Ask Edward Vazquez how he came up with the name Broken Bread for his recently opened graffiti art gallery and supply shop – the first store of its kind to exist in Colorado -- and he begins by deconstructing bread as a metaphor for sustenance and life. Then, he traces the etymology of the phrase back to Latin, and concludes with a bundle of allegorical meanings worthy of a masters thesis.
But mostly it’s about building an environment where nobody gets shot.
"I’m bringing in [graffiti] writers from different crews and different factions," he says. It’s a scenario that could quickly devolve into violence in a scene that can sometimes be more focused on rivalry and vengeance than art and creativity. Vazquez and his cohorts have managed to channel all that energy toward the positive in the last three months of art shows featuring graffiti legends like COPE2. "There’s been no fights or anything," he notes. "The TKOs were at one [opening party] and it seemed like something could have gone down. But they told me, ‘If something happens, it’s not going to happen here.’ They respect this place and what it means."
Broken Bread is located inside a converted house at 919 West Byers Place (near Santa Fe Drive and Alameda), surrounded by industrial warehouses and railroad tracks. Inside are cases displaying specially designed tagging industrial markers, ink dabbers and aerosol can tips. In the back, hundreds of cans of high-end Montana brand spray paint are held in caged racks as required by Denver law. Up front, artists Delton "SEN" Demarest and ACT work on canvases, dozens of cans set on the sidewalk by their feet.
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Graffiti and street art has never had a place of its own in the larger Denver art scene. Instead, it's been relegated to occasional shows at tattoo shops or contemporary galleries. Vazques likes the fact that Broken Bread's location -- between the South Broadway gallery strip and the Santa Fe Arts district -- puts it smack in the middle of the route taken by First Friday enthusiasts. The large, colorful graffiti murals won't be something they can ignore.
For years, Vasquez has been trying in vain to get the city to build a graffiti park where spray-can muralists can demonstrate their skills without fear of arrest. "So instead, I just decided to build one of my own," he says. A fence bordering the side yard is an ever-changing canvas of graffiti murals. "Next summer, I hope to build enough walls on the property so that everyone can come here and paint and it not be a clusterfuck."
But the last thing that Vazques wants is people thinking violence surrounds the place just because it showcases graffiti. "It's not a den of thugs," he asserts. "We are a professional art gallery," a place where "Denver's arts community can come to experience the last great American art movement, at the source, at the heart."
He hopes the space will be about more than just scribbling on walls -- "it's the greatest art this city has ever seen." -- Jared Jacang Maher