Artist in Residence
Meet Joseph Graves, Jr.
He’s an artist of smiles. Whether it’s gazing at his stunning paintings and thought-provoking sketches or a simple face-to-face conversation with the man, you’re sure to come away with a smile. He’s as authentic and down-to-earth as his artwork would imply, possessing a fascinating story of various chapters in life, from law school and working in the legal sector, to on stage as an award-winning actor, writer, acting coach, singer and artist. When we laid eyes on his attention-grabbing wall art prominently displayed on the second floor of Clayton Hotel & Members Club, we needed to know more. And we got more in our latest edition of Artist in Residence with the one-and-only Joseph Graves, Jr.
How did you first get into art? When did that happen and what direction did it take you in? My father was an artist, but he stopped drawing and painting when I was 9-years-old. I asked him why and he said, “Sometimes life just gets in the way.” I said I’ll never be like that, but then my life started to get busy in the legal field after law school and working with former Governor John Hickenlooper. I have a daughter and we used to do Sunday brunch and then we’d paint and draw. And then that stopped. She asked me why and I caught myself saying the same thing to her that my father had said to me. So, I made a change, did my first art show in 2016, and got the ball rolling from there. As a kid growing up in Kansas, I copied the art I saw in comic books. At college at CU in Boulder, I took art classes, studied different artists, and was influenced by the likes of Mark Rothko, Jacob Lawrence, and Basquiat. I modeled their style and took little bits and pieces to create my own vibe. I like to say I’m the remix of different artists and I interpret things with my own versions.
Talk about your approach, which you describe as “get messy and defy the lines.” I am a sketcher, so I think I master in sketching of drawing and portraits. When I started doing more painting, that style came over with it. If you ever watch me sketch, I skip around all over the paper. I scribble but, somehow by the time I think I am finished, there’s a piece of art. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I don’t. But it’s an extension of myself, for all to see with some aid of permanency. When I’m going after it, I turn the music on and open the windows and really let the environment dictate what I’m going to paint.
How did the opportunity come about with the Clayton? A man named Chris Christmas was doing a cowboy event called Urban Cowboy at Clayton last year. I bumped into him, he told me about it, and I told him that I had the perfect piece for it. It’s called Sunrise Ryder and it portrays my grandfather, who was born in 1911, and he was a buffalo soldier.
I wanted the painting to capture some of the themes that represent Colorado, so I used yellows and blues from the Denver Nuggets’ colors, the sky light from the sunsets we have out here, and then I painted a young version of my grandfather if he was alive today. Christmas told me to bring the piece and, when I was there, another member of Clayton said that this piece belongs there. That’s how it happened.
Any new pieces that you’re particularly excited about? It’s called Merry GO Round: Ode to Hip Hop. It’s four-feet-by-four-feet, and it’s inspired by my four pillars of hip-hop: 1) MCing (rapping); 2) Graffiti art; 3) Break dancing; and 4) DJing. I wanted to commemorate this year’s 50th anniversary of hip-hop, so I designed this painting to look like an album cover but also like a spray-painted wall in Brooklyn to flashback to that time period. I love the piece and it’s very close to my heart.
What’s your opinion of the art scene in Cherry Creek North? I get inspired every year by the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. Additionally, the artists featured in the galleries are fresh and they revitalize me every time I see their various works, and I love seeing the local talent that’s spotlighted there as well. There’s a gallery in particular, who I’d really like to meet with about working together.
What inspires your work? I’m inspired by low key things and people who give me good energy. I can feel inspired immediately, from simple things like having some wine and eating sushi. I can come up with different ideas from things like that. It’s all really about what I’m feeling that day. Your last cover of Cherry Creek Magazine inspired me because now I want to do a cocktail and maybe a whiskey smoke-type thing. The colors you used really drive at me. I find inspiration anywhere.
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