The shoe is black and has a four-inch heel. It entered Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom on Friday for the SnowBall After Party as a piece of clothing. Late in the night, it became a weapon. And soon, it will return to Cervantes' covered in paint, thanks to Nerf gun artist and passionate music fan Will Howze.
He's working on the shoe right now, Sunday night at SnowBall Music Festival itself, while Pretty Lights provides a bombing of bass in the background. Howze wouldn't start by describing what he is doing to the shoe as art. It's not a sufficiently populist description for him. He has named it, however. Holding the thing aloft, he proclaims it, "The Ph.D of Ratchetology."
The P.hD of Ratchetology entered Cervantes' on Friday with benign intent. But the way Howze tells it, the shoe's original owner took it off at some point with designs on burying its business end in some dude, "Tina Turner style," he says. He doesn't know what the argument was about.
Howze heard this story from a friend who is a security guard at the venue. The security guard ran into Howze late in the night, exasperated and holding a shoe, and he was bemused at the sight. "I don't know how you're pissed off if you have a shoe in your hand," he said, and the guard told the painter about the woman who was midway through a vicious backswing when he stepped in and grabbed the weaponized apparel.
Howze knew immediately he needed to paint the shoe. "You gotta have documents of certain shit," he says. And there may be no one better equipped to turn a high heel into a lowbrow artifact than Will Howze. He grew up in Compton, where his first exposure to any kind of creative expression was gangsta rap. "I wouldn't know art without music," he says. And now he refuses to separate his painting from notes and rhythms. That's why he's working on the shoe at SnowBall, despite the fact that the medium available to him is spray paint. It's not what he prefers, so he delivers it in wet globs onto a scrap of cardboard. He then dips a brush into his puddles and goes to work.
"There always has to be music," he says as he add another coat to the "H" of the word "RATCHET," which he has painted along the inward-facing side of the shoe.
If you know Howze from his professional artwork, it isn't in the usual way: galleries and web sites and Facebook pages and the rest. Instead, you would know him as the man standing on Denver's streets with elaborately painted Nerf guns connected to speaker systems. He calls his guns his Smile Makers, because that describes their sole purpose.
He once dressed in costume and brought his guns to Water World. I ask him if that was an effort to expose new audiences to his art. "No," he says. "It was because kids would love it."
And they did. It is possible, if you have encountered Howze before, that you are also a contributor to his smile-making effort. He carries a backpack full of paint and brushes with him. When someone comments on his Nerf guns, saying, "That's cool," he replies, "You can help." And then he hands that person a brush and some paint and offers up his canvas, such as it is.
He prefers it this way. I ask him if he contributed to the massive, well-light panels of graffiti art at SnowBall and he shakes his head no. "I can only paint toys," he says.
And he found a great one on Friday at Cervantes'. When the security guard had finished his story, Howze told him, "I'm going to take that shoe, and when I bring it back, it's going to be crunched out."
But then he forgot to bring it home. It might still be sitting somewhere at the venue if the extent of Howze's enthusiasm for live music did not extend to going to Cervantes' on two consecutive weekend nights for shows. When he showed up on Saturday, he didn't even remember that there was a shoe he'd claimed waiting for him there. But there it was. "It was sitting on a table, so I picked it up and put it in my backpack," he says. "It came upon a midnight clear."
So here he is, at SnowBall, painting the shoe, meticulously detailing "8765309" on the toe (a reference to the unrequited love song, by Tommy Tutone, "867-5309/Jenny.") Some acquaintance walks up, high on something serious. He sways toward and then away from the shoe, and on an approach he puts a lit cigarette inside it. Howze is furious. They may be toys, but they are part of an act of creation, not destruction. The acquaintance removes the cigarette and apologizes, again and again. Howze waves him off. He's focused on the fresh can of yellow spray paint someone else just brought over. He has been looking for this. He needs it for his work.
He can't exactly tell you why this shoe has become the P.hD of Ratchetology. Attacking someone with a heel is certainly ratchet behavior, and the bright, playful approach Howze has taken does offer a certain heady commentary. The specifics, though, probably aren't important. Again, he isn't much for ownership.
I ask him why he's going to bring the shoe back to Cervantes' as opposed to keeping it or selling it, and he says, "I didn't save some dude's life." The security guard at the venue did that, in Howze's view, so the shoe goes back. "It's going to stay at Cervantas' forever," he says. "Or until someone heists it." He does not seem to object to either possibility.