Denver's Colorado Crush Street Art Festival: Where Aerosol & Kush Fill The Air and Vibrant Murals Line The Mile High City's Walls

Posted by Billyjam, September 18, 2015 11:01am | Post a Comment

Denver's ever evolving and expanding annual Colorado Crush street art festival, where the distinct odors of kush smoke and aerosol paint fumes fill the air while bright colorful, painstakingly handcrafted art pieces fill the walls of the Mile High City, is back again this week for what promises to be its best year to date - Colorado Crush 2015.

Begun by Robin Munro and others who shared a passion and love for street art as well as for their Colorado capitol city, the outdoor arts event began quietly back in 2009. But in the six years since this now internationally renowned street art festival has blossomed into one of Denver's signature art events, having grown exponentially and winning accolades along the way. Last year it won the 2014 Mayor's Design Award chosen by Denver's Mayor Michael B. Hancock - whose progressive city is unique in how it  embraces street art, even lending financial support, while other cities like New York continue to demonize it, making its creators criminals, and failing to distinguish between the various types of street art.

This year's Colorado Crush, that runs through Sunday September 20th, organizers say will be its "biggest and best" yet with participation up an estimated 50% resulting in even more outdoor art to enjoy, and with more business owners and community members getting involved and donating wall space.

Back when it began Colorado Crush was a comparatively more modest affair that was held at the EXDO Event Center. But this year's big event, like last year's where all of the photos on this Amoeblog I took are from, is a much larger spread out event that can be found all over the mile high city but is concentrated in the city's RiNo (River North) arts district in a long alley found between and parallel to Larimer and Walnut street, that stretches along all the way from 25th to 32nd streets . There you will find artists from all over the US and parts of Europe busy doing their art while simultaneously transforming an otherwise dingy back alley into a vibrant outdoor gallery of incredible art.

And as was the  case last year the art will in fact spread out beyond those street perimeters so if you go just start wandering and odds are you will find additional wall space on the Denver streets being filled with beautiful murals ranging in style and scale. As well as being the biggest year yet, in terms of the actual timeline alone the once two-day weekend festival has expanded into a week long event that officially kicked off this past Monday, Sept 14th. Makes sense too for an art festival at which each artist does his work on location - in the alley or backstreet. Some have been out painting since Monday while others will wait until today Friday or even tomorrow Saturday to begin work on theirs. This past week's extended set up preparation period can be as much a fun time to attend as over the weekend when most attend, reports Casey Karns (pictured below) who co-owns the Meadowlark Kitchen that conveniently backs onto the alley near 27th Street where Colorado Crush is centered around.

Unfortunately I have missed the first four days of this year's Colorado Crush but have just arrived now, Friday morning, into Denver airport in time for today and tonight's warm up (when under lights artists will be busy at work) and for the two main days this weekend - tomorrow Saturday September 19th and Sunday September 19th - all of which I will review later here. In addition to viewing the all the amazing art I will get to enjoy the hip-hop music on the stage set up in a converted parking lot off Larimer between 26th and 27th streets. At that stage last year performers included such hometown talents as Babah Fly who was the stage MC all day and Catch Lungs who poured his soul into his set,  in addition such visiting acts as Sunspot Jonz and Aspect One. At last year's festival one of the dozens of contributing artists told me what impressed him was how universally respected the art was. "All the art stays up for a year untouched and unvandalized," he noted. As well as contributing street artists Colorado Crush attracts artists of all styles. Renowned Denver based sound and visual artist Detour, whose subjects include Questlove and Tupac and whose pioneering sound art style came into being in the artist friendly town of Denver, will be in attendance again at Colorado Crush this year where you will find him at 28th and Larimer streets on Saturday and Sunday and where this year he has contributed a piece at that location.

Born Thomas Evans the mixed media artist Detour moved to Denver a decade ago as a student and has never left. It's hard to he says because Denver is an incredibly supportive and inspiring place to be an artist in  - one where people are always encouraging and down to collaborate. It is in Denver where he grew into the artist he is today and where he developed his unique approach to art. Detour's work melds sound and art in various formats including building speakers into his canvas oil paintings to using vinyl as his medium in his art, as well as his pioneering sound wave triggered paintings. He sees his work as consisting of "channeling concepts and issues about the urban arts culture through portraits of minority and urban subjects." With sound and the imagery of music continually playing a key role, and collaborating with such local musical artists as producer / multi-insturmentalist Felix Fast4ward and Soul Pros' DJ A-L, his dual media art connects the dots between music and fine arts utilizing both the latest technology and traditional methods. His is "art is for the people" he insists as evidenced by his December 2014 Denver show Art and Decibel - Behind The Canvas where the public interacted directly with his art and he accomplished his goal  of breaking down the traditional barriers between artist and art appreciator. At last year's Colorado Crush I caught up with Evans to discuss his art and his love of Denver as arts mecca all year round. See video below.
Thomas Evans (aka Detour) Amoeblog Interview @ Colorado Crush

At last year's Colorado Crush 80 different talented street artists (half from Colorado and the other half from out of state) converged to create their street art for the vast exhibit that is 100% free and open to the public (all ages) thanks to the support and underwriting of local businesses and the City of Denver, as well as under the shrewd curation of several key players on the Colorado Crush planning committee. One of the most visibly hard working organizers of Colorado Crush when I visited last year was the aforementioned Jonathan LAMB (himself an aerosol artist) who I met shortly after arriving in Denver this time last year. I met the charismatic LAMB on the eve of the kick off of Colorado Crush 2014 on an introduction by local hip-hop arts ambassador Casey Karns, who took a break from getting ready his since opened for business restaurant Meadowlark Kitchen, to show me around and introduce me to everyone in the local art and hip-hop scenes which overlap in Denver. Coming from a rich musical family Karns, whose brother is the DMC champ Chris Karns (formerly DJ Vajra) knows every hip-hop artist and every aerosol artist in Denver - and is a major fan of all elements of hip-hop.

Karns particularly loves all the aerosol art and has firsthand watched the annual fully independent grassroots urban arts festival blossom into something big and very special. "It is an amazing annual event where all the street artists come from all over to do street art in a six or eight block area and its a guaranteed good time. It's pretty much invite only at this point because there are very few walls left," he said last year of the event where the city of Denver pays for the paint and nobody is going to be going jail for their street art. As visiting artist Jake Merten (aka Look At Art) from Chicago articulated of the atypically warm reception towards aerosol art: "People really love to keep up with it here. They even have graffiti tours in Denver which is great because this is our fine art, this is our passion!" Jake who collaborated last year with Mad Man Art (John from LA) - see piece up above right - further marveled at how festival organizers, "Take good care of the artists in terms of supplies and scaffolding!"

Taking a break from organizing the pre Crush set-up on the Friday evening of last year LAMB stopped his work and pointed across the street at a totally faded out piece by Shepard Fairey (who incidentally has a brand new solo show that had an opening last night in NYC's Chelsea district). The piece by the one time obscure street artist, who is currently perhaps the world's best known street artist, had taken quite a beating by the weather. "The Earth took it back," smiled LAMB shaking his head. "Colorado winters are strong!" Indeed they can be with guaranteed snow each year, but locals here are also quick to repeat a statistic you hear a lot in the Colorado capital; that Denver gets 300 days of sunshine every year! Not surprisingly then in the 51 other (non Colorado Crush) weeks throughout the year, many visiting street artists stop through Denver to leave their creations on its walls. Many of them of them are high profile artists including Mike Giant, GATS (Graffiti Against The System) from the Bay Area, Colombian artist ETHOS, and Onesto from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Lamb points out to me that the City of Denver "pay for some of it…not all. They contributed but there's paint sponsors, private property owners" also involved.

One property owner turned cranky art critic at last year's event who could have caused some major drama to the festival but didn't thanks to the charismatic LAMB switching into fast thinking diplomat mode, and smoothing everything out before anyone realized what had gone done until after the fact.  The offending piece of art to this property owner, who reportedly found the building high image of a face eerily unsettling (qualifies as good art if it moves someone so much!), was by gifted Denver artist Gamma. The piece, that can be seen above as the artist was busy finishing it up on Sunday afternoon of last year's festival, ended up being painted over overnight and in lightning speed by three artists; Angelina Christina, Ease, and Dread who all painted together (their piece is left) through the late night/early morning h ours with Dread redoing his piece that was already on the same wall and Angelina and Ease adding in theirs. Of the undesirable position he was put in of trying to appease a property owner and an artist who had worked hard on his piece Lamb said afterwards, "It was nothing I took joy in but for the health and the growth and future of the festival it had to be done!" Other challenges that Lamb faced at last year's Colorado Crush were artists showing up with no space for them left on the assigned alley walls."We have that covered," said LAMB confidentally, "as we encountered quite a few artists who showed up to no space. So we had a whole alley dedicated just for that." That was last year and he has the same planned for this year's event. Find out more on the Colorado Crush 2015 Facebook page and/or peep the Negative4Productions piece on the fest below.

Colorado Crush 2014 - Independent Artist Festival by Negative4 Productions

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Casey Karns (1), Colorado Crush Street Art Festival (2), Denver (6), Johathan Lamb (1), Colorado Crush 2015 (2)