This last week, Denver hosted 100 artists in RiNo for the annual street art festival called CRUSH. Once again, the event changed the landscape of the neighborhood with vibrant works of art. But instead of the usual two-day scramble, artists were painting all week long, some finishing well before the weekend began. The growth of the festival — from the extended duration to more artists to a larger footprint of walls — was a welcome change to most who were participating and on looking, though it may have experienced some growing pains.
The neighborhood that some people may have avoided 10 years ago — much less meander through alleyways — is now a bonafide art district. This gentrification has created conflicts in CRUSH to a point where it seems to mirror Denver’s own sometimes troubling growth. There are artists who are hesitant about encompassing all brands of outdoor wall art — especially the addition of “street art” to the graffiti scene — similar to the Colorado natives who remain intolerant of transplants. There are residents who feel miffed when their favorite murals are wiped and painted over, not understanding that impermanence is quintessential to graffiti and street art. Ultimately though, the attitude and atmosphere of CRUSH this year was friendly and welcoming — an attribute that Denver’s art scene often gets compliments for. Artists were excited to see each other, help on each other’s murals, host drawing parties after hours and witness the work of other artists, no matter their background or street credibility.
The ones who might be less than thrilled with Denver’s growth and therefore with CRUSH’s growth may not understand that these changes can bring recognition for the burgeoning cultural scene. Interested groups like Meow Wolf — who sponsored the festival for the first time this year — generate much-deserved attention for participating artists, and the street art scene in general, from all over the world. Much like the talent major museums in Denver are able to showcase, CRUSH is now bringing big-ticket names of traveling international and national artists to RiNo because the area is proving to be a welcoming hub for creativity. With these big-name international artists drawing crowds and attention, less well-known Denver artists have an opportunity to gather fans.
Though the murals painted this past week will remain on the walls for at least the next year, giving residents and tourists alike plenty of time to view them, the major incentive to checking out CRUSH while it’s happening is having the opportunity to talk to the artists and see them work.
If you missed the chance, 303 Magazine has you covered, with photos from our favorite moments and quotes from a few of the artists.
The Ladies of CRUSH
The organizers of CRUSH specifically wanted more women involved this year, and it was a welcome sight. Having a feminine touch not only brought diversity to the community of artists, it transformed the overall vibe of the festival. Graffiti especially has been a boy’s club for a while, so many of the female artists are self-taught and typically prefer the “street art” — or muralist — side of things.
Pictured in the gallery:
Anna Charney – A Denver-based artist who recently painted the entire side of a building on South Broadway.
Debbie Clapper – A Boulder-based artist, new to murals but quickly showing her competence with big, detailed walls of abstract line work.
Julia Rose Morgan – A Denver-based artist, self-taught in spray paint and killing it with photorealistic portraits.
Ozjuah Sepia – A Denver-based artist who participated for the third time in CRUSH this year who said, “I love the festival because it’s like when we were younger and went back to school after summer. You get to see all these friends you don’t see any other time. We all ask each other, ‘Where you painting?'”
Ladies Fancywork Society – A mostly Denver-based, this close-knit group of four girls crochets massive installations. Because of the nature of their work, they work on their piece for months in advance. Their dedication puts them on a completely different level from the other artists in CRUSH, though their dedication should be an inspiration to other installation-based artists.
Lauren Napolitano – A traveling artist who now calls Denver home, Napolitano has been slowly but surely making her distinctive mark around the city. See her other work at Bar Fausto, on the Cherry Creek bike path, and now in the alley behind the main CRUSH parking lot.
Buckley – Based in L.A, Buckley proves that minimalism and abstraction can be as powerful on a wall as in any fancy art gallery. Shy and reserved, she doesn’t seem the type to be “crushing” walls, but her timid demeanor is a nice change from the gregarious personalities often found in this style of art.
With the convergence of so many artists, there are bound to be some who know each other already. Many whom we spoke to were excited about the festival for the main point of seeing fellow artist friends, as this was the only time they were reunited each year. Camaraderie abounded and now we all are the lucky recipients of some outstanding collaboration pieces. These hybrid works are interesting because of their mixture of styles and improvised techniques. When two or more artists are creating together, it seems like the result is exponential rather than a sum of its parts.
Pictured in the gallery:
Bruno Smoky & Shalak Attack – The first and second pictures show both sides of a truck that was painted by two different artists. Each side represents a different animal — one that commands the sky and the other the ground — and both run wild with color.
Vyal and Breeze1 – These two veterans have known each other for a long time — Vyal stationed in L.A and Breeze1 in Phoenix — and their collaboration is flawless. Not coincidentally, both also organize and operate their own street art/graffiti festivals in their home towns. Vyal’s is The Container Yard and Breeze1 is working on Paint Phoenix.
RumTum and Rather Severe – RumTum is known in Denver for his role in the music scene, and with this mural collaboration with Rather Severe, he should be known equally as a muralist. Rather Severe visited from Portland, offering up their whimsical inspiration to create a permanent piece that will catch any onlooker’s eye.
inkie, Mr. June and The London Police – This group took hold of the alleyway behind Stem Ciders this past week, working together at the edges of each of their individual pieces to fluidly make transitions. The London Police added swimming figures to part of Mr. June’s (don’t miss the smallest one!) Mr. June and inkie molded their styles from geometric to underwater. When we caught them on the last day, they were playing music, taking smoke breaks and joking with each other while finishing their pieces. inkie said, “This is one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. It’s my first time this year, but yeah, I’ll be back.”
Because of its location a few blocks away from the heart of CRUSH activity, RedLine may not have received as much foot traffic. But it was well worth it. The massive wall on the east side of the art collective and gallery was taken over by three artists with a flare for color. Thomas Evans (aka Detour303), now with a studio in RedLine, helped with organization and implementation on this wall all week, though he was also painting his own pieces in other areas of RiNo. All three artists painted larger-than-life images that will take your breath away when you see them in person.
Pictured in the gallery:
Max Sansing – Recently making the transition to a full-time artist after running his own artist space for years, Sansing should be happy he made the move. His work is bright and fun while also intense. Try a staring contest with the lady holding an apple and you’ll see what we mean.
Rahmaan Statik – From Chicago, Statik produced two enormous figures with distinct and realistic faces that each tell their own story. The detail around the faces is fascinating as well, with messages about intuition, tolerance, diversity and nature.
Blaine Fontana – Traveling from Portland, Fontana is not new to the Denver street art scene. He’s responsible for the iconic patio at Ratio Beerworks. But this piece for CRUSH is different in the best ways, using his skills to produce a very realistic image that tricks the eye instead of a collage-piece.
Denver Rock Drill
As part of the expanded footprint of CRUSH, Denver Rock Drill on 40th Avenue sacrificed its walls for some big murals, as well as a lot of graffiti-style panels. This area, like RedLine, was not as easily accessed from the central area of CRUSH but was also well worth the extra mileage. The somewhat abandoned state of Denver Rock Drill gives this section a whole different atmosphere from RiNo. For those fans who like the taste of danger, the smell of industry, and the fear of maybe getting caught, this section will be your favorite. It feels like these artists took over the complex, though it would be the least to say they improved it greatly.
Pictured in the gallery:
Jolt – Known most notably for his exhibition at Foothills Art Center in Golden called Guerilla Garden, Jolt has a sense of humor that harkens back to the original days of graffiti more than the contemporary days of street art.
Andre Morbeck – He is a traveling artist with obvious skill at traditional styles of painting. But, he easily translates that skill onto walls, and this piece especially shows his talent since it’s on brick rather than a flat, smooth surface.
Marka27 – He commanded the side of Denver Rock Drill is this artist, born in Mexico and raised in Texas. The influence of traditional Central American culture is obvious, but it’s his composition on a wall that gives one goosebumps in appreciation.
MPEK – A Denver-based artist who is definitely known for the side of Burrito Giant, among other murals in town. A distinctive style, entrenched with influences from nature, spiritualism and maybe just a little psychedelics.
illson – Another Denver-based artist, who has been gaining more ground with more murals, especially in RiNo. First Draft, the garage doors across from the main CRUSH parking lot, and an alleyway between Walnut and Blake by 40th are some of the ones you might want to visit, if you aren’t familiar. This one is more abstract than his other pieces (that usually focus on some kind of portraiture) and shows off his ability to create 2D illusions that appear to be popping out of the wall.
Want more? Here’s a gallery of more photos from CRUSH 2017.
All photos in this gallery by Cori Anderson.