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Street artist Theo on Banksy, Jack Kerouac and running from the cops

Theo's Kerouac stencil, looking pensive.
Theo's Kerouac stencil, looking pensive.

If he were around today, it's pretty certain that Neal Cassady, immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's On the Road, would appreciate what the street artist Theo has been up to lately. Cassady was a born rabble-rouser, after all, and in more ways than one Theo and a small crew of fellow miscreants have been shaking it up: Dismayed by Francis Ford Coppola's decision to film the Denver parts of On the Road in Canada for his upcoming film adaptation of the novel, the artist took to the streets late this winter with a few cans of paint, a copy of the book and a stencil of Kerouac's likeness and started tagging it on spots Kerouac either mentioned in On the Road or was known to frequent. "It's just a simple reminder that Kerouac was here in Denver," he told us earlier this week.

Tonight, Theo is moving from street art to bigger and less transient things with a show of his work at Crash 45, a new bar and gallery at 321 East 45th Avenue; among other pieces, the show features a life-size stencil of Kerouac (he was original going to do that one on the wall of the Tattered Cover, but "It took so long to set up, I knew somebody would come by"), which Theo, 22, semi-permanently installed on the wall of the gallery earlier this week. We caught up with him as he was painting and chatted with him about Weezer, police enforcement and, obviously, Kerouac.

Getting started.
Getting started.

Westword: You've been doing this since around February -- had you been doing any street art or graffiti before that?

Theo: Well, I really wanted to get into street art, and when I heard about the movie this idea just... it just kind of came to me and I ran with it. I did some graffiti as a teenager -- in middle school, I started out just tagging the Weezer flying W different places -- but I really didn't consider it art until I got into stencils.

How did you get into stencils?

I did a year of architecture school, and during that year I was introduced to Banksy. That was right around the time Exit Through the Gift Shop came out, and it was just ridiculous what those guys were getting away with -- so I just thought, well, maybe I could get away with that, too.

Street artist Theo on Banksy, Jack Kerouac and running from the cops

What have you gotten away with?

I've done it in close vicinity to cops. I only had to run from one of them, and that was actually a security guard with a flashlight, so he wasn't even really a cop.

You were tagging near cops? Why didn't you just wait until the cops were gone or something -- just for the thrill of it?  

Street artist Theo on Banksy, Jack Kerouac and running from the cops
Street artist Theo on Banksy, Jack Kerouac and running from the cops

Well, the cop was doing a traffic stop, so he was not really paying attention. This was one of our first days out -- it was really the only opportunity we had to get out to lakeside -- I don't have a car -- and there was a cop kind of hanging around outside, waiting to pull people over. Well, he never left. So we waited for a while, and the next time he went to pull somebody over, I ran across the street and did the tag.

Street artist Theo on Banksy, Jack Kerouac and running from the cops

You said in an email to me earlier you were a "Kerouac addict." What draws you to Kerouac?

I've never had an English teacher that liked Kerouac, so that's one of the biggest reasons, I think. But I just really love his style of writing. I love music, and when I'm reading Kerouac, I hear music.

Theo's show opens tonight at 7 p.m. at Crash 45. Can't make it? Check out his art in, ahem, other locations around town any time.


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