The boutique Hotel Chicago West Loop is swiftly making its mark as a cultural hotspot, celebrating this Autumn its one-year anniversary as a dual-purpose arts venue, and unveiling the latest additions to its renowned Annex | Murals exhibit. Four more street murals (painted inside guestrooms) were added to the growing Annex | Murals initiative by four of Chicago’s leading urban artists: Asend, Elloo, Brandin Hurley, and Josh Grotto. These works join two others made earlier this spring by Asend, and JC Rivera, for a total of six unique street murals. The work of the diverse yet noteworthy artists can be seen around Chicago and beyond.
The independent hotel managed by Portfolio Hotels & Resorts doubled the number of contributing artists since the program launched in April, including its first two female artists. The hotel plans to eventually decorate the majority of its 116 guestrooms with street murals, with new installs taking place at least twice a year. When not in use, the featured street mural exhibit rooms are open and on public display – as is the rest of The Annex in an effort to produce an alternative gallery experience for visitors.
“We are continuing to deliver a uniquely dual-purpose hotel/gallery concept in order to stand out from the crowded boutique hotel marketplace and give guests a cultural experience that identifies with Chicago,” tells us Hotel Chicago West Loop General Manager Juan Monroig. “This hotel is proud to feature guestrooms that are truly works of art!”
The Annex currently encompasses the hotel lobby and all four levels of guest hallway spaces, with over 100 pieces of 2-D media, both permanent works, and rotating exhibits. The Annex | Murals program adds another element to the hotel/gallery concept by pulling visitors beyond the public space and into the guestrooms for viewing. The contributing street artists have created floor-to-ceiling murals inside guestrooms with themes that incorporate Chicago. Hotel guests may reserve a room with a street mural by booking the Annex Experience or put 10% of their room rate towards an alternating Chicago art’s charity by booking the Annex Rate. – GM
Asend’s work can be seen across Chicago and internationally: it is part of private collections and public projects, has been featured at blue-chip art fairs like Art Basel and commissioned by corporate giants like Chevy, Estrella Jalisco, Pandora Music, Motorola, and others. Both of Asend’s murals at Hotel Chicago West Loop (the first was completed in spring 2018) feature a female visage against loose ground, but if the viewer looks carefully, they can appreciate harmony and mark the Artist’s evolution in progress. Asend tells us: “I wanted to focus on a simple work that portrayed peace within the fast, inner-city life. I painted a resting figure; she is quiet and looks almost as though she were meditating. The colors and lines around her suggest movement and life.”
Elloo’s work is a loveable compilation of her favorite things, memories, and experiences. The works are bright, fun, and full of personal and everyday references. The more you learn about Elloo, the more you realize this is her own best version of the world, plucked out of her mind’s eye and made visible. She hails from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, a vibrant corner of the city that has been home to German, Polish, Czechoslovakian, Italian, and most presently Mexican Americans. It is also host to a burgeoning art scene. Elloo studied drawing and has a degree in graphic design from the University of Illinois Chicago. Now a professional Artist, Elloo has executed murals across the city, has her own attire line, and has dreams of creating 3D collectables. Elloo tells us: “I wanted to create a sweet dreams love-lets fly away feeling. My characters are all an extension of me, my monster children. I love painting magic on walls.”
Josh Grotto’s work draws from urban culture literally and figuratively. He develops type characters from fragments until something universal and recognizable solidifies. Grotto’s works are like shards to a fractured whole that reconfigure to make something broken but beautiful. It is graphic, gritty, but altogether seductive. It references cubism, abstract expressionism, traditional portraiture, and collage. This piece is a visual reference to a short story/poem by National Book Award-winning author Nelson Algren called “Love is for Barflys” from Chicago: City on the Make. Grotto studied painting and graphic design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He keeps an active studio practice. Josh tells us: “I took particular attachment to this line: ‘And Chicago divided your heart. Leaving you loving the joint for keeps. Yet knowing it never can love you.’ I used two photographs taken of Algren by Art Shay as sources for the train silhouette and his portrait in the window. Shay was a writer and photographer for Life, Time, and other national publications.”
Visual artist Brandin Hurley works in traditional and new media. Her portfolio includes site-specific installations, light boxes, set design, and resin-based fine art. She is more focused on sentiment than materials, and her aim is to create work that transcends and moves us to another state of mind. The piece she created for The Annex is elegant and dreamy, brilliant and soft. About her work, she tells us: “I have always been fascinated by the blurred line between waking life and dreams, reality and perception. Children often see the world as large and foreboding, miraculous and awe-inspiring, overwhelming and magical. Their imagination enhances shadows, deepens darkness, draws to prominence the smallest drop of dew or shimmering particles of dust. Their perceptions become interwoven with reality, projecting their own awe and wonder upon everyday life. As an artist, I try to live in this space and make it visible to others.”
Probably the most celebrated urban artist to contribute a mural to the Annex | Murals exhibit is JC Rivera, based out of Chicago. He has been a staple in the scene showcasing his immense skill in illustration, painting, toy design and more for the past nine years. JC is most known for his signature character the Bearchamp which can be seen as murals all over Chicago, Miami, LA, Puerto Rico, UK, and Barcelona as well as featured vinyl and resin toys at the famous Rotofugi and Pobber Toys. He has been featured on numerous websites, blogs, and print magazines. On the mural at The Annex, his boxing bear represents taking a hit in life and getting back up. He weaves in the Chicago Flag. The blue represents the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. The red bandages are JC’s depiction of the stars on the flag. Each star on the flag represents a different time in Chicago’s history.
Article by Jody Grimaldi