Aaron Golbeck’s professional art career began with a purple octopus. In early 2018, the 25-year-old semipro snowboarder crashed hard and suffered a concussion. He had spent much of the prior five years trying to climb the ranks of his sport, which he picked up after moving from Michigan to Breckenridge. He had already begun growing weary of the chase. Then, while letting his head heal from the accident, he got cabin fever. One day Golbeck drove to Denver to buy a bunch of cans of expensive spray paint—the first step toward turning a longtime hobby into a profession.
“I went back to my house and basically wrapped two trees in Saran Wrap to create a plastic wall between them,” he says, pulling up the image on his iPad. “And I painted this octopus.” It’s a handsome cephalopod, outlined in yellow, 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide. But for Golbeck, it signified more. “I was like, holy crap, this is my passion, this is what I want to do. I did that octopus and realized I needed to do more of this.”
In the 18 months since, Golbeck has become one of the brightest up-and-coming street artists in Colorado. The niche medium uses thick aerosol paint to create everything from giant murals to wall candy at restaurants or dispensaries. He has been commissioned by Grand Timber Lodge and Broken Compass Brewing in Breckenridge, Woodward at Copper, and Go Big Burger at Keystone. He has also assisted on a pair of Front Range commercial projects, and this summer will paint a large mural in his hometown of Alpena, Michigan, where the chamber of commerce hired him to help revitalize the city’s downtown core. Some of Denver’s most respected street artists have lauded his work as well.
“I think the reason he has a future in this, more than anything, is because if he wants something, he goes after it,” says Chad Bolsinger, 27, who has painted at Art Basel in Miami Beach and won a $25,000 commission from the City of Northglenn on the Front Range last year. “Some people have the same gift, but they’re not willing to go after it.”
Golbeck grew up sketching in school in Alpena, a town of 10,000 on the western shore of Lake Huron. His drawings in textbook margins became legend as the books got passed down. He’d started experimenting with graffiti in train yards when he was 12—Alpena exports limestone by rail—but one day his mother, then a juvenile probation officer, caught him. “She was like, we’ll only support you if you do legal stuff,” Golbeck says. “That’s how I got into street art.” Unlike graffiti, which is letter-based and “basically a pissing contest,” Golbeck says, street art is more deft and abstract. Artists use expensive aerosol paint—each can costs up to $10—with specialized nozzles to push an artwork that’s ever-evolving.
“It’s completely improv, completely a feeling, being completely in the present, because the cans spray quickly,” says Bolsinger, who hired Golbeck to collaborate on two jobs last winter. “It’s an intense medium where you can do things you could never do with a brush.”
Or on a snowboard. Before Golbeck painted that octopus, his life revolved around snowboarding. He worked as a ticket scanner and at the tubing hill for Keystone, following X Games champions through the A51 terrain park to hone his skills. Sims, one of the sport’s original manufacturers and most recognized brands, named Golbeck a team rider in 2016. The next year, he was invited to join the featured riders photographed at Snowboarder magazine’s Superpark—one of the industry’s most coveted stages. But Golbeck was turned off. “It was one of the first times I started to reconsider my life,” he says. “Because I met all these people that I’d looked up to, and a lot of guys were too cool to be bothered. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”
Golbeck still rides for Sims, but his priority shifted to art after his 2018 concussion. He is the rare upstart street artist who is earning money from it, even if he spends much of that money on paint and refining his style. “It’s just like practicing on your snowboard—it’s all about repetition,” he says. “Not all of it comes out good.”
But sometimes it’s great. When Grand Timber hired him to paint a mountainscape with a constellation backdrop for the lodge’s new theater and family area, he put in five straight 10-hour days and took home a fee in the low four figures. He estimates he has created about four dozen pieces so far, most nonpaying. But each job represents progress.
“I’m not trying to make people feel a certain way; if anything, I’m just trying to make them feel. Or stop and appreciate a piece of wall that used to be blank,” he says. His ultimate goal is to become a muralist, a niche within the niche that entails working on larger scales. “I want to take this as far as I can,” he says with grit and ambition. “I want to travel the world and be known for painting big walls. That’s really all I want.”