Sam gave me a button that read “much love” with a beaming heart the first time I met him. This is just a small example of how he embraces what life has to offer. It was not the last time I would run into @PONDERMONSTER. Sam’s message is to spread as much love on this planet as possible and he expresses that through his art. His story makes me fill with sonder and hope. Talking with Sam was a joy and finding out about how we are connected in more ways than one brought me happiness. Highlighting him in this edition of Fan Friday is my way of saying, thank you and keep doing what you’re doing. We all have lives to lead and being able to have little gifts such as his let’s the world shine a little brighter.
As defined by Merrian-Webster “ponder” means : to think about, reflect on deeply. With Sam being such a thoughtful guy it makes sense. He takes his passion for video storytelling, street art and music to create many once in a lifetime experience for strangers. Using social media as a platform to spread love and connection, he does art drops where people can find his art for free. He is an inspiration of non-attachment and spontaneity. Sam opens up about his past and how he has been able to let love win.
How did PONDERMONSTER come to be?
“As far as the name goes I loved the word ponder. I would obsessively write the word in notebooks in different fonts, I just love the word. I had just watched Exit Through The Gift Shop and was really into street art and I wanted to learn about more. I decided to join Instagram in 2012 and I needed a username and wanted to use the word ‘ponder’. I asked myself if anything rhymed with the word ponder, and came up with ‘monster’ which is a little bit of a stretch but I liked how it sounded together. It was available, so I took it! That is how the name was born, and it is now my artist name. Some people don’t even know my name is Sam!”
“How I got started doing art in this way was, I was out in LA making a documentary. A big part of my life is that I am actually a survivor of the Columbine shootings in 1999. I have always been a filmmaker and wanted to showcase one of my friends and get his side of the story. Things didn’t go as planned in LA so I had a lot of time to walk around the city. I was able to see so much street art, murals, and started following a bunch of people on Instagram. There is a street artist named Mr. Ramano (@mrramano) and he puts up a lot of wheat paste images of Marilyn Monroe, and I love her so much! It was really early, like 5 am, and Mr. Ramano posted a picture on instagram. It was a framed piece of art taped to a pole that said “finders keepers”on it. I was just like “wait, he’s just giving art away?!” It was by luck that I was a block away so I grabbed my skateboard and found the art! It was the best thing that had happened to me in forever and I was just so happy. I couldn’t believe someone would give me something for nothing. That feeling stayed with me forever. A year later I knew I needed to create that feeling for others. That is when I came up with the PONDERMONSTER Rainbow collection on 5×5 canvases. Each color represents a different feeling or emotion. Through scavenger art hunts I grew this little following and people were responding. As soon as I started giving art away I started getting this response of love. People were responding to LOVE!. It grew, and spread, and the responses were always positive and I just wanted more.”
“Over the years I’ve probably given away over 200 pieces. Along the way I started incorporating music. My wife has always been into Dave Matthews and she suggested that we go to the Gorge and see him in 2013. I made lyric inspired pieces and made a treasure hunt for the Dave Matthews crowd, and the response was incredible. People were running around and it became this other adventure. It made me more than a fan. I’m an experiential artist. If you see me at a show, you know there is most likely art hidden somewhere. I’ve also done a lot of live paintings at local places in Denver like the Larimer Lounge and The Gothic Theatre. Eventually, my art started intertwining with music pretty heavily. The dream now is to tour with a band and be a treasure hunt artist. That would be so cool! I love the sense of community that music and art brings.”
Sam, we met at an Umphrey’s Mcgee show. How did they get to be an inspiration for some of your art?
“Now, as far as Umphrey’s Mcgee, my first show, believe it or not, was Red Rocks 2015. My friend Bryan said “Sam, I have a new toy”. He told me about Umphrey’s and I decided to go to the show with no expectations. I don’t think I moved, my jaw was on the floor. I was actually kind of angry that I hadn’t heard of them before! It was a perfect combination of everything that I love about music. They feed my nerdy side. I grew up with TOOL, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails and hip hop – 80s and 90s – jazz and classical and it’s all smashed together. Then of course, the lights are like the cherry on top.
After that, I said I wanted to do something for Umphrey’s. I had been working as a camera operator at Red Rocks and I was doing little pieces for all of the bands I had been working. The UM crowd was new for me and I was nervous about how they would react to me making fan art. The first time I put something out there the crowds reflected exactly what I was trying to give, which is love. I didn’t know about that UMPHLOVE. Eventually, I said I want to do something bigger and I thought about posters. With the goal of making an official poster for the band. I’m working on it, obviously there are no shows right now [due to the pandemic] ,but they are listening and the wheels are turning.
The first unofficial poster was Red Rocks 2018. It was super fun. I learned a lot about hiding art and the poster tubes they were in., The last thing I would ever want to do is shut a concert down because of a mysterious package I had placed. I changed the hiding method for a New Years run to little badges that you can turn in for the bigger posters. I do one scavenger hunt per show, but if I see you going above and beyond to make the experience for those around you better, then I will give you one of these pieces of art. I love this system of rewarding just to be a good person!”
What keeps you coming back to the scene and what keeps you ticking?
“What keeps me ticking is the reactions I get from people, creating a community and spreading love. My goal in life is to put as much love into the world as I possibly can through my art. On the history side of things, I want to put more love into the world as I feel was taken from me, and the world, during Columbine. (An event that Sam tragically experienced first hand in 1999) I want to try and counterbalance that with light. I love being known now as PonderMonster and not just a Columbine kid. Something I once thought defined me.
The biggest point of what I do is that I am just giving my heart out. The Umphrey’s crowd is my family. I feel like I am in a sea of friends and family. They get me, and I can be myself. I can keep pushing my art, and I feel like I am just starting.”
“The greatest thing behind all art, is the story. Each piece of art that I make is a practice of making something you love, and letting it go. I don’t always expect to hear from it. I have to understand that I am setting it free. I think it’s a good practice to let things go, especially something that you love.”
How can we support you in these times?
“Ask for commissions! It’s a good way to keep food on my table and put some cool art on your walls. It makes me feel like I have purpose, and we both get something out of it. Also, you can reach out to me on all social media platforms like, instagram, facebook and twitch! During times like these check in with your friends and know that it is PHYSICAL distancing and not socially distancing. We will be okay!. There was a time before certain tragedies and after. Hopefully this is a reset for the world, a reset for creativity and a reset for love. Don’t be afraid to reach out for any reason no matter what.”
Thank you for your time, Sam!
Sam has recently relocated to Los Angeles, California with his wife Sarah. Stay connected to PonderMonster via social media.