East is a local graffiti artist who's probably responsible for half the tags you see around Denver and Boulder. He spills his guts about his work, run-ins with the police, and why people go to such extremes to leave their mark somewhere.

  • Hometown: Born in Hammond, grew up in the Chi!
  • Shoe size: 10-10.5
  • Height: 6' 2"
  • How many push-ups can you do at one time? It depends on the motivation. Normally I'd say 20 or so…
  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Time travel
  • One thing you want to do before you die: Skydive
  • Favorite color combination: Blue & brown
  • Weirdest thing in your fridge right now: Soy waffles
  • It's Friday night, what are you doing? Playing GTA 5
  • Favorite flavor ice cream: Coconut milk
  • Worst job you've ever had: Managing a restaurant in Boulder
  • What's your best party trick? Gorilla impersonation…it's uncanny!
  • Guilty pleasure: I never feel guilty about pleasure
  • Was Kobe guilty? C'mon…
  • Will the Broncos win a Super Bowl? DGAF!!! Go Bears!
  • Night or day? Night!

When did you start drawing?

I don't recall a time when I wasn't drawing. I spent a lot of my time growing up with a pen or pencil in hand. When I would stay with my grandparents, which was quite often, drawing was a regular activity. Anytime I would get bored my grandmother would hand me pencil and paper and say "draw something".

What was your first medium of art?

My first medium outside of pen and paper was a wood burning tool. It was this ridiculous item that you put different tips on. Chisel tips, rounded tips or patterned. You would then plug it in, wait for it to get hot, and then draw on wood blocks. I don't know how I didn't burn down the house with that thing! Ahhhh, the 70's.

What got you into graffiti?

I got into graffiti simply through exposure via magazines and books that I would mostly find at the library while I was seeking out articles about B Boying (breakdancing). They always had pictures of the B Boys posing in front of graffiti murals or on the trains riding through the Bronx with graffiti showcased in the background. I would also find graffiti on album covers at the record stores as well as seeing it off the lines in Chicago growing up. That instant thrill of discovery and excitement can never be replicated.

What is it about graffiti that you love?

I love the purity and freedom graffiti allows. The interaction and complete immersion into the cityscape. You feel as though the city is breathing your same breath and that you’re alive with your surroundings. It's like your senses are put on full alert at all times and the energy coursing through you is equal to the energy that the city itself emits…it's a complete high. You feel like the city is yours!

How do spray cans compare to paint brushes?

I can't really give an honest opinion on that since I'm not versed with brushes but I can tell you that the weight and feel of a can would be a hard thing to replace after all these years. So brushes are not likely to be in my future.

What influences your work?

What doesn't influence my work!? Everything is relevant at the appropriate time.

How do you choose a canvas?

Choosing a canvas depends on your purpose. Are you looking for mass exposure? Are you into something chill and down low? Do you feel like painting a crisp, clean surface or something raw and gritty? The amount of canvases available within a city is as diverse as the city itself. There are countless options.

What's your most daring outdoor canvas?

Everything in graffiti could be considered high risk. Anytime you go out you run the chance of getting hurt, assaulted, arrested or even killed. Billboards are not meant to be scaled and painted without safety harnesses, trains don't yield to people in the way or crossing the tracks, gangs don't care if you’re not affiliated with gang life while spraying in their neighborhoods, etc. Nothing should ever be taken for granted and your guard should always be up!

Why do people go to such extremes to put their mark somewhere?

I will answer your question with a question: What are YOU willing to do in life in order to stand out in a city of millions? Life needs its lemmings as well as its rebels…it keeps the balance.

What do you say to people who consider graffiti random, destructive to property "tags"?

I don't get to choose where billboards go up or what company pays to sell their products on those billboards. Products aimed at me, my kids, my neighbors! Giant behemoths put in my face, obstructing my view of the sky, the mountains, the very city that I live in! Is ink or paint on a surface really so destructive when it's in the shadow of a two or three story advert that sells me cigarettes, alcohol or gut wrenching fast foods!? Graffiti can just be painted over in minutes but that billboard will house hundreds of garish ads for years on end. Tags are just the little guy saying "I'm here and this is my city too!"

Any run-ins with the law?

My run-ins with law are too numerous to recount but with any passion you choose to pursue in life there will always be obstacles trying to slow you down, if not stop you altogether. Again, life needs balance and as much as I can appreciate the fact that law enforcers are necessary, so is a certain pursuit of our basic instincts as humans. Humans need drama, we need excitement, challenges, questions to be asked, answers to be given, something to love, something to hate, something to conquer! Those things and many more make us the faulted yet unique individuals that we are! So if along the way I have some brushes with the law, perhaps break a few ordinances here and there, then so be it. It's one life you’re given so push the boundaries.

Check out some of East's work: