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A Toast to Art with Hornswaggler Arts

With The Hornswaggler Collection Exhibition, Graham Hogan and Joseph Rynkiewicz of Hornswaggler Arts celebrated their two-year adventure in offering creative cocktails at art shows and using donations to purchase works for their private collection. This Oct. 7th exhibition at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, was the first time they’ve publicly displayed their entire collection, which holds over 40 pieces. I sat down with the couple before the opening to talk about the exhibition and their other upcoming projects. If you missed their one-night show, you can catch Hornswaggler Arts serving up art-inspired drinks at threewalls during this year’s gallery programming or you can borrow one of the pieces in their collection through their new Hornswaggler Lending Library project.

Joseph Rynkiewicz (Left) and Graham Hogan (Right), decide on placement for Oct 7th exhibition. (Photo: Andrew Roddewig).

So how did you come up with the name Hornswaggler Arts?

GH: I was making sculptures out of bike parts, totally ripping off Pablo Picasso with saddles with handlebars and I just started telling my dad about it and I was trading with Joe’s friends, sculptures for prints, for my own private collection and I was talking to my dad about it and somehow he just threw the word ‘hornswaggler” out. It’s an old word. The etymology was a little hazy. It’s been claimed as an old English word meaning “to bamboozle” or pull the words over someone’s eyes, but it’s also one of the breeds of Oompa Loompas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is kind of funny. So yeah, he mentioned it kind of offhandedly and it sort of stuck.

Do you think there’s an art to a good cocktail?

GH: Oh yeah, absolutely.

JR: Yeah, from the conception to the delivery. And what we’ve been trying to do lately is tailor our cocktails for the event we’re working at. So we had a show last month at threewalls with a Russian artist.  It wasn’t necessarily a part of his work, but we incorporated that into our menu and used like a smoky, black Russian tea that has a long history and sort of like trying to bring that conceptual part to our menu. We’ve been operating obviously with some constraints of what we can serve to large masses of people very quickly, but I think we’re nailing it down better than we were.

What is your philosophy as art patrons? Do you have a certain outlook that you feel is different from other art patrons out there?

JR: Yeah, I think what we’re doing is very deeply rooted in the local art community and the way that our project is geared, we’re always supplying a service and we’re always giving back at the same time. We come bringing drinks and we use the money you donate to buy art, which is supporting the artists and the space directly. So I think, we have a really nice cycle of always helping in a way. There’s always something reciprocated every time.

GH: We’re giving our time and our efforts and we’re able to take from community, but also give right back the same day.

Do you feel that your presence there, providing drinks, attracts more people?

JR: Yeah, it’s grown to do that more and more.

GH: We see old friends and people we’ve served before. They’re always excited to see us and see what’s new, try something out. It’s very rare you see someone who is disappointed to see us. (laughs)

Guest at Oct 7th Hornswaggler Arts exibition takes a momento. (Photo: Andrew Roddewig)

GH: Sure, we’re still working out the kinks, but the long and short of it is that we’ll be launching the websites just prior to our show on the Oct. 7th. We’ll have all the art up on the sites and a form you can fill out and basically are able to rent an unlimited number of pieces and we’ll have a refundable deposit just to make sure stuff isn’t stolen.

I think the idea basically is that we’ll either offer our professional installation services for a nominal fee, or if someone can prove that they can transport and hang it correctly, that’s fine. I think we’re going to do a minimum three month lease, maximum six, with I suppose, an option if you really wanted to extend it. But yeah, it’s going to be, as far as we’re thinking right now, free of charge, besides the deposit and the installation. But it’ll be available to individuals to have in their home or their office, or if you were set dressing for a play or a café. We’ve already had a bunch of interest from various friends of ours that are renting office space that want stuff up on the walls. At this point, we’ve run out of space at home, so it’s good to get it out. It’s the perfect way to promote our artists and our friends.

JR: It’ll help the art reach a wider audience.

GH: Exactly. It’s just sitting at our house. It’s pretty much us and the cats looking at it.

So you do keep in contact with the artist you’ve collected and you’re interested in seeing them promote their career through this?

GH: Oh yeah, definitely.  We were originally thinking of having artists show new works at this show coming up.

JR: Sort of have a sister show going on at the same time.

GH: But since we have fifty pieces approximately, it could be a logistical nightmare.

How do you decide what pieces to collect or what artists you’re interested in? What do you look for in an artist?

GH: A lot of early career people for sure. Our purchases, to put it bluntly, are really driven by the money we’ve taken in and what’s shown, obviously.

JR: But also where we’re working. I mean, the interesting thing about this collection is that it’s very directed by circumstance in a lot of ways. We were trying to hone in the spaces we’re working with and the artists we’re interested in seeing and collecting, but .the first year and a half, the first two years, what we buy is very much restricted by where we’re working. So if we’re working a big group show, where there’s like 30 plus artists, it sort of becomes a game between Graham and I about what we love and what we’re attracted to and what’s really interesting.

GH: And what we can spend.

As far as the Lending Library Project, do you know of any other programs out there that are like this?

GH: I think it’s the only private collection I can think of that is doing this. I know certain libraries lend out art, like the library where I grew up did.

JR: The University of Chicago did for a long time.

GH: I don’t know if they still do. SAIC might as well. I know for a while you could even have it in your dorm. Like Magritte could go up in your dorm if you could prove yourself responsible.

Who do you feel that this Lending Library Project is going to help?

GH: In the long run, I hope it helps the artists.

JR: Well yeah, because it’s going to advertise them. It’ll be like built-in in advertising. We met a woman who owns a restaurant last night and she was saying they always have art on the walls and she’s selling work all the time. So if it’s good work, there’s always somebody interested in it. So chances are, it’ll be great advertising for them.

GH: If we could get somebody interested in, let’s say a café owner, restaurant owner, in a specific artist, we can help facilitate getting that artist work in their spot. Even if it’s not directly from our collection, if it’s something that we’ve collected that they see and like, it’s the perfect inroad for us.

JR: That kind of where I see us, that’s where I see the main draw, in places like this. Cafés and restaurants like this that need art up on their walls.

Universal Paramount by Eric Fleischauer. (photo: Andrew Roddewig)

GH: Businesses too. I used to work in a corporate marketing firm in the loop and we had an art rental service for a while, but they closed up shop and for three months there was just nothing on the walls, which was depressing. So Joe and I put together a huge show of at least thirty pieces.

So do you see the Lending Library Project as a mixture between art patronage and art promotion then?

JR: It might grow into that, but I don’t think it is currently though. At this point, we’re trying to look at it as a way to help the collection reach farther. Because it’s sort of this collection by the public. The work all came from a service provided and we want to sort of put that back in people’s hands, in the art-loving public’s hands. We’ll see where it takes us. It could go interesting places after having shows in restaurants or cafés or offices, or wherever.

I guess the big question is how did you guys get so good at mixing drinks?

GH: A lot of practice. A little too much practice last night, if you know what I’m saying. (laughs)

JR: Since we began, we try to have at least two new cocktails for every show, so over two years we’ve learned a lot of different things we can do.

GH: We don’t have a sink, or a wet garbage, so we have to work the materials at our disposal. We started making, I hate to say it, but novelty drinks. The whole project started with skittle infused vodka. Our first offering was all five flavors of the skittle rainbow and there was the Werther’s whiskey, which was great, but it put people in a diabetic coma by the end of the night. They’d come back all jazzed from the sugar asking for more.

Chad Kouri tends bar during the Hornswaggler Arts Exhibition. (Photo:Andrew Roddewig)


So you think you’ve put more artistic thought into them over time?

JR: I mean, like I was saying, we’re able to direct drinks for each show. And we’re going to have artist inspired drinks for our exhibition. So we’re going to be drawing inspiration from not only artists, but from the works in the collection, sort of having something to riff off of each time.

How did you two meet? Did you start bonding over art immediately or did it evolve over time?

GH: Through mutual friends, the old fashioned way. (laughs)

JR: And that sort of evolved over time when Graham started collecting art works from my friends. We started seeing all the great things that were hanging in people’s apartments, like loose prints that they weren’t using and saw my garbage prints laying around my house.

GH: Yeah, all these kids were fresh out of art school and had tons of things sitting around. Even if it wasn’t a perfect print, I loved it. That’s how I got into collecting.

Can you tell me something about some of the prints, some of the artists that you have in your collection right now?

JR: What did we like most recently? We actually bought a share in the threewalls’ CSA program, so we got like six works from that…. We recently bought a print from Ben Driggs, a space looking print for Jason Lazarus’ show, Hang in There. There are a set of stars and when you get closer, they’re little hearts. It’s adorable.

JR: A lot of the group shows, were pretty affordable. So we have a lot of posters that we really like, that were pretty affordable. As we’re growing and as we’re having money rolling over from past events, we’re able to buy more and more higher priced works and that’s only going to continue. Like this year we’re doing the whole year of programming at threewalls and after six shows with them, we’re going to be able to buy something that we’ve never bought before. The caliber of what we’re collecting is changing constantly.

Are you going to continue to buy some of the smaller pieces?

GH: Yeah, absolutely…I want the collection to be worth money, but we’re not in the business of buying investment pieces. We’re really just buying what we love. It’s exciting, especially the threewalls thing that we’ll be able to theoretically get something that’s sort of epic, but we’ll see…If we find something that’s more reasonably priced that we love, we’ll buy that

What’s the one thing you want people to take away from your show?

JR: A sense of excitement about the Chicago art community. I think a lot of what’s really awesome about our show is that we’re celebrating the past two years, these moments in time, all the events we’ve done. All these people we’ve met, all this work we’ve seen. And we get to show that and welcome back everyone we’ve met for the past two years. We’re also going to be flanked by these two cool local projects, working along. It’s going to be this great meeting of minds. We want everybody to be pumped.

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1 Response to " A Toast to Art with Hornswaggler Arts "

  1. […] chat over coffee on a less than lovely September morning. After introductions she dove right into this great interview which you can read on the SIFC […]

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