“Even the pizza guy has to come in for a minute to take a look,” Joe Palec’s partner, Andrea Fischer, says, gesturing around the room.
The living room walls of the Santa Fe art district apartment she shares with Palec are covered in Palec’s mind-bending doodles, a stream-of-consciousness exploration of mythology, literature, and pop culture rendered in thick, black acrylic lines, one idea bleeding into the next—a high school notebook writ large.
“There’s no reason why E.T. should be carrying a pug on his back with tentacle arms feeding pizza to a lunch lady,” Palec says. “Like, it is just the most pure, random thing—that doesn’t make any sense.”
But Palec’s work definitely makes sense to people, with its offbeat nods to cultural touchstones. And the cannabis industry has taken notice, with companies like O.penVAPE, Magic Buzz and Veritas tapping Palec to create art for packaging, rolling trays, apparel, and even skis.
“The cannabis industry has been super, super helpful in projecting my art career,” Palec says. “The industry has been welcoming to all artists—they are really fueling Denver’s art community right now, from street artists to more traditional artists, they’re all getting work from these cannabis companies, which is incredible. Not a lot of other industries are doing that.”
The Wisconsin native works in the cannabis industry when he’s not creating his “dangerously whimsical” doodles—“a glorified delivery guy,” as he puts it, for SLANG Worldwide, bringing shipments of vape pens, edibles, tinctures and other cannabis goodies to dispensaries around the Denver metro area. The job gives Palec the flexibility he needs to work on his art, and gave him the chance to feature his art in ways he never imagined.
“It wasn’t until I moved [to the Santa Fe art district] that people started knowing me as an artist,” Palec says. “The cannabis company that I work for now took notice and asked me to do a few things for them. And that slowly turned into other companies noticing, and more companies noticing and art collectors noticing.”
He’s created t-shirts for O.penVAPE, label art for hemp and CBD oils for Lantern, brand-specific designs for Veritas Fine Cannabis on rolling trays and Icelantic Skis, and murals for Mammoth Farms and Colorado Harvest Company dispensaries in Denver. He’s doodled on the walls of River Bar, Glow Lounge, and Graffiti Art Bar in Denver and Robertson Glass in Evergreen.
You can even snap pictures with your friends in front of Palec’s work at the Selfie Museum in Denver, Seattle, Miami, Atlanta, or San Antonio.
Though he’s been doodling his whole life, Palec never considered a professional career as an artist. Even now, as opportunities continue to surface, Palec jokes that he’s “peaking.”
“It’s hard for me to grasp the idea of being an artist,” he says. “I’m just doing things that make me happy. If this ever isn’t fun, I don’t want to do it anymore.”