The 27th and Larimer area was like a second home to me while living in Denver during the early 2000’s. Aside from teaching art at a private school, I curated art at the Meadowlark bar for a few years on the corner of 27th and Larimer in the Ballpark area, also known as the Rino Arts District. The owner of the Meadowlark convinced me to take on the vacant position and recruit young artists to exhibit their art work. It was already established as one of Denver’s premiere music venues and art bars. The position provided me an opportunity to connect and surround myself with like minded Denver creatives. I’m grateful for many of the friendships that grew out of the Meadowlark and the opportunity to be a part of a creative community.
Robin Munro was one of the first artists to approach me to show artwork at the Meadowlark. At the time, Robin (aka Dread) was beginning his street art journey and showed me his graffiti black book with conceptual drawings and his preliminary sketch of the canvas that would eventually be displayed on the notable stone walls in the Meadowlark bar. I recall the large panoramic canvas depicting a young boy facing his fears among life challenges in the finest graffiti style painting. After his month-long show, I remember Robin mentioning a Crush Festival he was organizing in the neighborhood with a few of his painter friends. I never attended his CRUSH festivals then but admired the alley walls around the bar after the event. The next year he would help me teach a street art class with my art students at Humanex Academy and showcase our school’s crew at a mural competition at the annual Peoples Fair. I’ve always admired Robin’s passion for expressing himself through his larger than life street paintings. He’s worked long and hard at perfecting his skill and that doesn’t come easy for any successful artist. I’ve enjoyed watching his life as an artist grow through social media while now living away from Denver. So, when I decided to travel from Pierre, SD to Denver a few weeks ago for this year’s Crush Walls Festival, I wasn’t sure I was going to see Robin, the festival’s brainchild. CRUSH artists are spread throughout the Rino Arts District and local artists are juggling home/work life during the week long event. Luckily, I ran into Robin briefly at the festival’s entrance toward the end of Thursday afternoon and was able to catch up before we departed for our evening commitments. I don’t remember how long it had been since we last saw each other, but we both talked about his first art show at the Meadowlark and how much the Crush Walls Festival has progressed in the last 10 years beginning with a few interested painter friends to being an internationally recognized street art event.
While attending the 10th annual CRUSH Walls Festival , my focus was to observe the artists create their larger than life canvases so that I could share with my art students at TF Riggs what it’s like to be a working street artist. It’s important to note that established artists are invited while emerging local artists must submit an online application to be accepted to paint at Crush Walls and earn a stipend. It was thrilling to watch the artists apply their fluid spray paint lines and delicate mists of highlights and shadows. I’m not skilled at using aerosol paint so when I saw that artists were also painting with brushes; I was reassured that my mural painting abilities weren’t far reaching. The other street art techniques I observed was carefully applied paper lettering, photographs, and textiles wheat pasted to the wall’s surfaces. Some artists installed hand lettered wood pieces to fences, foam and rubber sculptures to alley walls and electrical poles. Printed and hand painted stickers also covered garbage bins and electrical boxes. Many artists were in deep concentration either referring to preliminary drawings or listening to music through earbuds while they painted. While some painters relied on the breeze to ward off paint fumes, most artists wore paint respirators to protect themselves from chemical vapors. At times I caught myself in a friendly dance with an artist while walking down the alley as they stepped back from their work to observe from a distance. Artists were one with their work in a crowded space but allowed time to interact with viewers and answer questions. It was an opportunity to observe established street artists from all over the world in action doing what they do…create a positive vibe…a celebration of art, culture and community in a space of diversity.