If you’ve ever passed through Denver, then you’ve seen the name Swek. Whether it be a throw-up here and there, a meticulously crafted slap-tag, or an insanely colorful legal burner, he’s remained active as one of the city’s top letter smiths. Finding unique ways to twist letters in 2017 is no easy feat, but Swek always manages to surprise us with his innovative connections, letter styles and unique fill patterns. When you see a Swek burner or one from one of his many protegés, there’s no denying it. They’re instantly recognizable and the funk jumps off the wall. Swek took a few moments to discuss how he came up in the Rockies and how he feels about the current cultural climate.
Bombing Science: How and when did you get started with graffiti?
Swek: Well to start, I was drawing monster trucks in class around 1990. Taking the red public bus around town, I would notice graff tags. Not knowing what it was, I still liked it. In that I was trying to figure it out. Going through west Denver at that time, the gangs were in control, so I gravitated towards that crowd.
I started drawing Chicano art. It wouldn’t be till around ‘92, that I would start to understand some graffiti. I started with other names, but in 1993 I came out with the handle “SWEK.” By this time I was trying to put letters together. I met a local cat by the name of “CROCK” who was an established writer at that time. He put me on to Voice and Aztec, who were SWS, Yo it’s been family ever since.
What was the climate like in the local scene when and where you started writing?
Coming from Denver in the early ‘90s, the city was still in its original form. The graff was still fresh. It wouldn’t be until later, changing is not all good sometimes, Having money changed my city forever. There is no history here, they just tear down all the old buildings, so if you don’t know where you have been it’s hard to know where you’re going. The older times were so much simpler.
How did SWS start and what does it mean to you?
It was an established organization. I got put down in 94-95. When I got down some of the older heads moved on to other mediums of expression (b-boying ,DJ-ing). So I took on some weight to push the crew and that’s what me and Voice did. It’s more than just a bunch of hooligans, it’s my family.
What was it like for you, coming up in Denver? What kind of adversity did you have to deal with?
Coming up in Denver was good training. Nobody liked graff. No body was feeling it. It was good because it made me be more secretive. The ‘90s were fresh, no computers, graff-heads only talked to graff-heads. Keeping it on some sacred low-key business.
What benefits and positive things has graff brought to your life?
Positives would have to be all the great people I have had the chance to paint with, the bonds you make with others, the places I’ve traveled to, etc.. The benefits would have to be, the loot I’ve made rocking graff, the loot wouldn’t come for a long time though, if it wasn’t for graff keeping my mind wandering, reading, perfecting my style, being somewhat professional, hard to say where I would be.
What kind of damage has it caused in your life?
I don’t think graff caused me damage, it’s the choices we make while painting graff. I would say jail, drugs, loss of job, wrecked cars, injuries, etc. Without having gone through those things, then I wouldn’t have the judgement or be the person I am, so thanks graffiti! Thank you.
What motivates you to stay active in graffiti culture?
To stay active is not too hard for me, I got a great support system. Lots of peeps around me only speak in graff, we keep each other hyped and pumped up.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
If I knew what I know now, I would of had a head-start on all y’all cats. All the tricks, the how and when, I would be a fucking genius now. On some back to the future shit.
How did you get your name and what’s the meaning behind it?
The meaning behind my word was nothing to begin with. I was looking to use letters that nobody was using. Not for it to mean to swish a 3 pointer, or you dress well. My boy CASE DCK from BOSTON said, “Sick, Walls, Enjoy, Krylon” and the shit stuck. Thanks my dude.
What have you learned over the years, both graff related and life lessons?
I’ve learned that with anything worth it, it takes hard work ana patience. Especially with graff, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Taught me a lot of life lessons. Don’t burn bridges, but if you do, use Rusto. Keep your friends closed and your enemies closer.
What do you think it takes to make a well-rounded, respected writer, both in terms of putting in work and character?
Well rounded everything. First, your tags and throw must be on point. If you don’t have that then just quit. Learn your history of your city and your crew. Listen to your O.G.s. Try to produce good work. And once you get a little style, stay humble. You’re toy until further notice (Espo quote).
What kind of effect(s) do you think the internet has had on graffiti?
It’s done both, good and bad. It also depends on what you’re doing. It depends on how you use it. I miss the photo trading, zine making, phone calls. Now it’s, “Now look what I did!” Yeah, I’m guilty of using the screen, it just doesn’t have the same meaning as getting a pack in the mail from Begr, or Gouls. The internet is now, to get a job or let everyone know your business. Just blast it. Shit’s weird to me.
If you could only use one writing device (can/marker/scribe etc.), what would you choose and why?
Not sure, probably the silver fat UNI.
Can you tell us one of your best bombing/chase stories?
They’re all the same, if you’re out there painting, then you know it can go from sugar to shit, real fast.
How do you feel about having a son that is involved in this culture also? Are there any aspects of it that cause you concern or worry?
I never meant for it to happen. But once they are an adult, they make their own choices, they know what graff can do to your family. My job as a father is to guide them with as much knowledge I can provide. I do worry, only because of what I’ve seen and been through, shit can happen at anytime, But that’s life, so if they choose to write, then all I can do is give them my knowledge. Go get it, go all city, all nation-wide!
If you got a free plane ticket to anywhere for a spray-cation, where would you go and why?
I would have to say Europe,, haven’t been out there yet. So many great places for graff over there. Soon though.
If you could reverse history and take graff to the early 90’s by changing just one thing about how it has evolved, what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t change anything. Only bring some people back.
What non crew writers out there are killing it? Whose work do you like?
I think that there is a lot of good work going on, all over the place. I’m not name-dropping, Real heads know. They are getting it. You should probably be on the bricks, instead of reading my crap. But thanks.
How important do you think it is to maintain your spots and keep less experienced cats out? Do you see it being done enough these days?
It’s important, don’t let chumps go over you. If it’s your yard, maintain it. Toys these days need to know the basics, about what goes over tags, fills, pieces. Can’t cover it or burn it, then leave it. Should you even be painting here? Find your own spots and if you have a spot, keep it to your crew, build your own gallery. Trust me.
Do you think it’s possible to be original today, with so many styles already being rocked? What do you do to try and stay as original as possible?
To stay original is hard these days, maybe harder for the younger guys. For me I think it’s my job to pass down where I got my style from. Being under Voice in my younger days, I believe he had some west coast influence as well as other non-crew members from Denver. That had an influence on me, after meeting my Boston brothers, out here in Denver, they had a huge spark on me. I would say I’ve got both sides of the ocean (both coasts), VOICE, ALERT, PERL, CROCK, HEL…are in my letters. But know they are my own, true Denver style. Denver is me, I’ve given that style to many from here, mostly my crew. I think other crews should do that as well. Teach them, keep it regional. Bring it back. If you out here biting, you probably going to get cracked.
Do you plan on painting forever or do you ever see yourself retiring?
Probably not retiring. There is too much I still would like to do. Places I want to travel to paint. It means too much for me to just leave it alone.
And last words or shout outs?
Well I want to shout to all my crews: SWS,DIRTY 30, MAD ZOOTS, KIDS GOING PUBLIC, DCK, HEAVY, KARMA.
2017 TO INFINITY…
By Paul Lukes