Joseph “Partylord” Olenik Is Denver’s King of Heavy-Metal Pop Art
Denver artist Joseph "Partylord" Olenik at work in his studio.
It’s a summer afternoon, and Joseph Olenik, better known as Partylord, is sweating his ass off. His backyard studio, which he shares with fellow artist and roommate Pickle Palmer, has no circulation, and the screen-printed beer koozies and wood cuts filling the space only serve as a sort of stuffy insulation. But Olenik, a bear of a dude with a mountain-man beard, suffers the heat in front of his toy-strewn desk. There’s a bug-eyed cartoon skeleton that needs to be worked on.
“My parents broke their backs,” says Olenik, “but both of them made a point, during my formative years, of quitting jobs that weren’t making them satisfied for jobs that were more in line with their passions. Being shown the alternate scenario — doing what you’re passionate about while still trying to make ends meet — that hit me.”
A mixture of blue-collar work ethic and chasing the dream is what Olenik’s art is all about. Though his subject matter features weed aliens, pizza-gruffling skeletons and references to Halloween III, Partylord’s work has a pop sensibility that doesn’t get bogged down in the indulgent poetry of darkness. His skulls wear shades and drink tall boys. The epitaphs on his cracked tombstones read "RIP BONGS." His cartoonish aesthetic gets at the core values behind heavy metal and skater culture, that adolescent desire to wreck shit and party hard.
Sonically, Olenik grew up on a steady diet of punk and classic rock that gave way to an influx of extreme metal. "I had Metallica albums growing up, because that's just what kids like me did in Wisconsin —listened to Metallica. But in the ’90s in Wisconsin, there was a surprisingly strong death-metal scene, so I grew up with that. I also love Ulver and Darkthrone, and some bands like Stillborn Faun from Denver. They made one tape, and you'll never find it, but it's awesome."
Olenik's love of metal met his love of pop art midway, manifesting in the genre's love of merch art. "I loved buying merch back in the day. It was all about wearing the opposite of whatever the assholes at your school were wearing."
“My main influences are all lowbrow shit,” he says. “I was really influenced by Ed Roth, which translated into skateboarding. Skateboarding was central for me, because it picks and chooses from the subcultures around it. I also loved Charles Schultz and the Peanuts characters. That shit not only holds up, but it’s better. Charlie Brown just gets shit on, and he’s for kids! I was taught very early on that sometimes nobody’s going to be there for you, and the Christmas tree you picked sucks. There is no Great Pumpkin.”
Olenik’s cynicism is what drove him from art school, which he describes as “a bigger, lamer version of high school cliques," and from traditional graphic design, which might suit his artistic style but would suffocate his soul. “It’s just so mind-numbing. To have the way you make your money and support your family be brainwashing other people into buying shit they don’t need — that does not sit well with me.”
Aside from his daily grind as a tattoo artist at Bonaroo Tattoo in Parker, Olenik’s primary focus is screen printing, both under the title of Partylord and as part of the collaboration Wizardbong; his "Drink Beer and Worship the Devil" koozies (based on a painting for which the artist was paid in hand tattoos) can be found up and down South Broadway and in the homes of most Denver metalheads. His new widespread design, a skull chalice over which hangs three inverted blood drops, is the logo for his new collective, Hesh Magic, which officially launches this Friday at Lowbrow.
For Olenik, the goal is the same as it’s always been: draw cartoons, make people laugh, and don’t get too big a head about yourself.
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“Yeah, we artists think we’re real fucking cool sometimes,” he laughs. “I struggle hard to not be that guy, because I don’t like that guy. I grew up in the Midwest; everyone’s about integrity, helping each other, being humble. Who’s over-intellectualizing this art shit? Who’s questioning that farts are funny and beer is good?”
The group art show Hesh Magic: Cosmic Offerings From the Witch, the Wizard and the Wolf opens Friday, September 2, 7 p.m., at Lowbrow Denver, 38 Broadway.
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