Denver Muralist Casey Kawaguchi's signature samurai style is Colorado staple
"Art is like my battle ground where I face my doubts."
Denver’s own Casey Kawaguchi is in search of his inner truth. Ever since he started on his artistic journey decorating the walls of Denver with his signature samurai characters, Casey continues to look at art as a cathartic release of his internal battles, each project providing a path to purpose with a magical flare. His style is inspiring. It’s unique. It’s become a staple of Colorado. We talked to Casey about all things art, samurais and whether a hot dog is a sandwich.
A/S/L: 38, Male, Denver CO.
Nickname(s): no nickname, just Casey.
Favorite fast food: Chick-fil-A sandwich with a Coke.
Is a hot dog a sandwich? Nah, a hot dog is in its own class.
Are aliens out there? Yeah, I think so. But I have the feeling they're less alien than we imagine.
Best piece of advice you've heard: When the student is ready the teacher will appear.
Book you highly recommend: I'll give you two: "The Mission Of Art" by Alex Grey and "Be Here Now" by Ram Dass - both were very influential on me.
Favorite cheese: Cheddar
What is it about large scale paintings that attracts you to being a muralist?
As a viewer I love walking up to a big mural and the impact it can have on you. I've been very inspired by experiences like that and want to create that same inspiration with my work. But ultimately I think the large scale aligns with my feeling of inspiration - it feels big a great. I also really enjoy the physicality of painting big. I normally have a lot going on internally and the physical exertion sort of mirrors my internal struggles and gives them something external to overcome. I use that at the wall and am able to fuel my work. Art is like my battle ground where I face my doubts.
You've worked on the sides of buildings, inside restaurants, on canvas, the list goes on. Which projects were the most fun and memorable?
Some of the most memorable moments for me are painting all alone in places that normally have a lot of people around.
I remember being inside ACE EAT SERVE while they were closed for Labor Day weekend, painting through the night as hail pounded the plastic skylight and echoed through the empty restaurant. Or standing in the middle of the Platte River in December when the water was starting to freeze, painting to the sound of the flowing water and feeling like I was alone in the middle of the city. All of these moments are very special to me.
I also have a lot of good memories of painting with friends - Finishing a wall and getting on the rooftop to see the sunset and paint something dumb. Those moments are as rewarding and memorable as any.
As a notable Denver muralist for many years, what changes have you seen over the years?
I've seen a growing awareness of the impact murals can have on the community. Along with an increased appreciation and importance placed on cultural representation. I think the culture as a whole has become more inclusive. All of the conversations around these issues have inspired me over the years but also have just aligned with my path I am already on. I've seen greater and greater opportunities for artists in the community. I think it’s due to the increased appreciation and awareness but also due to each individual artist pushing their craft. I've seen artists in the community grow and become greater versions of themselves and create greater and greater things because of that. It's been inspiring to watch. My own moments of growth come from pressure when I have no choice but to grow. I've seen a lot of pressure in the artists around me through the pandemic and I feel like I'm watching diamonds being created.
How has social media affected the art game?
I can't really say what the art game was like before social media. But as long as I've been on I've used it as a tool to share my work and it’s always been positive. As it develops, the artworld is being pushed more and more into the digital realm. We're seeing that change the artworld with nft's and augmented reality. So I think it depends what your art form is and what your aim is.
There is never a shortage of great work to see at any given time and that can be both inspiring and desensitizing. I'm sure I'm not alone in that feeling. But it also allows me to be able to connect with people that would not have been able to see my work otherwise and that creates opportunity. We are able to be connected and build at a greater level so overall I see it as a positive. I think if you're willing to work and you believe in your vision, social media provides the platform for that vision to succeed.
You've talked about tapping into your inner truth, explain what that means.
I've had moments early on in my art path that felt like a creative channel was opening in me. When it was happening it's like I was just watching the art come through me. This undeniable experience in the moment felt like pure purpose and magic. These experiences were so potent that it set me on a path, like a moth to a flame. I've been working towards harnessing that experience ever since.
I feel that within every art form there is a deeper art of getting yourself out of the way. I think that only when we do this can we tap into our greatest creative power. Our true growth only comes through struggle and no one can really teach you those lessons and no one can learn it for you. No one can cheat and no one can fake it. So this deeper "art" is really self mastery and the painting becomes an outward expression of this. Your truest expression of art can only come through when you are being honest with yourself.
Staying true to the Bushido Samurai code and character sketches, you've stayed away from type on your art. Can you explain this code or tradition?
Well, there isn't really a connection between my choice to focus on characters over letters and the bushido tradition. But I think the bushido code relates more to my perspective on art, where the sword is seen to be connected to the spirit of the swordsman, so to master the art is to master yourself. I come from samurai ancestors and I think that some of these perspectives are just in my blood. I can't help but feel that I am carrying on a tradition in my own way.
The two black dots under your subject's eyes, what does that signify?
It came from imagining being born with marks on their face that represent an internal balance.
Do you think Crush Walls will come back stronger than ever?
I really don't know. It was such a special event but it was also very fragile. It seemed like there were so many things that had to come together to make that happen every year, which is part of what made it so special. No matter what happens with it, I'm grateful for all of the experiences and the opportunity to inspire.
Follow me on ig @CaseyKawaguchi
Check out my merch at CaseyKawaguchi.com
Watch my documentary "Mastery" at KaufmanFilms.me/mastery-film or on my IGTV.