5280’s March fashion feature, “Streetwise,” was shot on location at Denver-based GuerillaGarden Studios, where artist Jeremy Silas Ulibarri, aka “Jolt,” does his thing with urban colors and shapes. We were so enamored with the background of the shoot—not to mention the hot spring looks—that we tracked down the artist for an inside look at his craft.
How did you learn to paint like this? I’ve been an artist my whole life. A lot of my style comes from my graffiti background; I’ve been doing it since the mid ’90s.
People call you a “graffiti artist.” Is that accurate? It all has a little graffiti in it; but it’s not graffiti in its rawest, realest form. Graffiti is typically letters, done out in the public, with or without permission. A lot of times graffiti only appeals to other graffiti writers. I want to transcend that and do more public art. It’s not necessarily working against the environment, but working with it.
What prompted you to found GuerillaGarden? I was already kind of working toward creating my own lane. I’d worked at museums and galleries and realized that Denver’s galleries weren’t made to showcase my kind of art, and wouldn’t let me transcend “graffiti writing” into fine art. It was just time for a change. Graffiti has the stigma of being a bad thing. The idea was to evolve from that, make it beautiful.
The GuerillaGorilla character is featured prominently in the background of our spring fashion feature. How did he evolve? The gorilla is our logo; it’s a play on words, appeals to a lot of people, and was exactly how I wanted to convey my intentions. Denver is small, and when I was still doing a lot of street stuff, I knew all these rooftops that had been painted over and over. I was able to work in different spaces in the city that hadn’t been painted before because a gorilla would fit. Now, every painting I do of him usually sells the next day.
Besides your studio, where can we see your work around town? You can find it at a museum or show. At the same time, you can find it in an alley on the west side or in Globeville. It’s art that comes from the street. It’s not out of the question to get respect from the neighborhood.
What’s the craziest piece of art you’ve ever completed? At 1099 Osage St., I created a 5,000-square-foot mural, nine stories tall, that starts on one side of the building, goes through a hallway, and comes out the other side. We built it two stories at a time, and planned the whole thing before the building was built. The whole mural was developed through knowing the kids in the community. We filmed a documentary, which comes out in a few months.
Tell me more about your involvement with the community. My work has transcended to reflect the community. We partner with schools and organizations. We’ve created partnerships with kids and work with city council meetings, go to public meetings.
What do you hope your artwork accomplishes? I want to inspire people to be creative, or just to take the time out of their days to appreciate something they find beautiful.
Find it: guerillagarden.com
—Image courtesy of David Raccuglia