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 an 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.


  • Title: Top of the Line (Steel)
  • Creator: Thornton Dial, Sr.
  • Date Created: 1992
  • Physical Dimensions: 65 x 81 x 7 7/8 in. (165.2 x 205.7 x 20.1 cm)
  • Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift from the collection of Ron and June Shelp
  • Artist: Born Emelle, AL 1928 – Died McCalla, AL 2016
  • Medium: mixed media: enamel, unbraided canvas roping, and metal on plywood

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