by Dani Cooke
I have always considered street-art to be the accessible gallery of the people. Rarely do I encounter a piece of artwork spray-painted on a brick wall or mailbox that doesn’t make me smile, or at least pause to think. I’m that teenage white girl who always has my iPhone camera out and my Instagram filters ready, stopping time and time again to snap a photo of some piece of art I’ve passed by.
In the recent years, Boulder has become home to a number of enthusiastic and anonymous artists inspired by the likes of Banksy and Inkie—and, unconventionally, Van Gogh. The works of SMiLE, a local Boulder street artist, are colorful, impressionistic, and deeply layered, often focused on subjects such as expressive portraits or animals. Another artist who uses the moniker “prfkt” is slightly more political in nature, using their minimalistic stencil works to provide social commentary.
Walking down the character-rich streets of Downtown Boulder, one can see how street art in Boulder differs from the rest of the world: it is a world of hypotheticals wherein Banksy went bohemian, Basquiat took over Boulder, or Keith Haring were more of a hippie. It’s graffiti gone granola.
While many call these artists vandals, many others refer to them as talented creators of masterful artworks. Though graffiti in any form is technically illegal under Boulder County Municipal Code section 5-4-14, each of these artists has been met mostly with praise. An article published in the Daily Camera in September 2016 describes the Boulder Police Department’s attitude toward such street artists as “nuanced,” characterized by awareness and enforcement of the law but possessing no active investigations into SMiLE’s work. In fact, a number of local business owners have invited SMiLE to paint on their buildings and requested that police leave the pieces uncovered.
Will Frickshorn, one of the owners at Cured, was willing to speak to me about a small business’s perspective on street art in Boulder.
Q: When did the SMiLE Boulder piece appear on the wall outside Cured?
A: “We’ve had his main piece since before we opened 6 years ago, but a few new smaller pieces of art have popped up more recently.”
Q: Have police/authorities ever approached you about the fact that you have a piece by SMiLE painted on your building?
A: “[No,] we haven’t been approached by the authorities in any way.”
Q: What, if anything, do customers seem to think about the painting? Has anyone ever commented on it?
A: “We do get some comments, and almost all have been positive. A handful of customers have even asked if there are others of his around the block to check out as well.”
Q: Do you have any opinions on street art in general? How do you feel about its illegality?
A: “It’s a hard topic, as the vast majority of ‘street art’ tends towards graffiti of the type one doesn’t desire on their property or surrounding their business. SMiLE’s work crosses a barrier, in MY mind, because of his discreet placements, and talent. That said, there’s always a point where an artist can go [too] far, and I think that happens frequently in Downtown Boulder.... [The Boulder Police Department] puts a tremendous amount of resources into helping keep our mall and Pearl Street clean, tidy, and free of graffiti that isn’t appropriate, but SMiLE’s work largely stands.”
Q: How would you describe Boulder’s perception of SMiLE and his work?
A: “I think people appreciate his artwork… it’s tastefully done, and he’s a talented dude!”
Q: Is there anything else you would add in regards to the topic of street art in Boulder?
A: “Like anything in this grey area of appropriateness, there’s a fine line of what’s appropriate or not!”
Four pieces by SMiLE Boulder, perhaps Boulder’s most committed and beloved street artist. According to the Daily Camera, SMiLE has been on the scene since 2015. His self-proclaimed mission is to bring something beautiful and cheerful to the community of Boulder which he has always described as his home. (https://www.instagram.com/smileboulder/).
Left: Found near the Rayback Collective. By TRNDSTR, an artist who works mainly in near The Hill and around student housing at the CU Campus. (https://www.instagram.com/trndstr.art/).
Right: Spotted on Broadway near The Hill. By prfkt, whose works can mainly be found around the Hill and other college-student hot-spots.
*All photos taken by Dani Cooke