Chuck Dorsey's old-school window painting reanimates South Broadway

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo by Sarah McMahon
Certified Customs window art, by Chuck Dorsey
Artist Chuck Dorsey crouches down, cutting a letter out of tape on the wall of Certified Customs, a tattoo, piercing and barber shop on South Broadway. He's wearing an old painter's shirt, splotched with bright colors, and drops his knife in his bag to pick up a fistful of brushes.

Dorsey's well-known in the South Broadway area. He's painted signs for many of the businesses in the area, and his antique style brightens up the store fronts. He uses a meticulous old school technique, and his attention to detail is apparent. He took some time to talk to us about learning from his grandfather, growing up in California in the '60s and how South Broadway has changed for the better.

What kind of method do you use to paint your signs?

I guess I call it the "old school" way, because now you can just go out and get vinyl, which is faster. I use a stencil knife to cut the design out. Vinyl is the same way, and I do that sometimes too. But, I like the old way because the paint I use is good old one shot paint. It's the only paint on the market that has lead in it, which is not good, but it makes it look nice and shiny, which is nice.

Also, this paint lasts a long time. I've done signs for 25 years, and some of them are still around from the late 80s and look really nice -- a nice shine to it, and a nice glean to it. Most people do signs so they'll fall apart and the artist gets to do it again, but not me. Once my signs are painted, they stay painted. Which is not great for my cash flow, but oh well.

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Photo by Sarah McMahon
Chuck Dorsey outside Certified Customs
How long have you been painting signs?

I always tell people the story that my granddad taught me to paint. He taught me the business when I was a kid. He was a sign painter, back in the day. But then it really took off when I went into the military, I guess. You see, I was a lifeguard and they saw my artwork and they turned me around and said, "Become a division artist."

What is a division artist? What does that entail?

Well mostly just doing logos for the different companies. Especially the big ones, because not many people could do big logos at the time. And as a kid in California, it was easy to do. Well, not easy, easy. But, it was kind of fun. And it got me a lot of work, too.

So, your grandfather got you into the business?

Somewhat. He said I should be an artist as a kid. At the time though, in California, I was a surfer and I wanted to be a lifeguard. I thought it was the best way to stay in shape, and meet a lot of good people. And it was fun work. That changed though, when I joined the army.

Do you do this full time then?

Yes. I've been in town since 1981, and that's how long I've been working here, with signs, as well. I went to the Colorado Art Institute, and when I graduated I thought of going into commercial art, but they said, "No. Do signs." So, I kept doing signs and now I think I'm stuck in it.

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