LAS VEGAS — Circling the streets of Las Vegas in early 2022, you may have spotted a series of complex lines of thread arranged in strict, geometric shapes in fences across the city. Moving too fast on your commute, looking out of the corner of your eye one second too late, and you might miss them. Like illusion drawings from childhood, the pieces reveal themselves only when approaching their canvas straight on. The long segments of thread comprise large, slanted block letters. Focusing your eyes at just the right distance, the words become clear.
“MORTGAGE” is placed on a fence, only steps away from the tourist hotspot the Freemont Street Experience; “FAKE IT,” with the iconic Vegas stratosphere in the background; “EMPTY,” on a pedestrian bridge above an aqueduct; “ELDERS,” on a street corner by a freeway underpass; and “CREDIT,” on a nondescript fence, a row of casinos not too far behind.
These yarn phrases are the work of installation artist Eric Rieger, who goes by the name HOTTEA, whose previous yarn work includes massive installation pieces like “The Collector” (2015), a collaboration with Sesame Street, and pieces on the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Minneapolis — HOTTEA’s hometown. The yarn pieces in Las Vegas are a mere side effect of HOTTEA spending his birthday celebrating in the city in December of 2021.
More than a year later, HOTTEA’s words have blended into the Las Vegas landscape. The pieces remain in place, their mystery alive and well. Showing the wear and tear of a summer in extreme heat, some lengths of string have changed colors, some have shredded to bits.
The myth of HOTTEA begins in the mid-2000s, when the artist spent time in jail for graffiti. In interviews, HOTTEA describes how he sought to no longer be an anonymous artist, painting at night to keep his work a secret from his family. Yarn was an antidote, a way to be vulnerable. We see it in HOTTEA’s Las Vegas pieces — as light and landscape seep through the yarn, distorting the surrounding space little by little, yarn becomes what HOTTEA describes as a beautifully elaborate, yet simple, presence.
In Las Vegas, art hides away in casino hallways, in tourist-oriented interactive exhibitions, murals commissioned by massive music festivals, and decorated freeway intersections. The local art scene is up and thriving, seeking to exist beyond these boundaries. Without institutional support, individual artists have created pop-up gallery spaces in industrial buildings and suburban homes. In these spaces, any kind of artist, whether early in their career or established, is welcome.
HOTTEA’s practice shows that artists here in Las Vegas can, and do, engage with the framework of this city in enticing new ways with any materials — yarn, spray paint, fabric. The work exists here. Perhaps we need only a moment to take notice.