Warren Stokes is a neighbor who reached out to us in hopes of telling his story to encourage dialogue and hopefully at the same time, break down barriers. Father, artist, writer, teacher and friend, these are just a few words to describe this man, as he is multi-dimensional. We feel lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know him a bit better during this process.
How did you become a mazeologist?
My background is in journalism and public relations, but after my sons were born, I felt inspired to write. I had written 50 children’s books and was subsequently turned down 100+ times for publication. I think my timing was just off and after my last rejection I invented a children’s book told with mazes. I wanted to make something that was interactive before the concept of interactive art really took off. Once I started drawing mazes, I fell in love with them and gave up writing. I created mazes for 3 years before my first art show. I didn’t sell a thing. I was embarrassed and I figured I wasn’t good enough. So, I challenged myself to create a maze every day for a year in 2008 to improve my craft. 372 days later my skill set and style was developed and mazeology was born.
How has your distinct style of art enabled you to connect with people?
It is because of my art that I am able to teach. Without a formal teaching degree, my art has been the bridge for me to teach art classes and connect with my students. The style itself has opened people up. The art offers a specific task for my viewers to solve the maze. In each of my pieces I include a W for “win” and an S for “start” which also happen to be my initials, acting as my signature.
After teaching in DPS and writing children’s books, how would you define your teaching approach?
I believe we are all on the planet for a purpose. Too many students today don’t understand why they’re in school or that they have a purpose for being here. I seek to help kids find their purpose and fulfill their goals. I ask them specifically “why are you here?” I feel that regardless of technology and stresses, we’ve failed as parents to teach our kids how to fail. When we had to learn cursive as kids, we also learned the art of failing multiple times. There is something valuable in hearing “you’re wrong.” It teaches kids the art of handling the truth. I consider myself a Griot (African Storyteller) and I use art, hip hop and storytelling to inspire their actions in the classroom and in my books. While teaching online I’ve seen firsthand how my students have grown and take on challenges. It’s beyond rewarding.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your work?
Life. Unfortunately, for my art I’m at my best when life is not going well. I use art to express my feelings and frustrations with various experiences. I draw when I’m hurt, angry, frustrated or happy. I remember one day; I was called the “n” word in a bar by an acquaintance. Rather than going to a physical place or reacting in anger, I went home and drew. Going through my divorce and healing from the loss of both of my grandmothers, art was what helped me through dark times. I try to teach my students, that when you have something, you can’t control, pick up that pencil. It’s more than art, it’s a feeling. Drawing mazes has been therapeutic for me to express my feelings.
You walk to Wash Park often and take postcards of your art with you. Can you expand on this?
Being a native of Colorado I’ve been the victim of racism in many forms for all of my life. From random strangers to neighbors in my building, I have experienced many questionable racist encounters. After moving to Wash park in Feb of 2021, these encounters remained constant. From receiving a strange and insulting letter from HOA with false accusations, to an angry interaction with a dog owner, I have been targeted in the neighborhood countless times. I notice that people always choose to change direction when I’m coming toward them. I walk past Black Lives Matter signs in the neighborhood yet when people come face-to-face with me, they look away. People go down the alley to avoid me. I’m only 5’ 8”, I’m not someone who should invoke fear. But the truth is that black men carry with them every stereotype that’s ever been portrayed on tv, in the news, etc. I enjoy walking the park daily and I have decided to carry postcards of my art to share with others. I feel it encourages others to see that Black people are also fellow neighbors that shouldn’t be feared. It may have taken years, but when faced with negativity, I choose to respond with positivity.
Who are some of your favorite artists in Denver?
Adri Norris is an amazing painter and historian. She strives to teach the history of women and Blacks in America through her art. She’s painted murals around town and teaches interactive workshops in schools. I met her at a Barnes and Noble when I was writing. She and I quickly became friends and would meet weekly to discuss art as well as accountability.
What can we expect from you and your art in the future?
Public art! Next year I will be creating a mural for Cimmaron Elementary in Aurora, creating an art series for the youth and a summer exhibition beginning in June at the Washington Park Boathouse.
Warren, thank you for sharing your story and your art with our community. We look forward to seeing your work up close and personal in the Wash Park boathouse this summer! If you’d like to learn more about Warren’s body of work, visit www8ighthwonder.com. And if you see him walking down the street, say hello, he’s more than willing to chat. Here’s to getting to know our neighbors better in 2022.