January 24, 2024

“RichesArt is community and culture…a product of change.” - Richard Samuel 

Flipping a building bought off Craigslist into a fully functioning gallery is hard work. Richard Samuel bought it in hopes of filling the space with community. So, naturally, he and the community around him built it.

“It was a beautiful building already,” Samuel said. “I got lucky: I grew up in a construction background, so I got 10 of my friends and we painted [and flipped it]. My mom has a vintage shop, so she helped me find all the furniture. I already had an art following because I had been vending for so long, so I built up a good repertoire of artists that I could easily fill the gallery with.”

It took about a month to fully renovate the E 6th St. building. After walls were painted and decorated, art promoted, opening reception planned, RichesArt Gallery and Studio opened to the public on June 12, 2021.

Two months into the process of achieving this dream and opening the brick and mortar, Samuel found out his business was the only Black-owned art gallery in Austin, and one of two in all of Texas.

Knowing this, Samuel said he focused his artistic aspirations on what he could do for the community, creating an intentional place for self-expression for Black and brown people in East Austin.

You name it, RichesArt Gallery and Studio has it — jazz, comedy, and poetry nights, art history lectures, figure drawing and watercolor classes, star-studded block parties and opening receptions.

“RichesArt is as far away from a traditional gallery as possible,” he said. “We have couches, a different type of lighting, and artwork is hung in a non-traditional manner. It’s meant for you to be able to come in, relax, enjoy the art, and not feel so tied up with white walls and white wine. It can feel stuffy sometimes in traditional galleries.”

Originally from Wimberley, Texas, Samuel grew up going to the East side of Austin, where he said he experienced a wealth of Black culture — culture that continues to be gentrified out of the area as the city and affluent transplants drive out Black and brown communities. 

“I couldn't get my hair braided in Wimberley and all the MLK parades and Juneteenth festivals were [in Austin],” he said. “When you see culture leaving cities, it’s always a detriment, not only to the people that represent that culture, but to the city in general. It was a pretty easy choice to be like, ‘I'll step up and help provide space for that self expression.’” 

Owning the property that RichesArt is built on, Samuel said he hopes he can play a part in preserving East Austin amid gentrification. He said he aims to provide people, those just moving in and those that have lived in Austin for generations, with a welcoming and inclusive spot to gather.

“The East side is known to be eclectic and cool, which made the property values high because it was so diverse,” Samuel said. “Some people have moved here and want to live on the East side because it's so cool, but everything that made it cool is getting replaced. To have ownership and have a place where that cool part of the city doesn't disappear is extremely important.”

In order to foster community outwardly, Samuel said it is just as important that that feeling of community is shared between him and his staff.

“RichesArt is community and culture…a product of change,” he said. “That community, that culture, that feeling when you come into this brick and mortar is set from the top down. It's how I treat my staff, how my staff treats other people — everything that we do to be a safe space. If you're pouring into the gallery’s cup, it has to be pouring back into yours.”

Before art became his passion, Samuel was focused on football, growing up playing the sport and later competing professionally in Europe. After retiring, Samuel translated his leadership skills into his art endeavors twofold: opening and running a successful gallery and also creating art that brings light to other people’s lives.

“I love to inspire people and provide motivation,” Samuel said. “That's usually where my art takes me, to some type of nostalgia or aspect of life that can be motivated, make you smile and want to reach for your dreams, and to continue your self expression. That's what I always want my art to do.”

As Samuel hopes to inspire others, he is equally inspired by others: the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy, as well as Lian Quan Zhen, a renowned watercolor artist who he studied under when he was younger. Taking Zhen’s class set in motion the ways that Samuel wanted to express himself through art.

“I was still focused on football at that point, but it was one of those moments like: ‘This is how I want to paint. This is how I want to express myself,’” he said. “[This led me] to a whole other world. [I dove] into a whole other work ethic, medium, and adventure on how to express myself: finding ways to fall in love with [my] own mistakes and create [my] own brand. That was the stepping stone.”

With another location opened up on E Cesar Chavez St., Samuel's goal is to open more RichesArt locations throughout Austin and then to take his philosophy of business — community, culture, and being a product of change — beyond city limits.   

“We're going to have multiple locations here in Austin to make sure that underrepresented art forms always have a place in the city,” he said. “And then it’s [about] taking that business plan and model of equity to other cities that are getting gentrified, finding the people doing the right things in the city, and being able to provide a brick and mortar for them to do the same thing.”

Richard Samuel has always been an artist. From growing up with football as his passion and art as his peace, he’s now retired from football with art as his full-time job. A watercolor artist, muralist, fashion and graphic designer, and gallery-owner.

Samuel is filled with creativity and, as he puts it, blessed with the only thing artists truly have of their own: the desire to create. He plans to hold onto this desire for the rest of his life, illuminated by his motto: Till Death Give Us Art.

One can only hope that his motto — and ideology of preserving culture and fostering community — will soon reach their city. Richard Samuel isn’t hoping, though — he’s making it happen. ■

Layout: Jaycee Jamison
Photographer: Tyson Humbert
Videographer: Belton Gaar
Stylist: Vi Cao
HMUA: Meryl Jiang

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