The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Sierra Mist Collaborative Billboard with Five Local Artists ... and Graham Elliot

By Carrie McGath in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 20, 2014 8:00PM

Open Secret Studios played host to an event Wednesday night that was all about collaboration. Sierra Mist hand-picked five Chicago street artists to create a billboard, exquisite corpse style. Meanwhile, Chicago celebrity chef, Graham Elliot readied his crew to also collaborate with the event, creating incredible hors d'oeuvres using the lemon-lime soda as an ingredient.

When I spoke to Elliot about the project, he said he took his crew to art museums in the city to get them inspired for this evening. It must have worked. The food was unpretentious and solid, perfect fare for this casual event. He instructed me to try the "addictive" cheese curds and his advice turned out to be spot-on. They were light and airy, but sinful, the breading perfectly paired with the filling.

The artists were also happy about the process and the event, with the collaboration acting as both a challenge and an enjoyable opportunity to meet other artists (they did not know one another before this project) and see the result of their labors.

Each artist painted their part of the billboard. The next day, another would come in and add in their own creation. They expressed to me that the challenge was in staying within boundaries and complimenting the work of their colleagues and respecting it. This challenge is also part of the beauty of an exquisite corpse process, where artists' aesthetic and process commingle to create something whole and intriguing. The result here makes a great billboard for Sierra Mist. It illustrates a new phase of these artists' careers and fostered a mutually-respectful friendship between them.

Watching them interact, it seemed they had bonded during this process and, until I found out they were strangers before this project, I assumed they all went way back together.

The resulting billboard is part ethereal with Samantha DeCarlo's clouds and ice cubes, graphic in Ruben Aguirre's stripes and Tony Bamber's mandalas, while James Cass Whitworth added the robotic, cosmic lime juicer. Justus Roe was going to add his part the day after this event, but his work is often comprised of meticulous meditations on geometric shapes to make up a bright, abstract landscape.

This event showed that creating is a constant sentiment everywhere in Chicago. It showed, too, that these artists are ones to absolutely watch with their work equally well-executed and wholly individual. The evening resulted in exposure of their talent with the sincere and passionate support of Graham Elliot. Industrious collaboration and tireless support is a large part of the backbone of our city, and that was apparent at Open Secret Wednesday night.