. They 
brought the arch to European architecture and stuff. And 


then you see that as, "Well, here's some black architects 
who changed the face of European art and changed the 
complexion of the people. And then somehow, at some 
point, that feeds back into Romare [Bearden] and Jake 
[Jacob Lawrence]. And you find there's so many things 
that you're interested in about black people that all go 
[to] help you to have an African American experience as an 
artist. So, to me, everything that's happened in the 
history of black people is part of the material of African 
American artists. 

Then you see other people who are practitioners as 
African American artists. I remember like Romare--the 
first time I really saw Romare ' s work. He had a show in 
Pasadena and it took up a whole wall. It was a street 
scene, like tenements and everything, but he had sound 
with it-- Sirens, sounds that he had probably recorded in 
a New York street scene, people talking and everything. 
And all of a sudden you got this extra-dimensional 
concept. Instead of just some color and some images, all 
of a sudden you're-- I guess, if you'd had smells, you'd 
have almost been there. You know, instead of Pasadena, 
you could have been in Harlem. They just influence you 
because they're one of you, and they do what you like to 
do. So you begin to build these bridges of identification 
between yourself, their styles, and your [art] . You know, 


it's a natural thing. 

But I started off with Van Gogh and Rembrandt. And I 
still like them, too, because as artists, they say a lot 
of stuff I like. But as subject matter, I have to take-- 
Like yesterday, I was thinking about Huey [P.] Newton. I 
never saw a piece about Huey. Huey Newton, a little boy, 
with certain things about him, up to [the time that he was 
at] the head of the Black Panther Party. Huey Newton in 
prison. Huey Newton, drug addict. Huey Newton, dead. 
And I thought it would be nice to do a piece, a drawing of 
Huey, in about five or six faces, where it starts out very 
vague and faint, and it gets sharper and focuses as you go 
to the middle of the piece. Then, at the zenith of his 
influence, that's the sharpest contrast, and then he 
starts fading out. And at the end, he's gone. I mean, in 
a way, that's like all the people who have influence. 
They flash across the screen of experience and they fade 
on out, you know. If they're a strong enough influence to 
attract your attention, then you're like, "Wow!" You may 
only get him right there, "Wow!" You might have known him 
from the beginning; you might have gave up on him 
somewhere and never saw him fade. But still, it's like-- 
And I thought that would be a nice piece to do. And then 
I said, "Well, should I do it on--?" You could do it 
easiest on a silk screen. Or a Xerox machine is even 


easier than that. Just take the same picture and start 
off with light and build to dark, and then fade back to 
light, you know. But that's all symbols. I mean, we got 
a symbol; you don't have to-- I mean, that's a lazy way to 
do art. But if you can accumulate certain symbols, why 
belabor the point and say, "I've got to draw it." But 
some people feel that way. 

MASON: There's this whole postmodern movement now that 
says that symbols are all-- Some societies are so multi- 
cultural that you can't assume that, you know, symbols 
have the same meaning for everybody. So that's some of 
the crisis in art and architecture. The Roman capital for 
a European isn't the same thing for a-- 

RIDDLE: I guess to some people you'd present an image of 
the Roman Colosseum and some of those partly deteriorated 
pillars, and they wouldn't even know where that was. Yet, 
to me, the strong part about those pillars is they 
represent, in the state that they exist now--which is not 
like in their highest state of grandeur--that everything 
is in a state of flux, where there's the coming and the 
going of things. 

I heard a guy the other day who said, "Well, you know 
what destroyed Rome was the homosexuality. " 

And I was like, "No, man. Come on." 

"They had way more homosexuality there than they have 


in the United States now." 

But that's not what destroyed Rome, [the] 
homosexuality. Rome, just like all other things, it has 
its day, and their day comes, and their day goes. Nobody, 
no country, no person gets to stay on top forever. 

That ' s what ' s hard for America to deal with right 
now, that we emerged as the preeminent power after World 
War II, we had that power for thirty- five strong years, 
forty years if you stretch it-- I remember when [James E.] 
Carter said in '70-- What was it? It was around '74, 
right after the energy crisis. That was during the energy 
crisis: me and Bridge [John Outterbridge] used to talk 
about that. "How can there be an energy crisis? Does it 
mean that your energy is at a low ebb and you can't do 
nothing?" You know, we used to fall out about "energy 
crisis." I even did a piece called Energy Crisis . It was 
so ridiculous, you know. 

But he showed at that time what Angela Davis said ten 
years before; they both said the same thing. Angela was 
complaining about the person in between the person who did 
the work and the person who put the goods on the shelf to 
be sold. There was a person who neither produced the 
goods or sold the goods, who made a percentage of the 
money off the goods. And why did that person need to be 
in there, that middle person? And Carter was saying the 


same thing when he said that there's a crisis of spirit. 
It's not a crisis of energy. It was the same time when 
America ceased to be a "manufacturer" of goods and began 
its still-existing quest for "consumer." We became 
consumers instead of producers. We let other people take 
over the basic manufacture, and we began to be the people 
who bought the finished goods. Whereas after the Second 
World War, we were the manufacturer. 

Everybody wanted American. "Made in America" meant 
something. But the Japanese, hey, you know, they got to 
retool all their factories after the end of the war with 
[Douglas] MacArthur ' s version of the Marshall Plan for 
Europe. Europe's got to retool because everything was 
destroyed. They were non-militaristic, so they began to 
make consumer goods for a country that was more and more 
moving towards idleness, leisure, and materialism. They 
provided that. The Japanese didn't have to defend 
themselves, "We're going to defend you." Europe didn't 
have to defend itself, "We're going to defend you." And 
then we look up and see Germany and Japan making all the 
money and we wonder why. Well, we gave them our 
permission by our advocacy of "We're going to spend our 
money on this one-time thing, this bomb." 

I mean, a '41 Chevy is a classic car that Reggie 
Jackson might pay $30,000 to fix up and put in his garage, 


What are you going to do with a 1941 bomb you find in a 
pineapple field in Hawaii that didn't explode? You've got 
to call out the bomb team to keep it from killing 
somebody. It has no resale value. But there might be 
twenty owners of that '41 Chevy. There might be $10,000 
worth of new parts that have been sold to keep it running. 
You see, it's got value on into infinity. The bomb [has] 
got value one time. People made some money when they 
manufactured it. If the bomb is used, it's going to do 
its job and kill somebody, and then the bomb is gone. The 
bomb is used up. See, there's no resale value on weapons 
except to kill. So it's crazy to me. Why can't gun 
barrels be irrigation pipe? It's the same technology to 
make a round gun barrel ; you can make a pipe to bring some 
water to some arid land, produce some crops. 

The same with the fertilizer industry. Rather than 
encourage composting materials and using natural materials 
and potash and everything to replenish the soil, they've 
got everybody on the chemical kick. Drove all the small 
farmers out of business, ended up ruining the land. I 
mean, it's-- But they got money. DOW [Chemical Company] 
and them made big money on the short-term. [Ronald W.] 
Reagan and his last big rip-off-- We let everybody 
mortgage the equity in this country. Nothing but robbers 
stealing with both hands. And then, now they say, "Wow, 


it sure is a big mess here!" But his friends got rich. 
MASON : Yeah . 

RIDDLE: It's so ridiculous. Talking about all that 
savings and loan money is lost. If it was lost, I could 
go out there and pick me up twenty dollars off my grass. 
Billions and billions lost? I mean, that means money just 
laying around there waiting for the wind to blow it. You 
know? Shoot, nobody would have to even go to work for two 
years, just harvest all that dough that's stuck in your 
bushes. Talking about lost. It ain't lost. They took 
that money right out of this country and put it over in an 
Asian basin and produced cheaper goods and bought back the 
stuff that went into default at ten cents on the dollar. 
Cause a default and then buy it back. It's ridiculous. 
And then we're sitting up here, people going for it. 
That's why if I could do art, that's what my art would be 
about . 

If I could do art that a million people saw every 
day, that's what it would be about: Don't let these 
crooks get away with it. I've got a piece of art now 
that's in my head that shows the drug pyramid. And it's 
made out of nine bags. If you make nine triangles and put 
them in order, they come out to make a perfect big 
triangle. Like one triangle, two, three, and four. I 
guess, that's ten. But anyway, I was going to have like a 


silk drawstring bag at the top, because those are the 
people who don't see the drugs, don't use the drugs 
necessarily, but they provide the economics and the 
financing for the drug trade to exist. The second with 
the two triangles is like the people directly under them: 
the gangster elements, the corrupt elements, the pay-off 
elements to keep that insulated from them. And then as 
you go down, you've got like the transportation and all 
that. But it's a whole sequence of how the retailer gets 
the drugs at the bottom-- But the drug bags at the bottom, 
they've got to be made out of burlap, something rough, 
something textural and unpleasant to the touch. And who 
are the retailers? That's where we are. We're down at 
the bottom thinking we're making money, thinking we're big 
time. But we don't own any of the manufacture, 
transportation, any of the means of production. We're 
just different levels of consumers. Some consumers 
thinking that they're big-time wholesalers, but they're 
just at the bottom of the thing. I saw this piece in nine 
segments. I've been studying it. Every time I hear 
something or think something, I write it down in this 
notebook that's got all these things about this piece. I 
might do it someday. 

MASON: I mean, there are people like Noam Chomsky, an MIT 
[Massachusetts Institute of Technology] professor, who has 


a movie out. Do you know of him? Well, he's a professor 
of linguistics at MIT, and he does a lot of stuff on 
exposing the American government ' s role in the overthrow 
of this government or that government in Central America. 
RIDDLE: I love that stuff. 

MASON: Yeah, and he's a respected professor at one of the 
best schools in the country. He's got a film out now 
called Manufacturing Consent: [ Noam Chomsky and the 
Media], and he goes around the country lecturing. Still, 
he's just one person, but he is somebody who is visible 
and respected. And yet, that doesn't seem to be helping 
to change the way people think because, I guess-- Why 
would you think that? 

RIDDLE: You can't change everybody. One reason, I think, 
is-- I used to think of it from a black perspective. If 
you take a strong black movement like the civil rights 
movement, you work and you sacrifice and people die for 
principle. They advance the cause of their principle by 
the energy that they apply. But the forces of resistance-- 
I used to always think of it as three shifts, three eight- 
hour shifts like in a factory. The shifts never end. 
Now, you may get tired after seventy-two days, or no days 
off, working your butt off, and on that seventy- third day 
say, "I've got to have me a rest," and you just stop. But 
these three shifts never stop. 


One time I saw it in a biology class at school . They 
were showing the different struggles on the non-human 
level, but they were applicable lessons. It showed the 
starfish, and why the starfish is such a deadly adversary 
in the clam and shellfish areas down on the bottom of the 
ocean. It showed the clam is like this two-sided shell 
that has a very powerful muscle that runs along its back 
that allows the shell to open and close. A very strong 
muscle. It showed when the starfish, who eats the 
shellf ish--that ' s what they eat, this particular kind of 
starfish anyway- -showed how he opened the shell-- Because 
he had like six legs. They always had four or five legs 
exerting this suction cup that was on the bottom of their 
legs, pressing it to pull this shell open. Now, the shell 
could resist. But the advantage the starfish had, he 
always had two legs resting in rotation, so he never gave 
up a four-legged pressure on the shell. And then pretty 
soon the mussel got tired because it couldn't rest. It 
had to just stay closed like this, and there was always 
something pulling, trying to open it. So since the 
pressure to open it was relentless, superior to the energy 
and the strength of the mussel, eventually, the mussel got 
tired and it relaxed. The starfish opened it up, stuck 
his beak down in there, and ate the shellfish. And that's 
why they were showing how they were trying to eradicate, 


through chemicals, some kind of thing they could put down 
on the floor of the ocean that would kill the starfish or 
reduce their population, but not harm the shellfish, and 
its ingestion by people later wouldn't cause the people to 
get sick. So they had this problem trying to, you know, 
adjust nature to man's need, which wasn't that bad a 

But it just showed how relentless pressure can be 
stronger than the will to change things. And so it grabs-- 
To me, it answers your question that if Professor Chomsky 
can go around and he can influence through limited media 
his ideas being made available to people-- He has a harder 
time than Robert Dole getting on TV every day, Michaels 
getting on TV every day. "This is the biggest tax and 
spend-- Tax and spend. Tax and spend." I mean, you hear 
"tax and spend" so much that you associate that with the 
Democratic Party. But yet, you never hear the biggest 
deficit maker in the history of the world, Ronald Reagan, 
being described as a "borrow and spend." And that's what 
he did. I mean, it's like he had a giant credit card, and 
he just went around and abused the credit card. 
Everything on credit. They borrowed and spent, borrowed 
and spent, borrowed and spent into the greatest 
accumulation of debt in the history of the world. But you 
never hear "borrow and spend." That's what they did. But 


you always hear "tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and 
spend • " 

So Chomsky is going around saying, "But look over 
here. Look what's happening here," Now, a few people 
will turn their heads, and they may be influenced and they 
may change. But the vast majority in that bell-shaped 
curve-- He's got this [group] to the left; 10 percent are 
already for him. Now he's encroaching slightly into the 
20 percent that is the next 10, pulling some people over. 
But the mass of people, they see Dole, they see Reagan- - 

I mean, Reagan, he was a wind-up toy. He was so bad 
that they had to change his exit from exiting and going 
out to the side after news conferences to-- They put the 
thing, the podium, right in front of this long hall so 
that when he got through, he just turned his back on the 
press and went down this hall and disappeared, because he 
made too many stupid remarks when he was going off the 
side. And the press said, "Mr. Reagan, Mr. Reagan, Mr. 
Reagan," and he'd say dumb stuff and they'd have to clean 
it up. So they made it so all he had to do was no 
personal ad lib, of f-the-record comments with the press. 
You turn around and you go down that hall. And then, at 
the end, if you remember Reagan, you'd always see Reagan, 
"Well, I guess that's it." He'd turn around and walk down 
that hall, and that was it. See, because he made too many 


mistakes when he was just Reagan being Reagan, because 
he ' s a dummy . 

MASON: I remember when he was governor. 

RIDDLE: Yeah. I mean, when [Edmund G.] "Pat" Brown ran-- 
I'll never forget my sister. I kid her to this day. Now, 
she's radical; I'm a conservative next to her. When 
Reagan ran against Brown, she said, "Ronald Reagan. Pat 
Brown. Who cares? They're all the same." After Ronald 
Reagan had been in a year, she said, "Damn, Ronald Reagan 
is terrible." I mean, this man did-- He said, "We don't 
have money to keep the marginally and the people worse 
than marginal who are mentally retarded and have mental 
problems in the institution." He put the walking crazies 
on the street. If you go back, that's the beginning of 
the massive period of homelessness that we have right now. 
Not that everybody-- I mean, it became economics later. 
But the first real rush of new homeless was when Ronald 
Reagan dumped the insane asylums. When he did that-- I 
remember when he did that. He said, "Well, we can't 
afford this." 

I mean, they had Kent State. But nobody remembers 
that Ronald Reagan called out the troops at [University of 
California] Santa Barbara, and two students got killed. 
And the thing that made it look bad was just before he 
called out the sheriffs and those people in Santa Barbara, 


he had made the statement, "Well, let them bite the 
bullet." Now, he didn't say go out and shoot nobody. But 
a couple of people didn't bite bullets, but they caught 
bullets and died. 

^4AS0N: At the University of Santa Barbara. 
RIDDLE: Yeah. It's up there. 
MASON: That's hard to believe. 

RIDDLE: Well, I'd say it was right around the time of 
Kent State that two people got killed by the sheriffs for 
anti-war demonstrations up in Santa Barbara. I don't 
remember the exact date now, but I remember when it 
happened. But it's just-- But yet, he's considered--like 
you said, Ollie North-- Well, he's the one who said Ollie 
North was an American hero. And look at [William J.] 
Casey! You think of the Ronald Reagan movie where he's 
the Gipper, and he says, "Win one for the Gipper, " and 
he's laying up there at Notre Dame, dying. And you think 
about Casey. Here, the day Casey was supposed to testify 
and all that stuff, his brain tumor- -he had to go to the 
hospital. He never got out of the hospital. I know 
Ronald Reagan told Casey, he said, "Casey, if you take 
this hit for me and go on and die and let all the secrets 
be dumped in your grave, we'll take care of your family." 
It was too convenient. 
MASON: The Corleones. 


RIDDLE: Yeah. It's too convenient for Casey to just do 
it. And when they got to those hearings on Contras for 
arms, every trail led to Casey's grave. And there's no 
way, once it went into Casey's grave, for it to come out 
the other side and affect anybody. Everybody's all, 
"Well, Casey did it. Casey did it." Aw, shoot. Come on. 
Oh, well. 
MASON: The tape is going to end in a couple of minutes, 


RIDDLE: I didn't get these other questions. 
MASON: Well, actually you talked about most of them. 
RIDDLE: I don't know. One thing, though, as it ends, I 
have to make a confession about me and art. When I first 
wanted to do art--I probably mentioned this before--! 
found out if I did art, I could get to talk about art. 
Kind of like you said the guy from MIT has another life, 
but he also likes to go lecture. I can remember the night 
that it happened, but I don't remember where. But the 
first time they turned out the lights and there was an 
audience and they put some slides of my art up on the 
wall-- And I had written a script about each piece. I 
realized that you had a darkened room, which meant the 
focus was on your work, and you could write a voice-over 
that was partly about your art as it appeared up there, 
but that the symbols-- You could run your political and 


social philosophy on a captive audience. That's when I 
knew I really wanted to do art, so I could get some people 
in a room where they couldn't get out and I could run my 
theories-- So that's what I like the best. And I think 
that you can influence more people in multimedia, visual 
and audio. So that's really why I like to do art. That's 
probably why I can't change and do nice little pictures. 
That's why I always kept a job. I mean, I've had a 
job longer than I've done art, because at least I had 
money coming in for the support of my own family, which 
was six kids and a wife [Carmen Garrott Riddle] of forty 
years. And if you really want to do art, there's enough 
time to do art. Me and David Hammons used to argue about-- 
Three hours a day during the week, that was fifteen hours 
a week, and then do ten on the weekends, Saturday, and ten 
on the weekend, Sunday: you were an artist thirty-five 
hours a week. And a lot of artists I knew in L.A. weren't 
doing art thirty- five hours a week that didn't have jobs. 
And I had that formula for a long time that-- And I think 
when you finally get caught up in your art, where your art 
begins to develop a momentum and you transcend the 
material with your thoughts-- You're not thinking of the 
material. It's like a direct relationship between your 
expression and your thought process without worrying about 
the materials. So the technology is gone, and it's just a 


straight link to your expression. I think, at that point, 
you can do all the art you can do till you're exhausted, 
and you can go to work the next day, whether it's in the 
classroom or some mundane job or some job you enjoy, by 
the fact that you progressed in your own evolution of 
thought and idea. You've done something positive just 
before you went to bed so you could get up and go to the 
workplace. Nothing at the workplace can make you feel 
really bad, because you've got something to look forward 
to beyond the workplace. So I think that that's how I've 
survived. I get to retire in five years. Maybe if I have 
health for ten or fifteen years after I retire, I can 
devote full time to art without having the restraints of a 
large family on me and see what happens. I'm kind of 
looking forward to it. 
MASON: Okay. Well, thanks a lot. 

RIDDLE: And I'd like to thank all the people I met in my 
artistic life and in my life who've influenced me. 
They're too numerous to mention, but I love them all. 
Because we had a symbiotic relationship. And that's it. 
MASON: Okay. Thank you. 



Allende, Salvador, 11-1^ 
Andrews, Benny, 135-36 
Ankrum Gallery ( Los 

Angeles), 111 
Art-West Associated, 114, 


Bailey, Herman "Kofi," 133- 

Bearden, Romare, 135, 183- 

84, 237 
Biggers, John T., 184-85 
Black Artists Association, 

Black Arts Council, 211 
Black Christian Nationalist 

Church, 23-25, 168-70, 

Black Panther Party, 193, 

Bohanon, George, 130 
Bohanon, Gloria, 130 
Booker, Claude, 108, 134 
Brockman Gallery ( Los 

Angeles), 106, 109, 111, 

Brown, Edmund G., "Pat," 

Brown, John, 220 
Bush, George H.W., 125, 

126, 127 

California African American 

Museum, 90 
California Eagle , 217 
Carlin, George, 125 
Carmichael, Stokely, 158, 

Carter, Alprentree, 

"Bunchy," 116 
Carter, James E., 73, 240- 

Casey, Bernard T., 

"Bernie, " 110 

Casey, William J., 250-51 
Castro, Fidel, 74 
Chomsky, Noam, 244-45, 

247, 248 
Christo, 83 

Coltrane, John, 79, 92 
Communicative Arts 

Academy, 172 
Concholar, Dan R. , 96, 

100-101, 131, 176, 179 
Concholar, Olivia, 100-101 
Cosby, Bill, 202, 212 

Davis, Alonzo, 96, 108-9, 

111, 117, 176 
Davis, Angela Y. , 240 
Davis, Anthony T., 13 
Davis, Miles, 133 
Douglas, Emory, 109, 134 
Drisdom, Emma 

(grandmother), 2, 3, 4 
Du Bois, W.E.B., 116, 156 

Edwards, Melvin, 96-97, 

Eversley, Frederick J., 

97-98, 114 

Franklin, Shirley, 122 

Gale, Wesley, 114-15 
Gallery 32 ( Los Angeles ) , 

Garrott, Alice, 17, 93 
Gillespie, Dizzy, 87, 92 
Goodnight, Paul, 185 
Griffin, Hal, 11 

Hall, John, 187 

Hammons, David, 71, 101-4, 
105-6, 111-12, 117, 159, 
163-64, 176, 177, 179, 
252; Skillets in the 
Closet , 103; How Ya Like 
Me Now . 103 


Hasenfus, Eugene, 127, 187 
Haynie, Wilbur, 106 
Herbert, Ernest, 106-7 
Heritage Gallery (Los 

Angeles), 212 
Heyerdahl, Thor, 228 
Hill, Anthony, 173-75 
Hilliard, David: This Side 

of Glory (novel), 193-94 
Hoffus, Tony, 41-42 
Honeywood, Varnette, 42, 

Horowitz, Benjamin, 111 
Huggins, John, 116 
Hussein, Saddam, 125 

Jackson, Jessie L. , 103 
Jackson, Maynard, 144-45 
Jackson, Suzanne, 92-93, 

100, 109-10, 180-81 
Jefferson, Joanne Tyler 

(sister), 1, 21-22 
Jenkins, Kerry, 15 
Johnson, Daniel LaRue, 88- 

89, 96-97, 141 
Johnson, Suzy Pinkney 

( aunt ) , 3 

Karenga, Maulana, 115-16 
Keeling, Judy (sister), 1 
King, Martin Luther, Jr. , 

Kissinger, Henry, 73, 


Lawrence, Jacob, 135, 150, 

183-84, 237 
Leakey, Louis S., 228 
Leakey, Richard E., 228 
Lewis, Samella, 181 
Lomax, Melanie, 145, 146 
Lomax, Michael, 145 
Lomax, Wilhemina, 145-46 
Los Angeles Police 

Department ( LAPD ) , 28-29 

Malcolm X, 26-27, 116, 191, 

Meo, Yvonne Cole, 96 

Mills, T. Lev, 136-37 
Mills, P'lla, 67 

Newton, Huey P., 238 
Nixon, Richard M. , 73, 208 
Noriega, Manuel, 73-74, 

North, Oliver, 186, 224 

Ortega, Daniel, 74 

Outterbridge, John W. , 86, 
90, 91, 96, 117, 118 
119, 167, 170-72, 240 

Paine, Billy, 144-45 
Pajaud, William E., Jr., 

54, 55, 67-68, 135, 182- 

Pajaud, William E., Sr., 

Parker, Charlie, 87, 92, 

Pinkney, Oliver (uncle), 3 
Pinochet, Augusto, 72, 75 
Poitier, Sidney, III, 121 
Purifoy, Noah, 60, 61-62, 

69-70, 76, 116-17, 176, 

179, 191, 207; Sir 

Watts , 117 

Reagan, Ronald W., 13, 

194, 199, 242, 247, 

Ricks, Willy, 158, 214-15 
Riddle, Anthony Thomas 

(son), 13-14, 77, 139- 

40, 215 
Riddle, Carmen Garrott 

(wife), 5, 17, 25, 42, 

188, 190, 191, 192, 199, 

209, 252 
Riddle, C. Morton 

(grandfather), 5, 6, 8, 

Riddle, Deborah Lynn 

(daughter), 140 
Riddle, Diallo Amir (son), 

Riddle, Dwight (uncle), 5 





88; Clubs 


Edgar (uncle), 5-6 
Flo (aunt), 6 
Geraldine ( aunt ) , 

John Thomas, Jr.-- 
Bird and Diz , 87- 
Trumps , 154- 
Force, 68; 



Employees Only , 72-75; 
The Ghetto Merchant . 62; 
86; Malcolm X . 77- 


78; Nixon; 

The 20th 

Anniversary. Busted . 80- 

81; The Olympic Stand . 

151-54; Pieces of Hand . 

208-9; Pre-programmed . 

45, 46; Street Trial . 51, 

Riddle, John Thomas, Sr. 

(father), 1, 2, 5, 9-10, 

12, 13-17, 44, 94, 146, 

Riddle, Pamela Ann 

(daughter), 140 
Riddle, Paul Anthony 

( brother ) , 1 
Riddle, Ralph (uncle), 6 
Riddle, Shawn Denise 

(daughter), 140 
Riddle, Spring Robin 

(daughter), 141 
Robinson, Jackie, 6 

Saar, Betye, 96, 180 
Schulberg, Budd, 118 
Seale, Bobby, 46, 123 
Smith, David, 66 
Superfly (film), 128-29 

Tanner, Henry O. , 183-84, 

Tatum, Earl, 44 
Terry, Ollie, 94 
Terry, Ruby, 94 
Tolliver, William, 185 
Torrijos, Omar, 73-74 

University of California, 
Santa Barbara, 249-50 

Waddy, Ruth G. , 60, 61, 

96, 114, 176, 181 
Washington, Booker T., 

116, 156 
Washington, Timothy, 180 
Wattle, David, 152 
Watts riots, 154, 178-79 
Summer Festival of 
, 116, 117, 178, 182 
Writers Workshop, 

Frances Cress, 
George ( uncle ) 





Wheeler, Helen Louise 

(mother), 1, 2, 10, 12, 

16, 17, 20, 36, 44, 80, 

White, Charles E. , 135, 

150, 185 
White, Walter, 7-8 
William Grant Still 

Community Arts Center 

( Los Angeles ) , 
Williams, Delia, 
Williams, Frank, 
Williams, Paul, 

Woodson, Carter 



G., 6, 


Young Jr. , Andrew J. , 122 


1.. ^,