Painter, electronic musician and fashion designer Travis Egedy — aka Pictureplane — returns to Denver this Friday with a highly anticipated show at the Larimer Lounge. Once a fixture at the DIY space Rhinoceropolis, the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design alum moved to New York in 2012 and signed with Anticon Records, becoming an internationally known recording and touring artist.
In a recent phone interview with Westword, Egedy talked about his move, how Denver has changed since he left, the closing and resurrection of Rhinoceropolis, and his clothing line, Alien Body.
Westword: How has leaving Denver worked out?
Travis Egedy: I still really consider Denver a home. I love going back there. I still have a lot of really great friends there. I don’t know…there’s really no comparing Brooklyn and Denver. There’s no point in that, really. Brooklyn is really incredible, and it was a really good move for me at the time. I needed to kinda get out of Denver and expand my horizons a little bit and do some different things with my career. I love Denver very much. At that time it was still a very, very small community and a small scene, which was great, but I wanted to expand a little bit.
What does the term “Alien Body” mean to you, and what’s behind the S&M images and themes that appear on your albums and clothes?
I love the word “body” to talk about clothes, and I have a huge interest in the paranormal and extraterrestrials and science fiction, and just the strange and the weird. I also wanted the idea of an alien to mean people who are outsiders or different — the subculture or the outsiders of society. The clothes are for people who are different and their alien bodies.
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Musically, I’ve always been attracted to dark music and heavy music, powerful music. I always wanted to express that in my own work. I was heavily influenced by industrial music and the imagery of industrial culture, from an early period. That started around my record Dark Rift; I think that’s when my visual aesthetic vision started to shift into a darker, more spiritual, sexual realm. Yeah, I was borrowing a lot from S&M imagery, but all my work references, and is talking about, exploring personal freedoms, finding truth within yourself and exploring consciousness and yourself. I always was drawn to S&M imagery because I think of that as people exploring their own sexuality and being free with their own personal desires and following their own erotic truths. But it’s not necessarily about sex to me. It’s more just about people following their heart.
How do you feel about the changes in Denver since you left?
I don’t even recognize Denver when I go back. In 2012, Brighton Boulevard was still completely undeveloped. There was nothing there, over by Rhinoceropolis. That warehouse area was still really, really empty; there was no development anywhere. It’s crazy there now. It’s pretty incredible. I actually don’t think I’ve seen any other city transform as fast as Denver has. Cities all across America are going through urban transformation at the moment. It’s not just Denver, but Denver is extreme. It’s bigger than gentrification; it’s just transformation.
What are your thoughts on Rhinoceropolis closing in 2016 and reopening this year and how that may have had an effect on Denver’s transformation?
It’s an incredible story, how Rhino was shut down right after the  Ghost Ship fire. It was a really terrible week. I knew people in Oakland that died in the Ghost Ship [fire]. It really rocked the DIY music community all over the country, and then to have Rhinoceropolis be forcefully shut down was pretty incredible and terrible. It really affected my good friends that were living there at the time. It deeply affected my friend Colin Ward, who ended up dying last year of a suicide, and I know that was all a part of it. They forcefully kicked him out of his home and made him homeless. A lot of those guys, they never were really able to find another place to live. It’s just tragic.
I really wish the city would’ve handled it differently. I know they needed to get up to code properly in some ways, but the city could’ve worked with Rhinoceropolis in a respectful way instead of just forcefully removing everyone. All the bureaucracy being so slow, it took two years for them to reopen the space. It’s a shame, really. I really wish Denver had respected Rhino more as a cultural institution that needed help. I know there was some public outcry, which made the city be like, “Oh, maybe people like this place,” but Rhino was always very under-recognized and underappreciated by the city. It’s a hugely important place in Denver and a hugely famous place in Denver that’s maybe just not on the radar of the city, but it should be.
It sounds a little like putting a substance abuser in jail instead of saying, “You’re an amazing person who needs some help.”
Exactly. Our system’s priorities are all wrong, for sure.
Santa Fe was also a home for you, growing up. How do you feel about the growing Santa Fe/Denver connection with Meow Wolf?
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I went to high school with the core group of people that started Meow Wolf. We were all teenagers together in Santa Fe. I moved to Denver right after high school, but I would go back to Santa Fe a lot. So I was there at Meow Wolf at the very beginning, when they were throwing shows in basements and they had their little warehouse space. There was always a cool Rhinoceropolis-and-Meow Wolf connection. Meow Wolf people would come up to Denver and hang out with us at Rhino, and they would book shows for Denver artists down there. And I know that I was helping to facilitate that. I was kind of the bridge between Santa Fe and Denver for those communities. Meow Wolf has been doing really incredible things, and I’m really excited that they’re coming to Denver. I know that there’s pushback in Denver; people might be a little nervous about these out-of-towners coming and building this whole huge thing, but Meow Wolf is really good people, and it really only helps out artists. It’s gonna do good for Denver, and I’m happy that it’s going there. Meow Wolf is not trying to come and dominate Denver. They want to work with the artists in Denver, and at its core, it’s about art. It’s not about Meow Wolf imposing itself. They want to work with the artists in Denver, for sure.
Who did you learn from or look up to as a kid, who might’ve said, “It’s a good idea and a real possibility to grow up and support yourself with art of all kinds”?
Well, I just always knew that I wanted to be an artist. I knew I wanted to go to art school when I was in high school. But more than anything, it was living at Rhinoceropolis that gave me my real artistic education, actually. Sure, I went to art school and studied painting, but I feel like my real artistic education was living in a show space where we were actually working on booking art shows, booking out-of-town bands, throwing shows and events and being really hands-on within the creative scene. That’s what really showed me that that’s what I wanted to do. As a musician, Rhinoceropolis was what gave me the space to craft it, and to play these small, crazy shows to ten people and just be a weirdo and a freak and not have any cares about having to be a certain way. It allowed me to really express myself and to really find myself as an artist, which I think was hugely important. It gave me the time and the space to find out what I wanted to be doing, and make really important connections with other bands and people that eventually ended up taking me on tour or signing me to a record deal. It was all because of playing shows at Rhinoceropolis. It wasn’t any one person that was like, “Hey, you can do this.” It was more being immersed in a creative community of fellow artists and travelers and creative musicians. That was what really inspired me. So that’s why those spaces are so important for young people, to show them that there are other paths that are possible in life, rather than just working some shitty job you hate.