Duke Riley gained wide public exposure in 2007 when the Acorn, a wooden submarine he built based on descriptions of a vessel from the American Revolutionary war, was seized by the United States Coast Guard for coming too close to a moored ship in the Brooklyn harbour. He has always been interested in marine and riverine lore as well as stories of stowaways, naval battles, mutinous crews, island dwellers, and the life of individuals that often live at the verge of legality and the social norm.
Riley’s works for rīvus focus on the Newtown creek in Brooklyn, originally an estuary where pure spring water emptied into the East River. In 1950 it became the site of the largest oil spill in U.S. history when a pipe burst, unsurpassed until the BP oil spill of 2010. It remains the second largest oil spill in the history of the U.S. The area has never been remediated and remains highly toxic with alarmingly high cancer rates in the surrounding communities.