Chicago muralists JC Rivera and Asend bring street art indoors on the West Loop in an unusual collaboration with a hotel.
Asend mural
Asend mural

Two of Chicago's most prominent street artists have been putting the finishing touches on guest room murals this month as part of the renovation of Hotel Chicago West Loop.

In 2014, the Depression-era building that Hotel Chicago now occupies was a low-income, single-room residency. Today, it's transformed: part hotel, part art gallery.

"When they renovated it, most of the building was just blank walls," says Operations Manager Jean-Luc Laramie. To fill that space, the hotel sought out Chicago street artists who could turn plain walls into works of art.

Two renowned muralists-JC Rivera and Asend-were contracted to kick off the project. Their only limitation was that their pieces had to be inspired by Chicago, their hometown.

The muralists were eager to showcase their art in a new way. "There's always been a little bit of stigma attached to (street art)," says Asend, 35. "There's so much from this city to be inspired from."

"There's a lot of art and mural work that's being done nowadays that's inspired by graffiti," Asend says, "whether it's the color use or a little bit of spray-paint style, the edgy colors that pop."

Asend mural
Asend's mural. Photo courtesy of Hotel Chicago West Loop

Asend started out his career with true Chicago graffiti and has evolved his style, Laramie says. In Asend's mural (above), "the woman is an unnamed model, which represents his modern realism style. The Chicago Theatre-esque sign represents his love for the city, and the graffiti in the background is a true representation of Chicago-style graffiti. When he was doing this project, I learned that graffiti, like cuisine and dialect, changes depending on the area you are in. So New York-, L.A-., Chicago- and Miami-style graffiti are all completely different."

JC Rivera mural
JC Rivera's mural. Photo courtesy of Hotel Chicago West Loop

In Rivera's mural (above), "his boxing bear represents taking a hit in life and getting back up," Laramie explains. "As for the mural itself, it is the Chicago Flag with the white and baby blue. The blue represents the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. The red bandages are JC's depiction of the stars on the flag. There are four bandages to represent the four stars. Each star on the flag is to represent a different time in Chicago's history."

The two rooms will be put on display starting April 12. After the public showing, the rooms will be left unlocked when they're unoccupied so guests can check out the murals.

In addition to the street paintings, the hotel displays about 100 pieces of art, primarily photographs, throughout its four floors-a gallery fusion concept they refer to as The Annex.

Hotel Chicago West Loop joins a growing number of hotels that merge art and lodging. 21c Museum Hotels, boutique hotels primarily in the Midwest, incorporate fine-art galleries into their spaces. In Chicago, the new Hotel EMC2's design reflects the influence of both art and science, while the Acme Hotel features a lobby mural and Bare Painted Ladies (painted mannequins), as well as lightwell and stairwell art.

Besides Asend and Rivera, about 65 other artists applied to take part in the mural project at Hotel Chicago West Loop. Laramie says he's kept a handful of them on tap for when it comes time to expand. The goal is to have street art embellish many more of the 116 rooms, with at least 6 to 8 street murals being added per year by different urban artists.

Laramie also hopes to have one of the exterior brick walls turned into a four-story outdoor mural as well as to host programming with partners such as galleries, university art programs and artists to bring cutting-edge exhibits into the hotel on a rotating basis.

"We want to offer a cultural experience in the arts that appeals to locals and identifies with Chicago," says General Manager Juan Monroig.

Hotel Chicago
Photo courtesy of Hotel Chicago West Loop