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Why Amanda Williams Painted This Building the Color of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

The visual artist has been repainting structures all around the South Side. Her latest work is now on display as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Video: Shane Collins

For artist and architect Amanda Williams, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are more than an unnaturally bright snack that stains the fingers of voracious eaters. The Frito-Lay brand also plays into the black urban experience, a food that “people have strong associations with through color,” says Williams. The 41-year-old, an Auburn-Gresham native and adjunct professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Design, has spent the last two years exploring the cultural significance of colors like Flamin’ Hot orange in her project “Color(ed) Theory,” an ongoing investigation of the relationship between color, black culture, and urban blight.

“Color(ed) Theory started with the colors,” continues Williams, who developed a palette of eight hues—Ultrasheen blue, Pink Oil, Harold’s Chicken Shack red, Currency Exchange yellow, Safe Passage yellow, Newport Squares teal, Crown Royal purple, and Flamin’ Hot orange—culled from her experiences growing up on Chicago’s South Side. “I wanted to develop a palette that reflected my voice.” 

Once Williams, who is also a trained painter, completed her palette, “I wanted to find houses to test out the colors,” she says. Williams identified eight structures slated for demolition to drench with her hues. “I wanted to find pieces of architecture that almost no one valued and start a conversation about how architecture comes and goes in these communities.”

Williams and a group of more than 60 painters finished the project on Sunday, October 4, when they covered 5703 South Lafayette Street in that distinctive orange color. Watch the video for more.

As part of the Biennial, Williams will speak on the “When Architecture Meets Art” panel on October 27 at the Chicago Cultural Center. She also has an installation on display at the Cultural Center through January 3.

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