HOTTEA’s site-specific project as part of Art at Viacom, features three large-scale installations, rich in color gradients, typical of his practice. You find yourself walking through the corridors agasp, looking up. An immediate sensation of happiness sweeps through your entire body—feeling elated, excited and calm all at once. With the color field so vivid and joyous, your natural instinct is to follow them on a journey from yellow to green, red to blue—trusting them as your guide. Transported away from the streets of Manhattan to a faraway enchanting land, beyond your imagination. I was keen to find out more.
The name HOTTEA honors memories shared with his mother, where she would always order hot tea and a slice of cornbread at restaurants. An equally touching comfort from his childhood serves as one of his biggest inspirations for his work, yarn. His grandmother taught him how to knit from a young age. Today he uses this material to create majestic structures. His most recent residency takes us inside Viacom’s iconic worldwide headquarters.
Art Report: Can you tell us about your creative background – you’re a graphic designer by trade and started out as a street artist – how did that lead to what you’re doing today?
HOTTEA: I have always been creative. Ever since I was little all I wanted was to be creative. I used to style my little sisters barbies hair, draw all the time and I love creating sculptures and putting on make believe shows. That lead me to becoming a graffiti writer in 1996. I wrote graffiti until I got busted for the second time in 2003. The experience was too painful and I couldn’t stand seeing my family go through the experience not once but twice seeing me in jail.
All of this lead me to do what I am doing today. I want to create positive experiences and bring attention to spaces that are neglected. The concepts I have worked with range from losing a loved one, language barriers, our daily rituals to simply looking at movement within a space. Everything that I grew up doing I try and make that connection with what I am doing in my work. I plan on using thousands of barbie dolls to create an installation dealing with acceptance of oneself. I want to start creating large scale color field paintings with oils as studies for my installations. There are also plans of doing performance based pieces and creating more sculptural works using yarn and resin.
AR: Leading on from this, I’m interested in your relationship with your on-going exploration of color and structure – how has this work developed over the years?
HT: It all started out using the grid of the fence to create isometric patterns that spelled out HOTTEA. With this as a foundation I began looking at other structures and spaces that already naturally lend themselves as a canvas for my materials. From this I began looking at any structure or space that intrigues me and figuring out a way to create an installation/structure within that space/structure. The materials for these aren’t always yarn and in ideas for future installs there is no yarn involved. I have always considered myself an installation artist and using yarn was a way to create a body of work that had room to grow and change.
AR: Which artists inspire you – past and present?
HT: Well my grandmother, Socorro, taught me how to knit so I will always admire her artistic vision and passion. Currently some of my favorite architecture is from Kengo Kuma. Some of my favorite projection mapping projects are from Kit Webster. I love the oil paintings of Beauford Delaney. I am also loving the installations of Christine Sciulli ever since the SPRING/BREAK Art Show a few years ago.
AR: What is the most important first impression that this latest installation of work should have on the viewer?
HT: An emotional impression as if you had just seen someone you love that you hadn’t seen in years.
AR: What do you have planned for 2016?
HT: I plan on doing a lot more installations and travel internationally. As of right now I plan on visiting Egypt, Machu Picchu, Rome, Sao Paulo and the Philippines.
AR: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
HT: Working with Grover and Fat Blue from Sesame Street. As a child growing up watching Sesame Street, never would I have imagined being able to work with them.
To view more of HOTTEA’s artwork follow him on Instagram.
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