While Dan Ericson was attending Arapahoe Community College to tighten up his graphic design skills, he didn’t expect a simple homework assignment to shape his career as an artist.
“I was doing a project for a regular drawing class; it was portraits of people,” Ericson says. “I ran out of supplies in the middle of the night and the project was due the next morning. So I just grabbed the next best thing, which was a street sign that was outside. So I grabbed it, painted a portrait of Ice Cube on it and got a horrible grade.”
But at that moment, he realized he had something new, fresh, and original. A fan of pop culture and music, Ericson’s paintings on street signs range from musical geniuses like James Brown and John Lennon to sports stars like Tony Hawk and Shaun White. He also captures moments from movies like The Karate Kid and Enter the Dragon.
But the majority of his work is influenced by hiphop culture. He’s painted portraits for hip-hop artists like De La Soul, Rakim, Wyclef, Slum Village, Goodie Mob and a variety of others.
“I was always drawn to hip-hop but never could find where I belonged being a white, no rhythmhaving kid,” Ericson says. “So hip-hop was always something I’d been enamored with, but I had no idea how I could ever give back or be part of it or anything. I didn’t dance. I didn’t do graffiti. I didn’t DJ. I wasn’t an emcee, so I just appreciated it from afar. But my art has opened up conversations with graffiti artists, on an artist-to-artist level, so that’s been cool.”
And it was actually rapper Black Thought of The Roots (now known as Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night band) who gave Ericson the title of “The Signtologist.”
“I gave him a painting of The Roots I had,” he says. “I met him in Boulder walking on The Hill and I had the painting in my car. He knew who I was before I realized it was him, so we got to talking, and I gave him the painting. I had a record sleeve for him to sign and he wrote ‘To Dan, the Signtologist.’ I was like ‘Wow, that’s kind of dope, can I use that?’ And he was like ‘Yeah!’ Then he asked me to give him a ride to his hotel.”
But it really wasn’t until after high school that Ericson realized that art was something he’d like to pursue as a career. During his youth, Ericson’s mother, who is also an artist, would put him in a variety of art programs and if he wasn’t out doing something, she’d hand him a box of crayons and blank pieces of paper. It was a semester in Durango, however, that had Ericson contemplating what he wanted to do with his life.
After that first semester he pulled the trigger to pursue art as a career — at least in some capacity. He earned an associate’s degree in computer animation at the Colorado Institute of Art but ended up working in the white-collar world doing graphic design and administrative work, until he was recently laid off. Now he’s trying to do the art thing full time, and it looks like it’s working out, especially since he now has an influx of old street signs.
“I get all my signs through city sources and all over Colorado,” Ericson says. “I take old signs they take down, that they can’t recycle, refinish or reuse and I get them and I recycle them. So, if I can take them and wash them, bend them back into somewhat of a shape or whatever, they’re mine. They’re just going to be trash anyway, so technically I’m a green artist.
“That relationship also opened up doors for me to work with city municipalities to get not only their old signs, but their old reflective scraps from when they make the signs, so that added a whole other level of change to my work,” he says. “I used to just paint out what was on the sign, now I can actually apply reflective sheeting scraps back over it to make it look exactly like a sign. It took a long time to open the relationship up with the city because initially they weren’t receptive to it at all.”
These days, however, many art aficionados are receptive to Ericson’s art. He’s currently showing art at Hapa’s on Pearl Street in Boulder and several other galleries in Denver. He’s been featured on 9News, XXL Magazine, The Denver Post, The Onion and numerous niche blogs. But the best part is that the majority of his art is affordable.
“No Parking signs usually start at about $300,” he says. “Larger signs usually start around $500, but lately, since I have so much stuff and I’ve been getting more signs and my studio is getting smaller and smaller every day, I’ve been doing some shows where I’ve priced things fairly low. Like No Parking signs between $100 and $150. So if you come out to the shows, there’s usually discounted stuff on site.”
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On the Bill
Dan Ericson, aka Dunn the Signtologist, is displaying his work at Hapa at 1117 Pearl St, Boulder, 303-473-4730. You can also get more info on gallery showings at www.thesigntologist.com