About Shop Sesh: Every month, I’ll visit the curators, artists, builders and designers who enjoy a little kush to help them push their creative boundaries. It just so happens they’re all also doing pretty impressive things to cultivate the arts community in Colorado and beyond. We’ll have a smoke and a chat in the spaces that often inspire them most — their own. If you’d like to request a sesh or have one to recommend, e-mail me here.
Shop: Like Minded Productions, 2700 Walnut St., Denver
Interview with: Jonathan Lamb and Michael Ortiz, co-founders
Sesh: Blue Dream, The Herbal Cure (medical sales only)
As painters, roommates, best friends and business partners, Jonathan Lamb and Michael Ortiz are obviously like-minded. Since co-founding a collective for artists in a RiNo warehouse in 2007, Like Minded Productions specializes in custom murals, digital media, graphics and printing for projects worldwide.
They are regulars at Art Basel gallery shows, create custom top sheets for Icelantic skis and Never Summer boards, can call Phish a client and found a friend in fan Lennox Lewis, the heavyweight boxer.
Locally, Cold Crush, TAG Burger Bar, Denver Kush Club, Galvanize and The 1UP are just a few of the walls where they’ve left their mark. (You can catch the two in action Saturday, July 26 in Denver at Meininger art supply. More info at the end of the interview.) So, instead of paying a visit to Like Minded HQ, I met up with Lamb (34) and Ortiz (32) at The Herbal Cure (THC) at 985 S. Logan St. in Denver, where they are putting the finishing touches on “Seed to Smoke,” a commissioned piece spanning 1,900 square feet across two walls. After a full day on the job, we hotboxed THC’s vintage caboose that sits in the parking lot and talked spray paint and sativa.
You guys go way back. How did you come together?
MO: So randomly…on an elevator in my old apartment building almost ten years ago.
JL: I asked him what he did and he said, “I’m a professional artist.” I said, “Well, so am I.” He invited me to come by and check out his work. We’ve been best friends ever since.
MO: We started painting together and got acclimated to working with each other. It took a few years to hone in on how to make what we were doing into an actual business.
JL: In the beginning, we were two strangers that found out we had this shared artistic background and vision. It’s been a constant push from both of us toward the same goal, and now we’re ten years in and it worked.
What’s your take on the street art scene in Denver?
MO: It’s crazy how fast it’s growing.
JL: A lot of it is a function of doing graffiti prevention murals for the city when we first started. The work we did was so well received, it gave us the exposure that allowed us to go into other communities to paint. From there, it spiraled into all of these connections with other artists from attending mural festivals and bringing not just ideas, but also artists back to Denver to contribute.
How exactly do you tackle a painting together?
MO: By now, we have it down — but it took some time for sure. I’m right-handed and he’s left-handed, so it’s pretty easy to know what side of the wall we’re each starting on.
JL: We cut series of art like bands cut albums. There might be 20 songs in a series and there are always songs we write between albums. But the goal is always the album.
MO: And the live show is the live show.
JL: We mix up parts from all of our albums and we even metaphorically relate to a band: “All right, you’re playing bass today, I’m playing electric guitar. You hold it down and I’m going to riff right on top of what you’re doing.”
How do you approach your live painting shows?
JL: You definitely have to plan to do something in a few hours. It’s not the time to experiment, so we rely on the scales and the notes we know how to play.
MO: We usually get all of the specs sent to us in advance, so we can make somewhat of a plan.
JL: It’s really about the art of performance and improvisation.
MO: And smoking weed.
Obviously music plays a big role in your process?
MO: It’s an addiction. We have a ton of music and are into pretty much everything.
JL: When you paint for a month on a mural, your playlist gets tired fast. We really got after it on a six-week project on 28th and Larimer by our studio. We were working until 2 a.m. most nights, so we had DJs come by at night to keep it going for us.
Your mural for The Herbal Cure is seriously impressive. How did you develop the concept?
JL: It’s our interpretation of the core of THC’s mission. From the very moment the seed is planted until the moment you smoke it — it’s all about sustainability.
MO: It brings together the shared ethos of Jamaica and Colorado. It stands for the bridge that’s building between our state and their country. Colorado is the hybrid for growing and they’re coming to us for knowledge. It’s up to us to share the model to help farmers step up their game and develop systems that can make a huge economic difference in their country.
How does marijuana influence your lives?
MO: I’ve been doing graffiti and smoking weed for over a decade. It’s definitely meditative for me. Creating art is just as much a meditative process, but there’s this natural stimulation from herb that helps me with the big concepts and ideas.
JL: I’m closer to two decades on that! It’s as integral as it gets. I’m a die-hard sativa smoker. I smoke sativa and take the ideas from my head and put them on paper. It’s one of the most therapeutic things I can do for my mental health — I truly believe that. To run the business side of things and then have to switch gears to being this maestro painter, it helps ease the transition between those two worlds for me.
MO: We smoke so much weed because we do so much art! We can’t really get into the indicas because of that.
Do you drink?
MO: Of course. We’re artists.
How have murals and marijuana gotten so intertwined?
JL: I think it’s a direct reflection of a community that’s open enough to implement medical and recreational marijuana is also open to artistic ideas. Brandon [Burnham, THC president] bringing us on board is a prime example of how supportive this industry is of local artists and how committed it is to the culture in our community. Maybe it’s not happening in museums, but on a street level, art is being bought and buildings are being transformed.
MO: Definitely. And we’re getting approached by so many people in the industry … not just dispensaries anymore. We’re already feeling the business effects of legalization from the inside out.
JL: We’ve always sold paintings to people who grew weed because they always had expendable income. But now, the foundation for larger business has been laid and they’re coming to us saying, “Hey, we have a building for you. Bring us a big idea.”
Do you think the stigma has disappeared?
JL: Not completely, but it’s not the lowest common denominator of pot culture anymore. You look at the Colorado Symphony — we’re really seeing the industry mature. All of us are doing our part to show other cities what a valid contribution legalization can be on a cultural and economic level.
You travel a lot. What’s the outsider perspective you get about Colorado?
JL: People hold Denver in the highest of light.
MO: That’s one of the themes in this mural too. People see Colorado as a pioneer. We were the first to actually accept it on a societal level, so everyone we meet is so interested in what’s going on culturally.
What are some of the differences you’ve seen since legalization?
JL: Well, I think a lot of people in society use alcohol for similar reasons, so it’s nice to have a choice in this community. As local business owners and professionals who work with the city on official art projects, we don’t have to hide behind anything. We’re avid marijuana smokers, were businessmen, we’re artists — there’s no veil over that. If you want us to come to your business and do art, we will be more than happy to. We’ll just be smoking weed while we do it.
MO: Everybody is able to thrive. The overabundance of income that is coming through the tax system for the city and state is huge. And we were fortunate enough to start prior to the marijuana industry coming through, so we’ve been there every step of the way for a lot of these businesses as they redevelop buildings.
JL: Look, we know the crackhead on the corner playing guitar as well as we know the mayor. As artists, we’re able to float through society and it’s one of the most unique gifts.
MO: It takes a lot of hard work to be able to do that.
One of your goals is to provide affordable art — how do you make that happen?
JL: The model that Michael and I created for ourselves as artists was to also start a print shop so that there was no middle man to reproduce our work. That’s when we were able to start providing the same service to other artists to help them get their work out there.
MO: And if you have a blank wall, let’s talk — we work with every type of budget.
You set up shop in RiNo before it was RiNo.
JL: Our timing was impeccable. But that’s the ultimate battle with urban development. What has happened in NYC, LA and SF — artists are not living within those city limits, and if Denver isn’t careful it will happen here. The city needs to look at affordable housing options for artists. Already, there is no room for the young flowers to grow.
MO: Even since we started here, a lot of the community has come and gone. We’re trying to do what we can to help artists grow and maintain the spaces in our neighborhood. Without the support, they’ll move on to the next city.
JL: We’re planning an Urban Arts Fund mural for 38th and Walnut Street for the new light-rail stop in our neighborhood.
MO: The station doesn’t exist yet, but our mural will be a marker of the change that is going to happen here. It’s all about doing our part to help keep the integrity and the culture of our neighborhood alive.
JL: We’re going to Jamaica next week to paint two murals. Mike has a solo show in London in October, but we’ll also do a mural together over there. We’re heading to Las Vegas for Halloween for a concert poster show during Phish’s run at the MGM Grand. Then it’s back to Miami in December for Art Basel.
Upcoming live art
See Like Minded Productions in action at art supply shop Meininger’s 2nd Annual Art Outside on Saturday, July 26, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 499 Broadway, Denver.
Check out the “Seed to Smoke” mural
See “Seed to Smoke” in person at The Herbal Cure’s Patient Appreciation Day on Friday, Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 985 S. Logan St., Denver. It includes sale pricing, free food and the opportunity to contribute to Like Minded Production’s next project, “1Love” on THC’s warehouse doors. THC is slated to go recreational in September.