we're constantly searching for ways to better connect to the communities we call home — ways to bring a bit of the cities we inhabit into each restaurant. Chicago's numerous neighborhoods are lined with incredible street art + murals, which help tell the city's collective story, and some of the area's more complex, vibrant installations are the work of local artist Rubén Aguirre. Rubén started out as a graffiti writer, but with a drive to constantly challenge himself + continually evolve his work, he began to pursue more commissioned murals, some of which span the length of buildings or several floors of parking garages. You'll notice Rubén's graffiti-inspired style throughout the city, most recently in our new Lake Street location in Chicago's Loop, elegantly exploding from one of the corners of our space. We caught up with Rubén at our opening events to learn a bit more about his background + how our menu items helped inspire his featured piece…
hg: we read you started out as a graffiti writer—how did you transition into abstract painting + commissioned murals?
rubén: I spent a lot of years painting/writing conventional graffiti, and always wanted to better myself + become sharper. In that process, I started to experiment with the graffiti "formula." Eventually, I did a piece that was not based on letters, and when I did, it opened a new door to more experimentation. I got my first commission right after that piece had been seen, so I knew I had to experiment some more. And it's been continuous ever since. I'm very grateful to be able to do it.
hg: why was street art or graffiti the preferred way for you to express yourself + display your work rather than traditional painting or other art forms?
rubén: I have always liked to draw, and have also made paintings, but graffiti was more immediate, so I was able to develop faster in that regard. I was able to meet and network with other graffiti writers, and in turn that made me better and able to get out + explore more. There was just more momentum behind graffiti for me.
hg: your pieces feature highly complex blends of color, shapes + patterns to form the final mural or painting. What inspires this vision? Do you draw from any of your graffiti roots to accomplish the final mural?
rubén: in general, my process is still heavily derived from painting graffiti. The line movement, the shapes, the composition, the approach to space, using spray cans, etc. I'm just playing with those elements in a broader, more experimental way than I did with graffiti, and taking in some inspiration from patterns, textiles + other visual components related to the area.
hg: you’re the featured artist for our new Chicago spot in The Loop. Was there any particular inspiration for the piece which is featured in our space? What do you hope to convey to the viewer?
rubén: for this piece, I looked at images of the meals that are served at honeygrow. I just drew from the palette that I saw there. I hadn't taken inspiration from food before, so that was new. But I like to think of the dishes as pieces of art in themselves, so it was really just translating that from one medium to another.
"A nice multi-colored meal is pretty inviting, and ignites feelings, hunger, temptation, curiosity, etc. My piece is a tribute to that."
hg: where else in Chicago can we find your work? Any pieces on display outside of the Chicago area?
rubén: I have pieces in Pilsen, South Loop, Edgewater, Logan Square, Evanston, Gold Coast, among other neighborhoods. I also have pieces in New York, San Francisco, Oakland, Des Moines, and other random places.
hg: coming from a graffiti background, do you notice you + your murals have the support of the traditional graffiti community?
rubén: yes, I feel I have received the support from the graffiti community. I've spent quite a few years being a part of that community, and I think it's easier for someone who writes graffiti to see the evolution of my work. I think it makes sense to a graffiti writer, in that they can see the past to the present in my current work. I'm very grateful for it.
hg: what advice would you have for young artists or other graffiti writers who are looking to pursue large scale projects, such as those you’ve been able to take on?
rubén: I think consistently making work + striving to make original, unique work is important. It's a process to get to that point, but I think you really just have to put in the time of developing, building, and experimenting until you find your visual voice.