“Art is strange-looking stuff and most people don’t understand art. Most people don’t understand my art, the art of the Negroes, because most people don’t understand me, don’t understand the Negroes at all. If everybody understand one another, wouldn’t nobody make art. Art is something to open your eyes. Art is for understanding.” ~Thornton Dial 
Thornton Dial created Top of the Line (Steel) in response to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, after a jury acquitted four white policemen in the beating of unarmed black motorist Rodney King. The verdict ignited looting and rioting that lasted several days. Top of the Line re-creates the frenzy of the streets. Rope-outlined figures swirl in a dense field of color and line, grasping at pieces of automobiles and air-conditioners. Bold touches of red suggest violence; black-and-white figures symbolize racial tensions; red, white, and blue strokes, faint notes of patriotism, interweave the canvas in clusters.
This piece is Dial’s response to the social outbreak of the Los Angeles riots in 1992—among the largest civil disturbances in American history. Painted figures loot parts of air conditioners, cars, and other consumer goods. His frenzied brushstrokes convey the intensity of the mob. The title has a double meaning, referring to the quality of the stolen merchandise and the socioeconomic struggle for equality. “Steel” also plays on the word “steal,” pointing to Dial’s experience as a steelworker and the looting that took place during the riots.
Thornton Dial created powerfully evocative assemblages, sculptures, collages, paintings, and drawings that reflected his personal history and events in the world.