When Richard “Enks” Beltran picked up a spray can at age 12 and entered the world of graffiti through his uncle and a few friends, who were all graffiti artists; he discovered a passion that he never found in a classroom.
Beltran didn’t do well in school. He said he flunked all of his classes and was “pushed along” from grade to grade. “The teachers didn’t give me the extra help that I needed,” he said. “I was the kid way in the back; not catching on, so I would just draw.” Beltran found graffiti on the streets more interesting than the art classes offered in school. “While everyone is drawing fruit baskets, I would practice letters,” he said.
In El Paso, Texas, Beltran’s birthplace, he attended elementary and middle school and half a semester of high school before his family moved to San Antonio, Texas. He said his high school records had not been sent to his school in San Antonio, so he had to start over. “I wasn’t driven to do any more work,” Beltran said.
In middle school, he had been in trouble for tagging (signing one’s name or representing oneself with spray paint on public buildings), and the same thing happened at his new high school in San Antonio.
Beltran dropped out of school, and graffiti art became his purpose in life.
“I ended up hitting the streets of San Antonio and linking up with a little crowd of graffiti artists,” he said. “We just drove around on the rougher side of town where the graffiti walls are.” Beltran said he asked the business owners if he could do actual paintings on their “tagged” walls, and most were open to it. “You go to a business that has tags all over it, and they’d rather have a piece of art than tags,” he said.
At age 16, Beltran painted his first wall. “You have to crawl before you walk, so I knew that I had to paint walls and get a style going, and master it,” he said. One of the tough aspects of graffiti art is painting clean, crisp lines without using tape or cardboard, which is considered cheating. Graffiti is totally done with spray paint. After painting several months, Beltran began to develop his style; and other graffiti artists were recognizing his efforts. “You have to make a name for yourself with your skills,” he said.
Graffiti artists work in “crews” and it is an honor to be invited to paint with them, he said. He knew he had made it in the graffiti world when Pepsi commissioned his crew, LAWS (Life after Wild Style), for a commercial. The LAWS crew painted an entire three-story building with a Pepsi-related theme. Beltran said the job motivated him to seek more mural type work.
Beltran and his crew began traveling throughout California and Texas to try and establish widespread recognition for themselves and their art. “It is called ‘getting up,’” he said. “You go to another place just so that people can see your name. You’re putting your name in people’s face for exposure. You’re trying to be the most popular graffiti artist in the streets.”
Back in San Antonio, Beltran and his crew met Nik “Soup” Soupe, a local artist. Soupe had a large warehouse and rented studio space to musicians and artists. “There were just a lot of creative people around,” Beltran said.
Soupe had one rule: The warehouse wasn’t just a hangout; while there, everyone had to be involved in a creative activity. Beltran said Soup taught him and his crew about various art shows and galleries, as well as the business side of art. Soupe also showed them how to transfer their graffiti skills from walls to canvas, which provided another avenue to “get up,” he said. “You can ‘get up’ at restaurants. You can ‘get up’ at music festivals. He broadened our horizons.”
Beltran said Soupe encouraged him to get involved with Clogged Caps, a festival originally started in San Antonio that features aerosol artists from around the world, along with artists from other mediums like music and fashion. Beltran said he would like to start something similar in Colorado Springs.
In 2005, Beltran became a father to daughter Lilly (he had married for a short time) and decided to get a real job to supplement his income from painting. He didn’t have enough time for both painting and working at the custom framing shop, so he decided to leave his “day” job to vigorously pursue painting. “I really wanted to be on the streets painting murals and getting paid for it,” he said.
Beltran did well painting murals until 2008, when the economy tanked and people didn’t have money to spend. He took what money he had and became a tattoo artist, opening his own tattoo shop, Landmark Tattoos, in San Antonio. “I wasn’t terrified about learning something new. I was terrified of where I stood status-wise,” he said. “I paid my dues to the streets and got my skills where I became somebody, and now I’m starting all over.” But his reputation as a graffiti artist helped him quickly grow his tattoo clientele. “Because I have a bunch of fans in graffiti,” he said. “Now, they are able to get a piece of art from me.”
In 2009, Salon Seventwenty in San Antonio invited Beltran to exhibit his canvas art at a show. While at the opening of the art show, he met Hannah Williams, one of the salon’s stylists. “We just made googly eyes at each other all night,” Hannah Williams said. “It was funny because, like two weeks before, I was saying to my boss that I needed to meet a tattoo artist so I can get some free tattoos.” The couple quickly found they had more than tattoos in common. They began a relationship and eventually moved in together. On Jan. 5, 2012, they welcomed their daughter, Phoenyx. On Sept. 21 that same year, they got engaged.
After living most of their lives in Texas, Beltran and Williams decided to move to Colorado. They agreed that Beltran would move first, and Williams would stay behind for a while to continue working and to sell their house. Beltran moved in March 2013; and, through connections with his tattoo business, he landed a job repainting the outside of West Side Tattoo in Colorado Springs. Beltran and another fellow tattoo/graffiti artist painted a theme that reflected the state’s nickname of Colorful Colorado. In June 2013, the art on West Side Tattoo caught the eye of a Colorado Springs’ Gazette photographer, and his mural masterpiece showed up on the front page. After the newspaper feature, Beltran received requests for more art work, from book illustrations to murals for businesses and residences.
In February 2014, Williams and Phoenyx joined Beltran in Colorado. Early on, they had thought about living in Denver but decided on Falcon to “get more bang for their buck.”
Williams said they want to establish a mural business. “Getting that business kicked off is the goal,” she said. “The art he does is much more appreciated here than it was in San Antonio. San Antonio is just over-flooded with different artists.”
Beltran can spray paint “almost anything,” which includes buildings, cars, kids’ rooms or even sports-themed man caves, Williams said.
Beltran and Williams are setting down roots in Colorado. They are trying to talk Beltran’s older daughter and her mother and other family members into moving to Colorado, too.
“I love fishing. I love camping. I love the mountains,” Beltran said. “When I came here, it felt like this was my place.”
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Richard Beltran and his fiancé, Hannah Williams, are excited about bringing a different form of graffiti to the area. Photo by Angie Morlan