If back-to-school stress is already building up, one local artist has a simple solution to keep teachers motivated: Get lost in a maze.
Colorado Springs native Warren Stokes has been designing mazes since 2008 and found dozens of uses for them, from adult activity books to wall decor and children’s book illustrations. In his third year of substituting for Denver Public Schools, Stokes wants to bring his art to the classroom.
“Art has saved my life, and I wanted to figure out a way to give back,” says Stokes who uploads a new maze to his blog daily. In addition to using mazes as class activities, Stokes encourages teachers to use them as art therapy: Solving a maze at the end of the day can be a simple way to relieve stress. The idea came while Stokes was brainstorming ways to sustain mazing as his full-time profession. He turned to the universe, asking, “How the hell do I do this? How do I sell art? How do I make a living? And the answer I got was: Give it away.”
Stokes promises to continue running “show bombs,” where he sets up his work in public spaces so that any passersby can see and solve the puzzles. He hinted that his next show will be on Saturday, August 25, but you have to check his blog for the location.
In addition to daily sketches, Stokes is working on bigger, more complex pieces, including a four-by-four-foot maze inspired by African elephants; it's part of a campaign to stop growing ivory. Stokes uses found materials whenever possible, often refurbishing old dressers or discarded building materials into canvases.
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“Art is what literally saved my life," he says. "Because when you’re failing at life and you start drawing these mazes and you can’t figure your way out, but you’re drawing something that has a solution — well, it kept me going.”
Hoping to make a positive impact on school kids, Stokes also began creating balloon characters that teach the importance of being on time, respecting personal space, and thinking actions through.
In his own school days, Stokes remembers, “I was a class clown but very controlled, because my mom — one call to her and she would come down to the school. It was no joke. I was the type of kid, I would command a class, but I was always listening. I had to get good grades. I played sports, and my mom did not play." He would even cool his act just before fall parent-teacher conferences to stay on his mom’s good side.
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Even subs have rough days. Stokes says, “I’ve had kids put their hands on me. I had a teacher try to fight me. I had a janitor steal my shit. Working in a school, I had a kid threaten me in front of a principal, and the principal did nothing.
“Here’s the thing: As soon as August hit, I couldn’t wait to get back there. I’ve never been so disrespected on a daily basis...and yet I can’t wait to get back to it,” says Stokes, who is always experimenting with different ways to reach students, including breaking the ice in new classes with rap battles.
“Adults need to know that there is a way out of their maze, and I can be a great example of that,” says Stokes. “I can remember one of the first doors I went to, selling art door to door, and some man said, ‘Wait, you’re a grown man selling mazes?’ And damn, that really broke me off...it took me a while to get to, ‘Yes, I am a grown man selling mazes! Yes, I am an artist.’”