When Mike Strescino shows his paintings as part of Wireworks Coffeehouse's February array of urban art, his sketchbook pages will appear right alongside them.
"I love looking through people's sketchbooks," explains the Pueblo native. "I think it's cool to show people the raw element of it, instead of always stuff that's really polished and finished."
It's an openness that would fray the nerves of some young artists. But bringing raw art to the world is nothing new to Strescino — he wrote graffiti from sixth through 10th grades.
"I was really into skateboarding and hip-hop music and hip-hop culture, and during that time in Pueblo there was just, like, an explosion of graffiti and breakdancing at Central High School," says Strescino. "Tons of people were doing [graffiti], everybody, people who were artists, people who weren't artists."
It was "reclaiming space" through artistic vandalism. At 27 Strescino's on a more academic path: He's studying fine arts at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
He says he still integrates "the influence of [graffiti] — the colors, the form," and it comes through in his bright palette, crisp shadowing and illustration of movement. One piece, "Fists Up," shows a girl standing with her head down and right fist raised above a distant and abstract city. In the background, multiple fists are visible, perhaps shadows from a solemn solo movement or arms of others behind her in solidarity.
"I've found that working with the human figure is much more expressive [than writing graffiti]," Strescino says. "You can tell stories with it, you know, you can express different moods with it."
In his portraits, his subjects have almost realistic figures against more sketchy backgrounds, showing what he calls "a loose, expressive style along with some really controlled fine lines."
But for Strescino, style's as much about method and medium as it is a final product. He starts a lot of his paintings in ink, then layers with acrylic — except when working with black, where he prefers using India ink. "I find it has a deeper black than black acrylic," he says.
And in his sketchbook pieces at Wireworks, you'll also find ideas, random thoughts and quotes beside his drawings.
"I even like to write, even though I don't think I'm particularly good at it," he says. "For a lot of artists, that's where it starts."