Trailblazers 2017: HOTTEA

HOTTEA's work at The Beer Dabbler's Pride event in 2016 // Photo by Aaron Davidson

HOTTEA’s work at The Beer Dabbler’s Pride event in 2016 // Photo by Aaron Davidson

For a decade, someone has been marking and splashing words and colors on chain-link fences around Minneapolis. Not with spray paint, but with yarn.

Using thousands of colored strings, Eric Rieger, aka HOTTEA, has harnessed a non-destructive take on street art by elevating the more-often-than-not bad rap of graffiti to another level.

But before blanketing the Twin Cities in yarn, Rieger used to write graffiti. After a few brushes with the law, a couple of Tasers and jail time included, Rieger switched gears and focused on getting his graphic design degree at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. By 2007, he was a freelance designer, but in search of a rousing technique to keep creatively using the city as his canvas.

With a background of knitting instilled by his grandmother at a young age, an affection for typography, and his street art experiences, he embarked upon structural yarn letters woven into fence grids to spell HOTTEA, which has spun into rainbow-gradient, dimensional installations changing the way street art can be made and viewed.

HOTTEA continues to “yarn bomb” on drab fences and nail-studded light poles, and constructs canopies over pedestrian walkways throughout the Twin Cities, the nation, and the world. HOTTEA’s reimagined streetscapes have led him to create more than 70 large-scale installations, working with the X Games, New York Fashion Week, and “Sesame Street.” The award–winning artist has displayed his work at the Sydney Opera House, and has added a cascade of color at the 2015 Eaux Claires festival entryway, and the backdrops of London, Honolulu, and Chicago. He’s caught the corporate eyes of Converse, Red Bull, and Google, and last January he was esteemed as the 2017 Perrier Artist of the Year. This past fall, the public marveled at his most challenging installation yet at the Mall of America—13,000 strands of yarn 60 feet long, totally 721 pounds, as a sleek curtain of 103 colors.

Yarn is more than just a long, continuous length of interlocked fibers. Quite simply, in a world that seems to be unraveling day by day, Eric Rieger is threading together an impassioned, albeit transient, art form to foster awareness and bring a memorable artistic perspective to the streets.

Trailblazers are the people, ideas, businesses, and organizations doing necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in the realms of food, drink, and culture. See the rest of The Growler’s 2017 Trailblazers here.