With his stark use of black and white and the occasional punch of color, Denver street artist Square is anything but an L7. His style is raw and wild and unapologetic, making it a perfect fit for the concrete jungle of a city. Square is a rising street artist in Denver, and I was fortunate enough to get to ask him some questions about his life, his work and his thoughts on cities and street art.
A native of Colorado, Square was born in Boulder and grew up in the ‘burbs just north of Denver. As the years passed, he found that his innate creativity was outgrowing the confines of a quiet, suburban life, so Square moved to Denver, where he could truly explore his previously stifled creative side. After college, he tried to fit his artwork into the gallery scene, but never felt happy with what he was doing – producing work that he thought galleries wanted to see and pieces that would sell in those spaces.
“All this led to was disappointment and frustration for me because I never finished a piece that felt real or true to who I was. The talent and the ability to paint was never an issue for me, but it was the ability to express what was inside that caused the most problems because I was consciously or unconsciously being influenced by what other people thought and by what I figured galleries wanted.”
All of that changed when Square took on his moniker and started painting at a street level. For the first time, he felt free to completely express himself however he felt. The anonymity that the city streets and alleys gave him made him unafraid to paint in a way that actually satisfied his creative needs. As he describes it,
“There is also something very liberating about putting the time and effort into making a piece and then giving it away to the street where it could be torn down or painted over within a day or it could stay up for a year but no matter what it will eventually be destroyed.”
The phrase “giving it away to the street” really struck a chord with me. Yeah, it’s schmaltzy, but I like the idea of street art being a gift to everyone and no one. Square needs to express himself, so the creation of his street art is his way of fulfilling his needs. By putting art in the street, one can only hope someone sees it before it’s taken down, but there are no guarantees. Once it’s on the street, the city decides the fate of a street artist’s work.
Square finds cities, in general, to be inspiring. Of course, living in Denver has its unique ups and downs. Denver is relatively young in its existence as a big city, a characteristic that can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, artists like Square can create street art that has a relatively good chance of standing out, in addition to being some of the first artists in Denver to help change perceptions of street art. On the other hand, the community at large has yet to develop a real understanding of street art as something different from the gang tags that share the same alleyways. “The city in general has adopted a universal stance that if something is on a wall and not inside a gallery then it’s not art,” says Square. “The desire to change what everyone in this city thinks about [art] is something that inspires me in a huge way along with the basic desire for revenge against those who think they can dictate what is and isn’t art.”
Because of Denver’s burgeoning street art culture, not every street is a “safe zone.” Different streets and alleys in Denver give different types of inspiration and some are simply forbidden fruit. “I always have to make sure that it is not on an area that has spots that have been painted over by the city several times. I’ve found what I thought were perfect spots before and put a piece up and the next day it was torn down. This has proven to be the biggest challenge with doing street art.”
Yes, the idea of street art is that it’s temporary and that it could be taken down at any time, but you have to remember that these artists aren’t mass producing some print. These are one of a kind pieces that are being pasted up on a wall for your viewing pleasure. Once they’re gone, they’re gone and there’s no getting that exact piece back again. This is why street artists spend as much time as they do scouting alleyways and streets for the perfect “gallery.”
Square says his two favorite streets are Colfax and Broadway. However, must love Broadway from afar and admire it for its potential since most of the pieces that are posted on Broadway get painted over or torn down. Colfax has been much more accepting of street art, so it has become a kind of walking museum where you might find a beautiful mural right around the next corner. However, Square does have a bone to pick with one area in particular, and I have to agree with him. “The Santa Fe Arts District tries to pretend that it is a place for street art but hardly any of the galleries are really interested in that and if they don’t approve then your painting will be eradicated.”
While street art is typically a “lone wolf” type of gig, there is one artist in particular that Square pairs with some frequency. Several of his striking pieces (including a few amazing commissioned murals) have been done with another rising Denver street artist, bunny M. “I met bunny M about 10 years ago and we’ve been contributing to one another’s lives as artists ever since. I believe our styles are different enough that we can collaborate on something and not have any kind of competition, but our styles work together in a way that allows for a harmony and sense of unity that would not be present if it were just two artists working together on a mural and completely doing their own thing.”
When you see their work together, there’s no denying that the two artists’ styles are very different. But somehow, they work together in a way that creates a piece of art that is obviously one concept executed by two very different artists which is no easy feat.
As for what he ultimately wants to achieve with his art, Square says that right now he just needs to paint, and street art lets him do it in a way that’s much more prolific than a gallery artist could ever achieve. Also, as a street artist he’s not bound by gallery politics when he wants his work to be seen. And he does.
“Seen by people who love it and people who hate it and those who are indifferent because I think the more that street art is seen in this city the more people will understand what is possible.”
So is there a “hands across America” type of idealistic wish that Square has for street art in Denver?
“I would love for there to come a point when those who are in charge no longer think that a dumpster or a wall or an electrical box looks better with a bunch of white or beige or grey blobs painted on it then it would with any kind of art.” -Square