Out Of The Shadows: Take A Tour Of Denver's Alleyway Art Galleries

Aug 30, 2018

This summer, real estate agents James Carlson and Erin Spradlin have been taking tourists around the streets of Denver. But it’s not hot properties they’re taking them to see.

The husband-and-wife team recently started the Denver Graffiti Tour, showcasing some of the biggest murals and best street artists in the city, after taking a similar tour in Bogota, Columbia.

“We got to meet locals in a way that we wouldn’t normally have,” Spradlin said. “We got to see a neighborhood we otherwise wouldn’t have. And we got to hear about the history and the politics of that neighborhood through some amazing art.”

James Carlson and Erin Spradlin run Denver Graffiti Tour
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

When they returned to Denver, they began interviewing local street artists as well as some of the national and international muralists who have painted in the city. On the tour, they share those stories.

They also share the art form’s illicit roots and its continued place in the scene, Carlson said.

“Both forms are art,” he said. “One is not better than the other. They’re just coming from two different places.”

Before many of these paintings become something new as part of the upcoming CRUSH Walls festival, here are some highlights from a recent two-hour tour of the River North – or RiNo – District, one of the most painted neighborhoods in the city:

'Revenge Fantasy' Hyland Mather
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

“Revenge Fantasy”

Hyland Mather

James Carlson: When Mather was originally commissioned to paint the wall it was to help stop a graffiti tagging problem. He painted the phrase “You know I love you.” Mather, like many street artists, had gotten his start in illegal graffiti and was paying tribute to those artists, even as he was painting over their work. But the other artists didn’t exactly love him back -- tagging the piece again. The next year he returned and painted this mural, entitled “Revenge Fantasy.” Mather sees the piece now as a conversation between himself and other street artists.

Wheat paste by Apillnyc Medias
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

Consume cans

Apillnyc Medias

Carlson: Not all street art is done with paint. There is also wheat pasting, which features a poster adhered to the wall with a mix of water and flour. As part of his anti-capitalist side, every time he goes to a new city he puts these cans up.

Mural by street artist Ahol Sniffs Glue
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

Ahol Sniffs Glue

Carlson: The tired, droopy eyes are meant to represent the grind of the working class. The artist fights for the rights of street artists, particularly after a legal fight with American Eagle. The clothing company used one of his murals as the background for an international marketing campaign without permission. The artist filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement and the two settled out of court.

#WhatUnitesUs by Kelsey Montague
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

"#WhatUnitesUs"

Kelsey Montague

Carlson: Montague focuses on interactive street art with much of her work focusing on wings that can be "worn." This mural was designed to be a uniting force during a time of crisis in our society.

'Larimer Boy' by Jeremy Burns
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

"Larimer Boy/Larimer Girl"

Jeremy Burns

Carlson: Burns was a former studio artist but suffered a shoulder injury caused by too many hours painting in a fixed position. He found that the sweeping motions of painting larger canvases helped and eventually began working on wall murals. These paintings have been in place since 2015, which is an eternity in murals. Burns created this unique effect -- which shifts from a boy to a girl as the viewer moves further down the street -- by drawing the image and cutting it into strips and then projected the drawing onto the building’s fins at night and painted it.

'Larimer Girl' by Jeremy Burns
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

Yarn bomb

Ladies Fancywork Society

Yarn bomb by the Ladies Fancywork Society
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

Carlson: The Ladies started as a crochet club in 2007 and moved on to guerilla yarn bombs. Now the Denver-based group creates small and large-scale works around the country.

Dragon76

Dragon76
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

Carlson: The paint roller and can held in the hand of the “robot samurai” is a tribute to the artists tools. While many street artists use spray paint, Dragon 76 uses a brush and roller. He also frequently paints this image when he does live painting performances.

Elle

Elle
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

Carlson: In her early years, this NYC artist wore a mask when she painted her illicit works, often using a fire extinguisher filled with paint as her brush. Now she has dropped the mask and picked up clients including Reebok and Ikea.

'Skin Condition' by Gamma
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

"Skin Condition"

Gamma

Erin Spradlin: Gamma is Idolized in the Denver street art scene for his use of can control and ability to do large murals without a projector or grid. While he focuses mainly on political murals, he was also commissioned to do the mural of Peyton Manning after the Broncos went to the Super Bowl in 2014.

Patrick Kane McGregor
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

Evil Knievel

Patrick Kane McGregor

Spradlin: The artist is known for high-end facial work. McGregor got his start in advertising in Los Angeles.

DINKC
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

DINKC

Spradlin: Newer to the Denver scene, DINKC -- pronounced Dink, the KC is a tribute to his Kansas City roots -- is a true entrepreneur. In addition to his murals, DINKC also does canvases, stickers, prints and a line of clothing and toys.

Charles Mingus

Thomas “Detour” Evans

Spradlin: The artist’s most recent claim to fame was being commissioned to paint portraits of Jay-Z and David Letterman for the Netflix show “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman.”

Detour
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC

Permission wall

Various artists

A back alley 'permission wall.'
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

Spradlin: A permission wall is one that street artists have tagged so many times that the building’s owners have decided to let them paint whatever they want on it.  The art isn’t curated but this type of work is how many street artists get their start. Note the paint cans strung up above the alley. The art painted on them matches the design on the wall right across from them.

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to identify James Carlson and Erin Spradlin's jobs outside of the Denver Graffiti Tour as real estate agents. An earlier version identified them incorrectly as developers.

Paint cans hang from a line across an alleyway.
Credit Ashley Jefcoat / KUNC