Denver has a burgeoning street art scene that’s friendlier than other cities— according to Chicago transplant Pat McKinney. He is one of the four Denver street artists that are responsible for the “Love This City” murals. The collective of four artists — known as the So-Gnar Creative Division — have painted over 20 murals and commissioned pieces so far in and around Denver and continually receive requests for more. They feed the city with positive art and claim it’s easy for the group. Their most popular and well-known are the “Love This City” series, a public art project through VISIT DENVER which began as a way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Denver Arts Week but transformed into a collaboration lasting several years.
If you love this city, it’s hard to deny that you love the street art that brightens the corners and alleys and storefronts of its streets. 303 Magazine joined the four artists for a late afternoon tour of Denver to visit their murals and talk about their teamwork, their inspirations and their love of the city. A mapped guide to their murals is included below as a bonus.
Together,McKinney, Pat Milbery, Remington Robinson and Jason Graves make up the So-Gnar Creative Division — an artistic branch of the snowboard and design company created by Milbery over a decade ago. Milbery is the chemist of the group, integrating the three other personalities with an almost scientific precision. But without each of them contributing whole-heartedly to the collective art projects they create, their momentum would not be as fierce.
In regards to the group, Milbery said, “You have to adapt if you want to survive as an artist. Yes, we want to find our niche, and we have in a lot of ways. But working as a group means we can continually recreate our style and our techniques and diversify our interests. It makes us different than other artists and that’s ultimately our niche.”
“…working as a group means we can continually recreate our style and our techniques and diversify our interests.” – Milbery
Graves — owner of Apollo Ink Printing in Boulder — is the technician of the group who brings a level of professionalism to the projects. He started partnering with Milbery for screen printing projects when So-Gnar was only making T-shirts and stickers long ago. McKinney — who started painting in Denver on his own but met Milbery through mutual friends — is the veteran who brings experience from other cities and street art adventures to the group. Robinson is the Renaissance man, excelling at photo-realistic techniques, using acrylics and adding an appeal not ordinarily displayed in street art. His Instagram is filled with point-of-view shots of his en plein air natural landscape watercolors.
As a team, the four of them crank out murals, sometimes finishing them in one day but more often needing three or four. And they are all busy with external projects as well, sometimes branching out to do pieces as duos or as individuals. But when they come together their collective motivation and talent create pieces like the Love This City on Broadway and Park Avenue — a piece worth visiting for any native or transplant.
“We all pick up on each other’s skills when we work together, or we try to focus on one of our strengths and support that person,” Graves explained. “Our ability to collaborate helps to grow and evolve our personal and collective style and that increases the value of what we’re creating to others.”
So-Gnar Creative Division likes to focus on colorful, vibrant and joyful pieces. The inspiration for each mural varies as much as each member of the group does. Together they remain consistent by representing an endearing optimism and favoring community-supported art. At least two of their collective murals have been created in conjunction with volunteers, one of which (at 38th and Blake Streets) was a group of teenagers participating in a TEDxMileHigh Adventure — where Denverites are given behind-the-scenes experiences that are designed to open access to “thought-leaders” in the community.
“Anyone can appreciate our art. Anyone can take something from it. We just want people to look around and enjoy what they see.” – Graves
Ranging in ages from their mid-20s, to late-30s, the four artists believe in their art being ageless and in inspiring and encouraging all different walks of life. When asked to paint a piece they are required to focus on the conceptual guidelines from the commissioners, but often they enjoy some freedom in designing and executing the artwork. The “Follow Your Heart” mural at Lincoln Street and 19th Avenue was commissioned by the owner of the parking lot with the one guideline that it be kid-friendly since the Emily Griffith school campus was across the street and would have hundreds of children looking down on it regularly. The group (minus Graves) took the challenge and created a comic-inspired illustration that screams Colorado childhood and good intentions.
“We like knowing that our murals are spots of color and happiness in the city, something that people want to stop and take pictures by.” – Milberry
Sometimes a design is put through dozens of edits before final approval. The bottom line is that So-Gnar Creative Division wants to create artwork that brightens everyone’s day. “We all walk around looking at ‘dream walls’ but in all reality what we’ve already done is something we are proud of. We like knowing that our murals are spots of color and happiness in the city, something that people want to stop and take pictures by,” Milbery noted.
Though many of the murals painted by these four artists are created for businesses, the essence behind every single one is to instill hope and squash fear. Art has the ability to incite emotion from people and the So-Gnar Creative Division wants that emotion to be positive.
One of their most recent pieces was the Square on 21st, where they painted a mural on the ground for the pop-up park that Mayor Hancock himself commended as a jewel of community development and collaboration. It’s a park purely for the people, by the people and the four artists feel appreciative to have played such an integral part in beautifying the space.
“Anyone can appreciate our art. Anyone can take something from it. We just want people to look around and enjoy what they see,” Graves commented, with the other members nodding in agreement. Cities can be intimidating places, but these guys hope their art can be a guiding light toward a more tolerant and well-balanced place to live.
A Mapped Guide to So-Gnar Creative Division’s Murals