Denver’s become known as one of the most productive epicenters of graffiti within the landlocked United States over the last two decades. Jolt has been an integral participant in Denver’s rise to prominence in the world of spray typography. He is a highly active community member, encouraging other artists to create and put on events and also setting the example by doing so himself. He took a few moments to discuss all of this with us.
How and when did you get started with graffiti?
I started doing neighborhood graffiti in 93, I was the lil kid cruising around with my big brother and his homies in a 84 Cutlass on Tru Spokes hopping out the ride to catch N/S tags while cruising around Denver.
What was it like in Denver when you first started out?
Denver was far from the place it is today, there wasn’t much development or opportunity. We had a graff scene but it was local guys painting in the streets. Older white guys that moved here to paint legal walls and ski wasn’t something I could have ever predicted. We used to hang out downtown and basically fuck shit up all day, most spots where we used to paint are now multi million dollar lofts. I just trip out, there is one building in particular where I shot my first gun, seen my first titties, and did my first piece. I now have a piece of art hanging in some rich people’s loft in the same building.
Did anyone show you the ropes/school you early on?
I always stayed around my cousins and guys from my neighborhood, still to this day I don’t paint with very many people. However we had access to magazines and graff videos pretty early on. There was a Hip Hop shop a couple blocks from my house, and a huge train yard a couple blocks the other way…all I really needed was exposure to the trains and the magazines and videos I would obtain helped me to understand the culture. My neighborhood had a lot of abandoned buildings, I grew up with art in my household so it just all kinda fell into place for me.
Do you think us older cats/OG’s have a responsibility to pass on what we’ve learned to the younger cats who show dedication and have heart? Why or why not?
I don’t use to term OG to speak about graffiti writers, my father was a real E/S OG and I still roll with a lot of Original Gangsta’s that put on for the hood so I always make sure not to confuse those two elements of my life. However I do see it necessary to help give back to the culture and keep it moving forward. Nowadays there is a lot of guys out here lying to the younger generation, trying to play the role of an “OG” and guiding the youngsters in the wrong direction. Graff writers can be some of the worst fucking people, I try to set a better example. Graffiti made my life better, being schooled by my elders such as The Tats Cru and my bro DG (RIP) has been a blessing so I try to share that game to those that I feel will better themselves and also give back to the culture.
Can you explain to those who don’t know, what Guerrilla Garden is?
Originally GG was a 7000 square foot warehouse that I had for 7 years paying only $700 a month! That was before weed became legal and the rent was raised to 5k a month. That warehouse changed a lot of peoples lives, a lot of successful careers in the arts were cultivated there, a lot of parties where people found love if only for the night, a series of pro skaters, film makers, aerial performers, dancers, welders, painters, all worked on their craft at The GuerillaGarden. It was a total underground Bowery Bum esq. movement that occurred and unless you experienced it first hand there really is no way to get it. I’ve kept the name and it now applies to the business side of things that I do in terms of curating events and public art projects. The gorilla that I paint actually existed before the actual place and was just an alternative toss up.
What benefits and positive things has graff brought to your life?
I have survived off of my art since I was 19 years old….graffiti opened the doors for me to make money and support myself and my family, with that I have been able to buy my time and discover what I want out of life. I didn’t have a lot of support or money growing up. I’m not another well to do kid going to art school on my parents dime and fucking off stealing and bombing because I think the streets are an exciting playground. This is who I am, I did graffiti before I got pussy. I was out bombing when I was 11 years old, my identity grew with this culture.
What motivates you to stay active in graffiti culture?
Catching tags and putting up stickers is just what I do, it’s just how I move through life. I’m still infatuated with letters just as much as I’ve ever been, it’s important for me to push myself in different directions. I couldn’t be one of these cats that does the same outline every fuckin time for their whole life… I like to switch up a fly outfit, switch cars, eat different types of food, and create different means of expressing myself every day. I also like the respect I get in the streets of my city. My gorilla character has become something bigger than me and that inspires me to do it for the people that see it as a part of the city they love….and beyond all that I’m still just as mischievous as I’ve always been and graffiti is that outlet for me.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
Letter science, style mathematics, an understanding of Gothic Futurism and Ism in general.
How did you get your name and what’s the meaning behind it?
My name was originally my B-BOY name, I used to break at La Raza Park and one of my homies gave me the name in 93.
How do you think writers are different from “normal” people?
Most writers are shitty people, most people are pretty damm shitty. There is also a lot of writers that are very normal. I don’t necessarily relate to the 9 to 5 type of cat that paints on the weekends as a hobby, and I don’t necessarily relate to the grown man that racks still and bombing is an expression of teenage angst he never really dealt with. To be honest with you, I don’t know man.
Do you find any higher or more noble purpose in graffiti or is it all about fame and your name?
I’ve experienced both, but my intent in the beginning was simply to do graffiti which I just considered to be my art. I think creating art whole-hearted is a noble act, yet at times I find a tag to have more significance over a piece of public art. Sometimes the self serving asshole feeding his ego part of me creates some pretty good art, and at times the art I have created for neighborhoods in my city has meant a whole lot for the people that live with it. In Denver there is a lot of people with my gorilla tatted on them, I’ve had a guy tell me that he was shooting dope under a bridge and for some reason one of my pieces saved his life. I don’t know I just try to create my work with good intent for the most part and if it grows to be something for somebody I feel blessed.
If you had to describe the graff writer community to someone who knew absolutely nothing about it, what would you tell them?
I wouldn’t, though I find it fascinating and could articulate it to a crowd outside of graffiti and could examine it in a college social studies class or something like that, I wouldn’t. The reason being, even though I don’t care for everyone that does graffiti, I realize we do have our own community that is underground, and whether or not we understand what that is, it’s ours.
What kind of effect(s) do you think the internet has had on graffiti?
I like to order paint at a cheaper price and have it delivered to my door. I’m really glad that I got to experience coming up without the internet though. Biting and being a dick rider is all too prevalent on the internet. I refuse to buy followers on IG and present a hype that isn’t real. Instagram “likes” don’t translate to respect in the streets yet that seems to get confused. There is a lot of people in my city that I swear I wouldn’t even know they lived here if it wasn’t for the internet. Nowadays you can be famous world wide through the web and not have any respect in the actual streets. I don’t like to see older writers going through what seems like a mid life crisis hoeing themselves online for some “props.” I could take it or leave it at this point.
If you could only use one writing device (can/marker/scribe etc.), what would you choose and why?
Flat Black spray paint…….
Can you tell us one of your best bombing/chase stories?
I’ve never been caught doing graffiti. This shit is far from real criminal behavior, let me just say that.
If you had to pick one form of graffiti (tag, throw-up, piece, straight letter) that personified and conveyed the true essence of what graffiti is all about, what would you choose and why?
A tag, your tag is like your diddy bop, if you ain’t fly your tag will identify that.
How did you get down with the crews you push and what do they mean to you?
I’ve been good friends with Totem for around a decade now, BurnUnit not only represents friends and family but a mindset that pushes me to be the best me I can be. DG put me down with NWC and though he has passed I still rep it because the late night conversations I had with DG really represented the essence of all things I enjoy about graff. 004 is my Miami Family. E’s the real deal and their isn’t many built like the brother, he’s who put me down. Real ones are few and far between, life’s lessons make you who you are and I identify with the morals that come with the crews I represent.
How do you feel about street art and how is graff different (from your perspective)?
Street art is interesting. I always considered myself a street artist because my art was born of the streets, that’s before a bunch of art school students begin to bring their art to the streets and use that title. I like art period, but street art is kinda funny, it has it’s trends just like everything else and tends to look similar in most cities. Quite often “street art” is now just wallpaper for gentrification. White people stealing the art, culture, and land. But out of that there actually is some pretty good art made. It is what it is, I don’t consider it what I do anymore but I’m not opposed to it all the time.
As you’ve gotten older have you ever struggled internally with the morality of it?
No…… I have no problem fucking some shit up. That’s what make’s it rebellious and youthful.
How do you feel about the inherent narcissism in the culture and the overabundance of egos? How do you maintain your sense of humility?
I realize that writing my name only appeals to others like me that can actually read it, that doesn’t hold very much weight in the grand scheme of things. You need to be confident in yourself, especially within a street culture because weakness gets zero respect and sometimes pussies try to play the role of being humble as a way of playing the game from the sidelines. But I’d rather get props for how nice my daughter is dressed for school and how smart she is, ego will destroy the character of a man. This is all a blessing to me, my life could have went many other routes.
What is your favorite era in graff history and why?
90’s It was all new to me…It was if I just opened my eyes one day and this abundance of culture was all around me. I’m still tuned in to what’s poppin out here today and still can’t wrap my mind around how fresh the styles were that came out of NY in the 70’s and 80’s. But the 90’s was my favorite.
Striving to be better and having fun, it has to be a personal experience, if not you’re just wasting your time for attention. Good health and having an independent career goes a long way.
Ten track painting playlist, who’s on it?
Whatever new rap shit that’s good…
If people wanted to get in touch with you where should they go?
Interview by Paul Lukes