Hornswaggler mixes cocktails with art

By Matt Watson

Serving drinks like the Upstairs-Downstairs and the Mad Dad, Graham Hogan and Joe Rynkiewicz create specialty cocktails inspired by art. The duo began mixing handcrafted drinks after Hogan concocted Skittle-infused vodka for a group of friends at a party, which was a huge hit. Using their mixing skills, they have created a new way to support the art community in Chicago.

Hornswaggler Arts, an art-commerce project founded by Hogan and Rynkiewicz, will launch their website on July 29 at an exhibit hosted by Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan St. The Hornswaggler art collection will be displayed on the website, where people can lease different works. After signing a contract and making a deposit fee, customers can lease the art from Hornswaggler for a certain amount of time, usually between four and six months.

“We have this opportunity to pump up all the artists who we’ve collected from over the years and advertise them, and really expand this community we’ve created,” Rynkiewicz said.

The two began mixing handcrafted cocktails for gallery exhibits in November 2009. Their menu constantly changes based on the concepts of the art being displayed. Ed and Rachel Marszewski, co-directors of Co-Prosperity Sphere, first suggested Hogan and Rynkiewicz serve cocktails at events to spice up the normal selection of wine, Hogan said, pointing out the long history alcohol and art have together.

“The idea just snowballed from there,” Rynkiewicz said. “We decided to market ourselves for show openings. It gives these kinds of events more diversity.”

Instead of charging for each drink and making a profit, the two decided to ask for donations instead and use the money they made from each gallery opening to purchase a work of art from the show.

“We’re not in it to make a buck or just build a collection,” Hogan said. “We’re trying to be stewards of the community and give back with money, which is one of the hardest things to do with beginning artists.”

Hogan said doing the project helps galleries and artists in the form of commission. Much of the art the two bought was done by recent grads or people who have had trouble getting recognized in the Chicago art scene.

After a year mixing cocktails and collecting artwork, Hogan and Rynkiewicz realized they had to do something bigger with this project than collect art for themselves.

The couple wanted to allow other people to enjoy the artwork in the same way they had and decided to start an online art-leasing library.

“That way, people could have the art in their home, office or if you’re set dressing a play, use it there,”

Hogan said. “It’ll be a great resource.”

Rynkiewicz and Hogan said the project emphasizes the relationship between alcohol and art. The two will serve cocktails on July 29 at the launch while local brewer and artist Chris Tourre serves home-brewed beer also inspired by the work.

“I’m going to be creating very specific beers influenced by the visual aesthetics of the artwork, capturing that mood and pairing it with beer,” Tourre said.

Tourre uses local ingredients, such as Humboldt Park cherries, to create home brews. He makes these in community workshops hosted at Spokes Residency Project Space, 119 N. Peoria St. For Hornswaggler’s launch, Tourre looked at the whole collection to get ideas for different beers. He invited people who have contributed ingredients for the brews to taste them.

The duo plans to continue collecting art and adding to their collection after the website launch while serving cocktails. They also hope to grow and make more structured collections based on a theme.

“We want to exercise a little more curatorial muscle,” Rynkiewicz said. “As well as hunt down artists we want to collect, instead of just hearing from word of mouth.”