If you’ve been in Downtown Denver this past week, you might have walked right through the biggest undertaking yet by internationally renowned artist Shantell Martin. Her piece, organized as part of the Terra Firma series by Denver Theatre District (DTD) and curated by NINE dot ARTS, was finished on Friday. Martin has painted walls in New York, Toronto, Nashville and Miami, to name a few. She also creates other pieces of art—circuit boards, textiles, designs on cars, mugs and bikes — but Denver is her first stab at sidewalk painting.
The mural, which curves around the corner from Champa to Stout Street along 14th, changes from black background with white doodles to the opposite. As with all of Martin’s paintings, there is no defined beginning or end. Her art is about the process, about finding some kind of understanding or appreciation no matter where you are coming from. This piece is special, aside from being the first on the ground, because she does not often work with spray paint. The other portion of the installation is a bench that Martin designed and created with a team in New York—where she works and lives—and shipped to Denver.
Each day, after Martin finished, a crew from NINE dot ARTS came in with five-gallon buckets of a clear protective coating. They brushed it on with paint rollers to keep the mural sealed for a few years. The process of painting a sidewalk is more complicated than painting a wall mural, and the crew from NINE dot ARTS has been working for 18 months with different versions of paint and coating to see how the art would stand up to Colorado’s seasonality.
The mural catches the attention of passers-by in a novel way— mostly when they are staring at their phones and notice the sidewalk is not any normal dirty sidewalk, but a piece of art. At first, some people immediately look around to see if they are supposed to be walking on it. The piece is a trip — you can follow one squiggly line, you can look for words that you connect with, you can appreciate the cartoonish faces. And because there is a tactical element to this one, it’s more immersive than Martin’s previous wall murals. Unfortunately, Martin made a comment that she would not be doing another sidewalk painting because it is physically taxing. Though that may be a bummer for other cities, Denver should be happy to be so lucky.
With the addition of Martin’s black-and-white sidewalk art to Konstantin Dimopolous’ Blue Trees, the Denver Theatre District is undertaking a creative transformation, which is what it set out to do. And it’s free for everyone to enjoy.
Martin’s art, along with the bench she called “DON’T HIDE + YOU ME” will become another interactive experience, one that is sure to be shared all over social media. Give her credit when and if you do, because even when the pieces become part of your everyday commute to work, they will still be original artworks. Denver will undoubtedly appreciate this innovative, fun and meditative changing of the scenery around the Convention Center, which proves once again that the city and its residents are always looking for ways to enhance art and creativity exposure.