Sie Film Center Art Director Keith Garcia has learned a thing or two about curation. He selects the films playing at the Sie and applies the same process to his tattoos.
“Part of my job is being observant of marketing and branding and getting the word out on our films and our programs,” he explained over coffee. “I just have always had a brain for logos and taglines — you know, the things that make that world go ’round.”
It’s this eye for interesting logos, as well as a longing to preserve parts of Denver’s rapidly changing landscape, that led Garcia to get his latest tattoo: the Griff’s Burgers clown mascot, an image which hasn’t been displayed in Denver since the chain’s South Broadway location closed in 2017.
It’s right around the corner of where Garcia grew up, in Athmar Park, and where his family often got drive-thru meals together. According to one Westword review, it was the best place in town to get “a great burger, a greasy bag of fries and a skull-splittingly thick milkshake” for less than five bucks. Garcia agrees.
“It was a cheap, greasy, simple burger without being a corporate entity,” he said.
Although he didn’t eat there regularly as an adult, Garcia was reminded of the old burger joint at a recent visit to immersive art exhibit Meow Wolf, where he saw the logo displayed along with other Denver lore. It brought up nostalgic feelings, and Garcia got the tattoo done just days later. It was still peeling at the time of the interview.
The Griff’s clown in a chef’s hat is certainly not a mascot hatched by a marketing team, or the soulless result of a focus group. That’s exactly what Garcia finds appealing about it.
“The stars and the weird mouth make the clown appear to be dizzy or drunk. And then let’s talk about the body, which is just kind of like a blob-sack,” Garcia said.
He and his tattoo artist, Denver-based Heather Reynolds, looked through several versions of the logo before settling on this one.
“It’s not indicative of an amazing logo that all places look at creating, but it very much embodies the spirit of Griff’s,” Garcia said.
To get some more history on the mascot, we called Griff’s corporate headquarters in Dallas. A representative explained the logo was created in the mid-’60s, the brainchild of some executives and founder H.J. Griffith. The first Griff’s opened in Wichita, Kansas, in 1960, and locations are still operating in Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico.
Like the other two Denverites with interesting tattoos we’ve profiled (one with a Casa Bonita sleeve and one with a Blucifer thigh piece), Garcia’s little mascot is wrapped up in nostalgia and framed by a host of other meaningful tattoos. Right below is another burger-themed pop culture reference: Tina from the cartoon Bob’s Burgers. Garcia’s forearms also bear the likenesses of two Denver drag queens, Yvie Oddly and Nina Flowers, both of whom Garcia has worked with and eventually ended up performing on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Garcia wants to expand his repertoire of Denver-themed tattoos, playing with the idea of an homage to Lakeside Amusement Park. “(The park) is like a great-grandma that you’re hoping will stick around to be 104, but you don’t know,” Garcia said, laughing. “Every year is touch-and-go.”
Garcia has a lot of nostalgia for the Denver of his childhood, but he doesn’t think the city should stagnate or go backwards. For him, the issues facing Denver aren’t unique, and he would know. Garcia has lived in New York, Los Angeles and Austin, but hasn’t been able to make a home anywhere but here.
“Denver is the perfect balance of a lot of things to me, from population, to weather, to arts,” Garcia said. “Those are the things that have kept me here… I still think good things are on the horizon. We just have to clear through some muck.”