I am a coffee guy. Keith Jive is not.
I’ve been turning this piece over in my head for nearly a year now, and describing the artist behind that notorious tag ‘JIVE’ has been, well… guilt-ridden, difficult, and wonderful for some sadistic reason. Notorious and Iconic his pieces dress buildings and walls throughout the state giving them the same near liquidity he is so famous for. Keith Jive is the kind of artist that aspiring writers strive to be.
I had no idea what to expect when Keith refused a coffee interview but instead insisted we meet late-night on a Sunday at a small Cap-Hill bar. Two men at the bar insisted that one was Keith, and the other was a close friend, but when my laptop came out they were highly confused but kept trying to push a shot in front of me nearly bursting at the seams trying hard not to laugh. I had been duped, or so I thought until I turned around to go outside and someone approached me who broke all stereotype of what I though a graffiti artist looked like. Mid 30’s, scruffy and smiling Keith held out his hand and pointed outside. The two men at the bar called after us as we sat down in a circle of about 10 people. He brought friends, and some of them didn’t look too pleased to see me or my laptop. As we started to talk the tension from his protective circle lessened and we started from the beginning.
Keith noticed graffiti for the first time while living in Manhattan at nine years old while riding the subway with his dad. After being moved to Connecticut because of an incident involving a strip club, the length of time Keith spent on the trains getting in and out of NYC increased and so would his exposure to graffiti. ‘The culture was unavoidable’ he said as he immersed himself in skateboarding, music, and art ‘it was hard not to pick up (a can.)’ It wasn’t long until Keith was under bridges meeting older artists who helped him out along the way like EMIT. ‘It was the cliff-notes lesson in painting, I’d finish a piece, he’d come up asking if I was done, and show me how to cut my lines clean.’
Inevitablly he joined up with crews, and very soon after started getting into trouble with the law. He explained to me that there are entire divisions of thte NYPD that are dedicated to preventing graffiti. The stories he was telling about getting locked up in the city made my skin crawl, and somehow find gratitude for how clean the jails in Colorado are. He told me while painting a wall with gaze, blood, cycle, ember, and yes2 an unmarked officer snuck up behind him and said ‘move and I’ll fucking kill you’ right before pulling the hammer on his 9. Keith Jive and all of his companions (except yes2 who had gotten away) spent the next five days in jail sitting on the floor watching crazed PCP addicts trying to cut the golden teeth out of the other detainees.
In 2002 Keith got a phone call from EMIT who was ‘so sick of the east coast’ and they both quit their jobs, loaded up a car and headed west shortly after leaving a final mark by throwing up on the front steps of the Warhol Museum. They ended up in Colorado and have been making marks on our scene ever since. I got lucky enough to spend an afternoon this past fall painting a wall with Keith and Obses, both Obses and I standing in awe to the flow and precise motion that Jive paints with. Keith stays very humble about his place in the Denver art scene and just writes it off as his way of life, when posed with the question ‘why do you keep painting?’ He laughs it off and says ‘this is the only thing I’ve been doing longer than jerking off! It’s been 22 years it’s just a part of me!’