Best known for using miles of multi-colored strands of yarn to create rainbow-like installations in public spaces that evoke feelings of happiness and awe, Emmy-Award winner Eric Rieger, who goes by the name HOTTEA, has been selected to kick off the interactive public art series ROAM Santa Monica, presented by the City of Santa Monica in partnership with Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.
Rieger will use his creativity and skill to decorate the Third Street Promenade and Triangle Square, the patch of grass located on the Colorado Esplanade just west of the Expo Light Rail Line Downtown Station.
The art will be displayed in late August and remain through October.
We had the rare opportunity to sit down with the artist to talk about his inspiration for the piece, as well as how he got the name HOTTEA.
Q: How did you get to be known as HOTTEA?
A: It’s actually a long story. When I was a kid, my family would go out to a place called Baker Square. It has your typical American comfort food, and serves an older demographic, you’ll see most in their 60s and 70s. We would go there almost every weekend and my mom would always order a slice of corn bread with hot tea and honey. Always.
Also during my childhood, my grandmother would come over to our house pretty frequently and I think it was because she was really proud of my mom and what she had accomplished in her life. My mom was born in Texas but she was raised in Mexico. They all grew up working in the fields as laborers, and it was a very minimal, difficult lifestyle. When my mom moved to Minnesota and my mom and dad built their own house, my grandmother would come over and teach me how to sew and how to knight. I was about 4-5 years old. It’s not something I kept up, but I will always remember her teaching me how to do that as a young kid.
Fast forward to college, I met someone who I would then be with for eight years. In the beginning, we were very different people, he was the type of person that does not like a whole lot of variation throughout the days. I was a little more adventurous and willing to take risks. We decided that it would be a good idea to work on a project where we could both work on something to bring us together and build our bond. We had the idea of doing a project using yarn. It was an idea came from the memory of my grandmother teaching me how to knit. Yarn is also a medium that can be used on the street without much disturbance to infrastructure.
Then one Thanksgiving, I ended up spending the holiday with just my dad and my then-partner. We ended up going to Baker Square, and we’re all looking at the menu, and I see hot tea on the menu. Suddenly these memories of my family being together as a whole start flooding in. I showed my partner the item on the menu and we agree that the project should be called that – HOTTEA. The name was born out of a positive family memory of being together and happy and encapsulates that moment in time.
Q: There is yarn hanging in the 3rd Street Promenade as part of ROAM, what’s the piece all about?
A: It’s a very positive piece. I had taken a lot of time to find myself. After my then-partner and I broke up, it took me a while to be OK with being alone again. When I was finally ready to put myself out there and be vulnerable, I met someone with whom I can feel happy and excited with. It’s such a good feeling, and I named the piece after him. His name is Ryan and there are four pieces to this installation. Each piece together form the four letters of his name. It’s a moment in time capturing the feeling of happiness and excitement.
Q: You’re an artist that travels extensively. Have you done work in Santa Monica in the past?
A: When I first came in Santa Monica and it was just amazing. I love the energy here and just how relaxed people are and how happy the residents come across. I had this idea of doing a project on this footbridge that goes across the PCH. It is the first bridge right after the Santa Monica pier – it has a high arch. I first came to the bridge while I was in the area working on a commission, and I took notes down about it and I left with the intention of coming back to doing an installation on that bridge. I went home and planned, cut the yarn and assembled a small team for the sole purpose of doing that installation on the bridge. We started by tying yarn to one edge of the fence on the bridge at 10 PM and ended at 3 AM on the opposite end of the bridge. The yarn created a rainbow as you walked across and the colors shifted as you looked up. It was amazing and we came back the next morning and just kept walking back and forth. I posted it on social media knowing it probably wouldn’t last very long. Blogs started posting about it, then the news picked it up and so many people came to look at it. For an artist to create artwork and for people to intentionally come see your art is amazing feeling.
That’s my favorite thing about my artwork, it’s putting my energy into an installation and people bringing their energy transforms the artwork into something else, it’s just amazing.
ROAM Santa Monica evolved through a mutual desire to infuse more art experiences in the downtown core, as well as a shared interest in activating public spaces with ephemeral work that would prompt people to traverse this dynamic urban center. The series features four large-scale temporary installations. Artwork will rotate every three to four months.
Rieger pays close attention to the movement and life in and around the space to present something interactive and inspiring. His work, which has been called “non-destructive graffiti,” is about perspective, encouraging people to see things in new ways, both literally and metaphorically. Rieger’s technique is a tribute to his late grandmother who taught him how to knit — one of their few means of communication as she only spoke Spanish, and he only English.
He holds a degree in graphic design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He is an Emmy Award winner with clients big and small, from private home installations to entities like Google, the Sydney Opera House and “Sesame Street.” He has created more than 70 large-scale installations. Rieger primarily works with yarn, aerosol-spray and stencils.
For more information visit ROAMSantaMonica.com. Share your ROAM experiences on social media using the hashtags #ROAMSantaMonica, #ARTSaMo, #DTSantaMonica.