Street Artist DINKC Says Goodbye to Denver

DINKC stands in front of his mural at Above Ground Hair.
At the end of November, DINKC’s father and brothers are driving to Denver in a Chiefs party bus. They'll load up the muralist's belongings and take him from Broncos country back to his home town of Kansas City, Kansas, driving across the plains at a sluggish fifty miles per hour.

DINKC was born Laedan Galicia. His parents created his first name by combining the first two letters of the names of aunts and uncles who had passed away before he was born: Lalo, Edith and Antonio.

"That’s why I say I’m an artist born into death," says DINKC, whose chosen name stands for Death Is Not Knowing Certainty.

DINKC grew up in the Kansas City neighborhood of Strawberry Hill, and he'll move back into his family’s house when he first gets back home. But a soon as he can, he plans to buy an affordable two-story brick building and set up a live-work space — the kind that artists are not permitted to live in here in Denver, even if they could afford them.

Kansas City is on the brink of a cultural explosion, he says. Real estate is a relative bargain, creative energy is transforming the West Bottoms and other industrial parts of town into hot spots of cultural innovation, and many of his mentors there are eager to collaborate.
click to enlarge DINKC paints outside Allegory. - DITTLO
DINKC paints outside Allegory.
While many of the gallery shows and wall commissions that were keeping him in Denver have fallen through as COVID-19 has ravaged the economy, DINKC says that he has already lined up work in his home town — even though that region is facing a devastating economic crisis of its own.

To prepare for his big move, DINKC’s been packing up his studio, selling canvases and saying goodbye to fellow artists and friends during his last few days in the Mile High.

“I stay in places around three years,” DINKC says. “I’m coming up somewhat close to four — a little over three and a half. I think I’ve done everything I wanted to do in Denver. I came here to expand.”

And expand he has. He built a studio that was larger than anything he could have afforded in New York City, where he'd lived for three years after he finished school at the Kansas City Art Institute. His time in Denver has been productive as he's straddled the borders of high art, street art, fashion and entrepreneurialism.

“I created my clothing line, got my machines, plotters and a heat press,” he says. “I set up more of an online store, worked with local printers; also doing a bunch of different shows, being able to curate and host. I’ve done everything that was on my list and even more.”

Now he wants to take all that he's learned and built and take it home. “I want to help the scene there,” he says.

DINKC is one of many artists who have come to Denver in the past few years, made a splash on the city’s walls with innovative work, then packed up and moved on to cheaper digs and new opportunities elsewhere. For DINKC, travel is a big part of his creative life, and there are other places he longs to paint: Chicago, Los Angeles and even Mexico City, where his family has another home.
DINKC has never been one of the ride-and-die graffiti artists, whose reputation is tethered to time on the streets, though he's long been on the periphery of the graffiti scene. In Kansas City, he would join friends and family members on bombing escapades, adding cartoon characters to their text-based pieces; in New York, he fell in with another crew of artists who took him under their wing.

In Denver, he had a harder time becoming a part of the community, he says. With limited wall space and even more limited money flowing toward artists, not just anybody is given a chance here, and people need to pay their dues.

He recalls trips to Denver before he moved here: “When I would visit, I would go to shops that I thought I could show at or paint at,” then ask, “‘Can I paint on a wall?” The first time he did so, as he was walking out of the store, Community Service, he noticed the owners had put up a sign that read “Don’t ask us to paint our walls. We’ll ask you.”

“In New York, everyone’s an artist and can paint,” says DINKC. “Here it was a little more curated: 'You have to prove yourself and show your work before we can trust you.’ I’ve always been up to a challenge."

After he moved to Denver, he contacted the shop again. The owners allowed him to do a Final Friday pop-up on South Broadway, then helped him make his way through the scene and gave him other projects. He kept hustling, and eventually secured a mix of public and private mural commissions and spots in street-art festivals like Crush Walls, where he says he painted all four years he's been in Denver.

“I always kept that mentality here that opportunities aren’t going to be handed to you,” he says. “You have to go out and look for them. What else are you bringing to the table outside of art?”

The best piece he’s ever done, he believes, was on the walls of the former Lincoln Park Lounge. It was a commission from the Urban Arts Fund, an ambitious mural that garnered him plenty of attention.
click to enlarge DINKC's mural outside the Lincoln Park Lounge. - PETER KOWALCHUK
DINKC's mural outside the Lincoln Park Lounge.
Peter Kowalchuk
But when new owners came into the space, they buffed it, opening the walls up to anybody who would paint for free; they even reached out to DINKC to see if he’d do some free art where his masterpiece had once been. He turned them down.

Like just about any artist, DINKC has his critics, old-timers skeptical as to why he thinks his work should be taking up so much space in a town that is not his own and where he hasn't spent years establishing credibility and paying homage to his predecessors. One artist complains that transplant artists like DINKC charge less than established muralists; in doing so, he says, DINKC helped drive down rates so far that even he can’t afford to stay here.

But other artists in the community welcome newcomers, considering their new take on art a boon to the scene. Not everybody needs to be a teacher or an organizer or an activist, they say, and creative communities can benefit from fresh blood.
click to enlarge DINKC finds inspiration in Day of the Dead mythology. - DITTLO
DINKC finds inspiration in Day of the Dead mythology.
DINKC’s paintings are at once cheerful and dystopian, a mix of Mexican mythology related to Day of the Dead and inspired by his parents’ country of origin; hip-hop graffiti born from his friends, mentors and family in New York and Kansas City; and cartoony, Mickey Mouse-like figures. He often paints with bold black lines, a white background and a limited palette, creating images that are tough to ignore.

No, his work doesn’t pay homage to Denver’s master Chicano muralists, such as Carlota EspinoZa and Emanuel Martinez. It’s not about cultural placemaking or Denver at all. And he doesn't issue explicit political critiques like Jolt or create historical homages like Thomas “Detour” Evans or Adri Norris. DINKC's not even celebrating Denver like street-artist and entrepreneur Pat Milbery, who has been one of the more successful muralists in town, landing large-scale public projects, including his "Love This City" series that's prized by urban boosters. And while artists such as Koko Bayer have painted similarly optimistic messages, like “Hope,” DINKC’s work is less dogmatic and more open to interpretation.

"My work is a playful reminder of death, but it makes you want to live," he says.
click to enlarge DINKC's commercial work. - DINKC
DINKC's commercial work.
His most prominent references are graphic design, cartooning, streetwear, sneakerhead culture, pop art and abstraction; he’s less about sweeping narratives born from the Mexican modernism being embraced by the Denver Art Museum, and more about postmodernism, pastiche and a lack of gravity, even as he explores mortality and his own cultural roots as a first-generation American.

Artist Esteban Peralta, who ran the Denver garage gallery Peralta Projects before moving to Austin, met DINKC when he was painting the Lincoln Park Lounge.

“He's a hustler, man, a definite grinder,” recalls Peralta. “Offered him some beers while we were there, but he turned me down. Kind of a testament to his focus."

DINKC leaving "is a loss for Denver, for sure,” Peralta adds. “There are well-documented factions in Denver, and they're not always friendly with each other. DINKC was a bit outside of that, which I appreciated.

“The impact he made during his short time in Denver really says a lot about him,” Peralta concludes. “DINKC maybe wasn't there long enough to move the needle a whole lot, but he definitely added to the conversation, and I think fresh voices are almost always a good thing.”

For his part, DINKC has this to say as he gets ready to go: "Thank you, Denver."

To see DINKC's work, go to the artist's website and Instagram page.