He’d taken off his suit jacket and loosened his tie after the church service so the mourner was ready to paint when he stopped by a mural that honors a victim of gun violence.
Robert Bills daubed three words in white on the blue wall: “You are light.”
Muralist Thomas Evans, known as Detour, had left a large section of the wall to be filled with such tributes. Most of the rest of the wall outside Leon gallery was filled with a portrait of Isabella Thallas, known as Bella, who was murdered June 10 while she and her boyfriend were walking their dog in the Ballpark section of Five Points. Evans was a longtime friend of Thallas’s boyfriend, Darian Simon, who was injured in the shooting that killed Thallas. Evans had met Thallas just a week before her death at the offices of the fashion company Simon had co-founded, Be a Good Person. He created a mural for the company.
Evans began the mural for her on Monday and worked Wednesday morning while services for Thallas were held at a nearby church. A day earlier, Thallas’s parents and other relatives had come to watch Evans paint. They added their own notes to the tribute wall and some pitched in on the portrait. Evans said it had been hard to find words to express himself to Thallas’s family, and he hoped his mural would do the talking for him. He said her mother told him that instead of going to the cemetery, she would visit the mural.
“It’s something the family can just gather around,” Evans said.
“I couldn’t got to the hospital at all to see Darian because of COVID,” Evans said. “You want to help, but there’s almost no way to help.”
Tuesday, Denver’s district attorney announced that a man had been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and other crimes in the shooting that seriously injured Simon.
The mural was offered as a gift, Evans said.
“I just wanted to do something to find a way to release that energy.”
Bills, a friend of Thallas’s father who had known her since she was two years old, welcomed the gift.
“It’s a place for anyone to come gather and come reflect,” Bills said. “I think art helps you reflect. You always find beauty in something, whether it’s tragedy or love.”
Evans had approached Leon’s directors several weeks ago about painting a mural. His original plan had been to fill the wall with a portrait of a teacher he knows. After the shooting, he decided to paint Thallas’s portrait instead. He included roses, a motif prominent in his earlier work that he has returned to recently.
In recent weeks, Evans has been mourning people he does not know in murals. Working with a friend, Hiero Veiga, he has emblazoned walls around town with giant portraits of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain, all Black victims of police violence whose deaths have energized protests against racism.
Mourners brought candles and flowers to Thallas’s mural outside Leon Gallery at 1112 East 17th Avenue in the City Park West neighborhood. Candles and flowers also have been laid at Evans’s murals depicting Floyd, Taylor and McClain.
The repetitive motion of laying on paint can be meditative, Evans said, though he admitted to some back pain from standing on ladders.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m almost on autopilot now, just getting through the work to help other people heal,” Evans said. “I haven’t had work this important in awhile.”
Evans said he had felt a bit directionless working in his studio earlier in the pandemic. Veiga, who came Wednesday to help with Thallas’s portrait, said the coronavirus has faded in importance in his mind.
“There is so much happening during the pandemic that shouldn’t be happening,” Veiga said, adding that working on murals is a way to use his craft to help “people get through.”
“That’s the loudest way my voice is heard, is through my craft,” Veiga said.
Evans has pointed the way for him.
“He is just a champion,” Veiga said. “He puts his emotions … aside and pushes through. It very much inspires me as an artist.”