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  • Words and Photos by T.K. Mills

Turn Up the Heat: The 25th Annual Chile Pepper Festival

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I dropped by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for the 25th Annual Chile Pepper Festival. The event hosted over a dozen small businesses to showcase their chile infused foods, plus music from global bands, and of course a fine selection of local art!

I spoke with Jeff Beler, art curator for the festival and best known for his Underhill Walls project, about how everything came together.

Mid-july of this year Jeff met Antonio Cerna, the new marketing director for the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Antonio lives in Prospect Heights, not far from the Underhill cross-street. He discovered the panels, and immediately took a liking to the style. He called Jeff to set up a meeting.

Since then, they have been “feverishly working on this project to pull it all together.” Jeff said.

Antonio wanted to get street art involved, given its prominence in Brooklyn culture. The initial idea had been to have the artists paint a specific wall, but instead they decided to do a series of individualized panels.

For the endeavor, Jeff recruited his A-list artists they had contributed to Underhill; Albertus Joseph, Ariana Febles, Dirt Cobain, AJ Lavilla, Justin Winslow, Sean Slaney, Dubious Contessa & Call Her Al, and El Stabbo. The gang painted together out in New Jersey, by Albertus's home studio. While they worked, AJ suggested the unofficial motto: Turn up the Heat.

“I always have a good time when I’m painting with a group of artists, 'cus I feel like everyone’s on the same page. [We] get together, mess around, and have fun.” Dirt told me. “It’s always good vibes for sure.”

The artists hung out under pop-up tents, selling custom tote bags. Crowds of people came by the panels to snap pics, and pose with the illustrations. Everyone relaxed, chatted, and was having a good time. I watched as Albertus meditatively painted each of his tote bags, stopping only to speak with fans; I always respect the dedication to the craft.

I spoke with Sean Slaney, aka Angry Red, about his art at the fest. Antonio had taken notice of Sean’s work at Underhill. Sean’s work tends to focus on stenciled images, both patterns and designs.

“I like to make whimsical images.” He explained.

For the Chile Fest, he decided to opt for emoji characters; two chile peppers and a tongue-out, naturally from the spice. Sean chose emojis because of its relevancy in modern culture, explaining that he thinks of emojis as modern hieroglyphics, and because they make a nice little pictogram.

I asked Sean and Dirt what their favorite spicy dishes were.

"Jalapeños, because I could eat those all day. Straight up.” Dirt joked.

“Really, Sriracha sauce. I put it on everything.” Sean said.

As for myself, I discovered a new favorite spicy combination. Amidst the plethora of fiery salsas, hot latin music, and lit art, I tried a new combo at a taste test tent: spicy hot chocolate. Really, don’t knock it till you try it.

Next year you’ll have the opportunity to try some spicy food for yourself at the annual festival. Given the success of this year’s art crowd, expect to see some more work from the Chile Pepper Posse as well!

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