While murals are nothing new in the world, what was once considered destructive “tagging” and graffiti, was elevated in NYC in the 1980s by legendary street artist Keith Herring. His influence, and so many others since have crossed generational divides, providing inspiration and beauty to urban and, more recently, suburban streetscapes.
Northwest Denver has splashed its mark in the muralistic society, as well. One of the most coveted and original Sunnyside murals on Tejon Street was designed by Jerry Jaramillo in 1980. It was known as “Primavera” and was a symbol of pride in the Chicano community, but was taken down during a building restoration. North Side Pride came out in force and brought about the loving restoration by father and son, Jerry and Jay Michael Jaramillo, of the 1981 mural “Mother Earth.” It stands proudly today as a symbol of the “original” Northside on the exterior wall of the Cherry Bean Coffee shop. Another historical mural designed by Denver artist David Ocelotl wraps the kiosko, Plaza De La Raza on 38th & Osage. Its dedication plaque reads, “This pyramid structure is dedicated to all people of Denver’s Northside past, present and future in honor of their continued fight for peace, justice and equity. Viva La Raza!”
New Age murals abound on businesses from 38th Avenue to the United Methodist Church “Garage” on 32nd Avenue to Tennyson Street. 27-year-old Northeast Denver native, Onver Macias, is painting the town red…and blue, and every other color under the rainbow by taking his passion for large scale art to storefronts, walls, garages and anything he can get his paint on. Raised by illustrators, his life has revolved around art. Macias attended Arrupe Jesuit High School in North Denver and was inspired by many of the old murals from prominent Chicano artists in the area. Now a full time, professional artist he reflected on his beginning, “My art career was fueled by working in Denver Rec Centers. I love being part of a little neighborhood community. The creativity that rec center art programs inspired in young kids has made me want to tell stories through art that celebrate community.” Homeowners like Marlene Rose-Vigil have gotten into the artistic fray by commissioning Macias to create a mural for her garage like the beauty spotted on 3115 West Denver Place. The Blue Girl adorns a garage on 41st and Pecos. To see more of Macias’ murals check out his Instagram page, @Onver_One.
West Colfax, which began its reimagining in 2014 launched its first community “Reimagine West Colfax” for neighborhood input and revealed its new logo via a mural painted on the walls of an old taxidermy and Civil War musical instrument building. The latest adaptation of this logo is seen on the colorful face mask murals the West Colfax BID has designed to encourage mask use to keep neighbors safe.
Schools, too, have made a statement for the arts. The iconic, hyper hip Hyatt Regency in the 1970s that can be seen prominently from 1-25 near 38th Avenue has gotten a paintbrush facelift with a dramatic wraparound mural for its repurposed adaptation as student housing. A vintage 60s school bus was recently sighted on West Colfax. It was sadly “tagged,” in a vandalistic, yet artistic way. Other neighborhood schools dove into mural projects from Brown Elementary to Lake Middle School to Cheltenham Elementary.
The Brown Elementary playground project was created by “Mr. Q,” a teacher and now head of the Arts Department for all DPS schools. He also founded the original Guerilla Garden art studio alongside fellow North Denver artist “Jolt,” who has created a dynamic ice cream mural at Little Man Ice Cream that juxtaposes the old school ice cream emporium with urban grit, as well as the Pele Goddess patio walls and picnic tables at Adrift Tiki Bar & Restaurant on 218 South Broadway.
One of the newest and most unique painterly projects on 14th & Kendall has been spearheaded by Lamar Station Apartments. A collection of ten nondescript, old school apartment buildings have been commissioned as works of art. Bobby McGee, a former gallery owner, has kept busy during the pandemic creating 26 murals that have revived these apartments and brought pure beauty to the Lamar Station area. It is proof positive that a can of spray paint can do more for neighborhoods than demolition and construction of prefab boxes. You can enjoy these and other works of street art in nearby Lakewood by following the West Colfax Arts District “Art Line Walking + Biking Art Experience.”
To see the motherlode of buildings as art you need to visit RiNo. It is the true origination point of brilliant artistry on the streets of Downtown Denver. The entire streetscape abounds with beauty. The Crush Walls festival is celebrating its 11th year of mesmerizing pop-up alley art on September 14-20. You can see an amazing preview of its artists by going to the Central Denver Market food hall on 27th & Larimer Street that has reimagined a parking lot with expanded patio seating. The picnic tables there have been designed to create a carefully curated ambience, respecting social distancing and cleanliness during these pandemic times.
Why the sudden proliferation of murals? Macias, also a Crush artist considers, “Our city is growing and as the city grows everything else grows with it.” Interestingly, for a new generation who may not have heard of Herring or Jaramillo, the mural mania decorating Denver proves that history repeats itself.