“My name is Kans89 or plain and simple just Kans. My name took on many different changes as my career progressed but the artist behind it has always remained the same. I am a graffiti artist born and raised in Denver, CO. Born on April 11, 1989 hints at career in the world of art would sprout here and there during my early years as a toddler and adolescent. I can remember drawing all the time and being really creative with any problem that came my way. As drawing came naturally I never took art
seriously until I discovered the world of graffiti .
Walking along my normal path to school, I used to pass these walls painted top to bottom in colorful graffiti. I stopped and admired the work just about every day as they were always changing when finally, one day the owner of the building approached me. He said “Hey I see you around here a lot, do you paint?” Now at this time I had never even picked up a spray can so I lied and said “Yeah man I actually do”. He then replied “Well hey I need some new color, are you interested in painting?” I
responded with a quick “FUCK YEAH!!!” I was about 15 at that time and so my journey began.
Those walls were located in an alley way on 8th and Inca in Denver, CO, they were like home to me. Every chance I had I would be there painting. Thanks to that opportunity I fell in love with graffiti art and knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I picked up the can for the first time I had no idea that it would have such a positive impact on my life as well as take me on the ride I have been on thus far.
I started out just painting my name over and over again, trying different technique and styles. Every ounce of creative energy went into graffiti whether it be sketching, research, learning the history or actually painting. You can probably say it was an obsession. Letters were my first priority and from there letters turned into characters and figures with the old school bboy flavor and from there went to more graphic themes and style. I was painting for about 3 years when I finally got my first commission and as I got more commissions and progressed stylistically I realized it was time to pursue a professional
career. I then worked with some friends of mine (Wiser and Lemon) to form a custom graffiti company (Ynig.com). The company has been in business for about 6 years and has sprouted many other ventures during the course of its life.
As a professional my career is still in its infancy but so far a lot has been accomplished. I was amongst the first graffiti artists in the city of Denver to be commissioned by the city for a public art piece. I currently work for Strange Music as a graphic designer which I have been doing for about two years now as well as work for myself as a free lance muralist. On top of all that I am currently working on a BA in fine art with a concentration in painting.
Graffiti is my main love within art, its my passion and my priority. With that being said its what I pride myself on but I am definitely not limited to that. My work almost always shows my graffiti art roots and style but when it comes down to representations and or meanings it is pretty simple. I try and document my emotion through my art in some way. You can look at a lot of my work and picture in some way what I was feeling or what I was trying to express at that particular point in
time. I have found that doing this has kept me sane for all of these years. This is the reason I love graffiti so much, you can show every bit of emotion through line, color, composition and shape so well without having an obvious image of it. As far as being satisfied with my work, after completing a new piece I am satisfied with it for about a day. I am always trying to find something to fix and something to improve on. That is to me what makes a great artist and that is what I aspire to do. In a field like mines even when you are finished there is always one more thing to do so with having said that I don’t think I will ever be totally satisfied with my work but I will climb everyday to always improve. That is what defines me as an artist…IMPROVEMENT.
Graffiti in so many ways has changed my life. It has taught me things you just cant learn from anything else, it teaches to be reliant on ones self, it teaches to never take no for an answer and most importantly it reveals your true spirit and soul. As cliché as that sounds it is very true. I had no clue on what I wanted to do or what my life meant until I was introduced to graff. I will always paint graffiti until my last breathe but it has opened so many other doors in which I will pass through.”
[as interviewed by Ian Robert McKown 8.5.2012]
I know a lot of us who are unfamiliar with the graffiti world and rely largely on how its portrayed in the media have this idea that it can be a somewhat territorial and even a bit physically dangerous when it comes to putting up ones work. Any truth to that? Have you even had any tight situations
There is definitely truth to that stereotype. There is a very very fine line between graffiti art and gang graffiti. To the general public or people who have no knowledge of graffiti as an art form, distinguishing what those are is very difficult. To them it all is gang related. Generally only gang graffiti is truly territorial because the point of gang graff is to define the occupying gangs turf whereas the aims of a graffiti artist or bomber is to be seen everywhere possible. Painting in certain areas can definitely be dangerous for graffiti artist’s. If you aren’t from the neighborhood you are painting in that’s occupied by a gang you then run the risk of offending that gang which can potentially become violent. I really hate to expose that side of things but its truthful . Some gangs make no distinction from graff bomber to gang member, if you are not part of their gang and are painting on their turf they will check you. As for me and being in any situation of this nature it has never happened. Denver for the most part is pretty chill as far as these problems go but it is still a possibility.
I know that at least in Denver there are quite a few “free walls” where painters are encouraged to do bigger pieces without worrying about the legalities of working on random walls. Has Denver always been like this? I remember a friend telling me that you weren’t anybody until you’d been arrested for putting up work? How about you, any scrapes with the law?
Denver has always had places to paint legally from what I can remember keeping in mind ive only been on the scene for about 8 years. The most famous spot were the walls on 8th and Inca. That is where I painted my first piece and it was responsible for the birth of my career, anyone who is anyone on the Denver scene has painted that wall as well as legends (Cope2, Tlok, Emit, East, Koze just to name a few). That wall has unfortunately been shut down but there are new walls being born. There are huge walls off of Acoma and Jewell that are constantly being painted as well. I know Boulder has a few as well as Longmont. The theory that you’re not any one unless you get arrested is a bit edgy. I think your more notorious for not being caught and I think all writers would agree that you pride yourself on being wanted and not caught as opposed to being caught. So I guess to re-word that it is more like “Your not anyone unless you are wanted” even then that is still sketchy because now a days you don’t have to bomb to become famous. Just show dedication and a passion for your work. Ive been chased numerous times as a youngin by both civilians and police, I have yet to be caught. Being that I paint legally now I don’t think ill ever be caught for graffiti. I don’t consider myself a graffiti bomber as much as I consider myself as a graffiti artist.
There seem to be quite a few painters who have found some mainstream popularity. What do you think this is attributed to, and do you think its in any way watering down a previously low-brow art form?
Yes there are quite a few graff artist who can be considered mainstream heavy hitters. I think the reason for this is persistence as with anything. Well I guess a bit of persistence and luck. I don’t like knocking anyone who has “made it” but in some cases I think it is more about the people you know and who co-signs for you as opposed to the work you do and how well it is done. It is a very sad thing but a common occurrence in the art world. Don’t get me wrong though, there are definitely artists who have made it who completely deserve to have the fame they have because their work is absolutely amazing. I don’t think that it is in any way watering down our art form, I think it actually helps it. When a commercial artist does work and exposes graffiti art in a positive light it then makes it less intimidating to the general public which results in more opportunities for artists of our nature.
Along the same lines, in tattooing we are seeing mainstream media and fashion taking traditionally tattoo related designs for their own merch and products and it seems to be similar for graffiti designs. Any thoughts on this? Do you feel its a good thing for painters?
I think graffiti on merch and other products also helps the art form and artist’s because it creates job opportunities for artists as well as being able to own the art of your favorite artists without spending an arm and a leg. Many street wear clothing lines use and sponsor authentic graffiti artists which is why I think it isn’t a big deal. Now if clothing companies were to take graffiti artists work and printing it on shirts without consent or trying to replicate it by non graffiti artists then it would be a problem.
I think working outside your comfort zone is beneficial to any artist. It pushes you to explore and can possibly open a door that never would have opened if not for stepping outside the box. I have worked with sculpture, oils, acrylic, collage, print making, as well as watercolor. I have particularly been gravitated towards oil painting. I love that medium, it is a good release and break from spray paint. It gives me an opportunity to paint in a very different way from graffiti. The medium I have struggled with the most is watercolor. The reason being is because the technique of painting with it is completely opposite from how I paint and it is not opaque enough for my taste haha.
My approach to graffiti now with knowledge of other mediums has definitely changed. I feel like I have more ammunition supplied by other mediums to attack a wall with. Not in a sense of me using oil paint or collage on a wall but in a sense of subject matter. I almost would love to do still lives that were traditionally done in oils on a wall with spray paint. Working with other mediums has broadened my ideas on what I would like to paint in a graffiti style. However I would never let graffiti bleed into oil painting. I think it loses potency when you confine graff to a canvas. Graff was meant to be in the wild not in captivity.
With a public work commission it is a very long painful process. There are call for entries, some to whomever and some by invitation only. You typically write a statement of interest and you are then considered depending on if you are a good candidate for the project you apply for. After this if you are considered you are then “short listed” which means you are up against a small number of other considered artists. You will then be required to come up with a concept and presentation which then will decide if you get the job. Working with people who have no experience with muralist is sometimes hard but mostly pretty easy. I say its sometimes hard because clients can be pretty “set in stone” on what they want even if it makes no sense artistically. It is difficult telling them their ideas wont serve for an aesthetically pleasing piece.
If I’m not mistaken, you’ve taught art to some youth groups. Can you tell us a bit about that? What hurdles have you had to overcome when it comes to teaching what has become second nature to you?
Yes I have taught with my business partner Keith White at numerous public libraries as well as recreation centers and schools. I taught part time at Lake Middle School for an after school mural program. Teaching graff to kids who actually want to be there and learn is very satisfying. Most of the time art programs have been obsolete from school curriculums in inner-city schools which is very sad. I pride myself on being able to provide under-privileged kids with a chance to explore an art form which has been a part of their lives for so long. It gives meaning to why I do this type of art and gives me a chance to give back to a community in which I came from. Some big obstacles to overcome when teaching graff is getting the kids to understand that graff isn’t just about bombing and vandalism. Its hard when students take the info and knowledge I give them and destroy their own community with it.
I know a lot of people are aware that you’re a merch designer for at least one top name in the music industry. Any names youd care to drop? Whats that been like?
I have been a merch designer for Tech N9ne and his label Strange Music (the number one independent rap label in the world) for about two years now. Working with Tech has been a wild ride being that he is one of my favorite mc’s and has become a personal friend of mine. I never would have thought I would be doing what I am doing because of graffiti! Obviously I have done work for Tech but also just about every other artist which is on the label (Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, Brotha Lynch Hung etc.) I have also done work for former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshal.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 year? I know youre really driven and I’m certain you’ve set your sights high. What can we expect from you?
In the next 5-10 years I see myself as a staple of Denver graffiti and hopefully an icon of graffiti itself. This is a really high standard but im hungry enough to do it! My drive to do this has been untamed and I wont stop until I get it!!! I also see myself owning a gallery of some kind I am still unclear on what that might be. Also I definitely want to travel the world and paint, leave my mark on as much of the globe as I can. You can always expect to see me producing graffiti but you can definitely expect to see tons of exhibitions from Kans89 in the fine art realm! I don’t want to sound cliché but I would like to conclude this interview with this…Any young people who aspire to be an artist of any kind, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you cant do something. Art is what you feel and in many ways what defines you, don’t ever sensor yourself or hold anything back. If you have a message to convey then get that message across in the medium that best fits you!!! Most importantly don’t let money be a motivator behind your work…you wont last long. Ian thanks for this opportunity, it means a lot coming from an artist who I deem as one of the best!!! Much love!!!