Here’s a free driving tour of Denver’s murals, curated by street artist Koko Bayer
You asked, we’re delivering.
After receiving several requests from you, our readers, for recommendations on how to find the coolest street art in Denver, it became clear to us that Denverites have an appetite for art that can be enjoyed in a safe, socially-distanced way. That’s why every Friday, we’ll be dropping a walking, driving or biking tour of Denver’s street art, each curated by a different prominent local muralist.
In our first tour, curator Olive Moya listed a mural by Koko Bayer as one of her favorites around town: a gray scale depiction of aspen trees and images of eyes which Bayer borrowed from the work of her late grandfather, esteemed photographer Herbert Bayer.
This week, Bayer is taking over as curator of our mural walking/biking/car tour. A Denver native, she uses wheat-pasting — a technique that involves fixing pieces of paper to a surface using flour-based glue — to create large-scale public artwork. She’s behind all of those hearts overlaid with the word “Hope” that started popping up during the start of the pandemic. Through Project Spread Hope, Bayer hopes to spread a bit of joy and lightness to the Denver community.
Take an hour to drive around town and check out Bayer’s picks. You can also watch her work in real time at the Babe Walls festival in Westminster this weekend.
WHERE: 5th Ave. and S. Broadway, across from Meininger Art Supplies
WHO: Joseph Martinez, a Denver artist known not only for his large-scale murals but for his tiny matchbox drawings; and Boy Kong, an artist who works primarily out of New York and Orlando and who’s influenced by surrealism, graffiti art, folklore and Ukiyo-e art.
Bayer’s take: “I included this one because it’s just a really happy, sweet little mural. And it just makes me happy whenever I see it. It’s really well painted. It just has this sweet lightness to it.”
WHERE: 965 Santa Fe Dr., on the walls of the Center for Visual Art. This zone is home to several of Bayer’s favorite pieces.
WHO: Shepard Fairey, a well-known American artist and activist who notably created the Barack Obama “Hope” poster. His is the “Bright Future” mural on the left side of this CVA wall.
Bayer’s take: “Shepard Fairey is really one of my heroes. I’ve always followed his work. I mean, him and Banksy are definitely the best known street artists in the world. And I love how he has always just stuck to his roots and his message. Like, we all know exactly what his politics are, and he’s really clear about it. And I really like that about him.
“And this, I think, is just visually a really great piece. It kind of makes you think a little bit. It kinda just makes me think about how this incredible wealth that’s out there in the world really runs everything, and then the world they’ve created is kind of breaking down. It’s just not working anymore. I think that’s kind of what it was after.”
WHO: Sandra Fettingis, a Colorado-based artist known for creating abstract geometric patterns. She painted the wall above the entrance to the CVA.
Bayer’s take: “I love her piece on here. Sandra’s stuff is just everywhere. I love the precision and the thought of her work, the way that she uses color. And I consistently always enjoy her pieces.
“She’s a really talented artist, and she’s also really good at the business of being an artist. To get these public spots, doing these open calls… It takes a lot of work. And a lot of us just really don’t have that skill set. I can speak for myself, but I think also a lot of artists — it’s not natural to market yourself.”
WHO: Jaime Molina, whose signature folksy style and characters are easily recognizable around town. His piece is right beneath Fettingis’.
Bayer’s take: “Jaime’s stuff is all over. And this one’s just by Jaime. A lot of the bigger ones are by him and Pedro Barrios together. They call themselves The Worst Crew, which I think is funny.
“I like his world. It has these sort of references to Mexican imagery, like the way that he uses the sculls and things like that. But it’s really this reflection of him. He’s this really high-level… Jaime is just this really beautiful person. He’s just the sweetest, most genuine person, and there’s that kind of honesty in his artwork that I really love.”
WHERE: Across the CVA Plaza, facing the pieces listed above
WHO: Shrine, an LA artist whose massive, colorful wraparound murals cover entire buildings, boats, cars and more
Bayer’s take: “This particular one is one of my very favorite pieces in town, and one where it’s easy to drive by on Santa Fe and not see it. He travels the world doing these. And he does a lot of, you know, schools in the middle of Tibet … but I just love this piece.”
WHERE: Champa St. and 13th St., in the middle of the Colorado Convention Center
WHO: David Cho, a fine artist with a large following
Bayer’s take: “So this used to be one of the great epicenters of great street art in Denver. But there’s, like, one of the pieces left, which is this amazing one by Dave Cho who’s one of the best known street artists in the world.
“It’s sort of a Russian nesting doll. It’s just an amazing piece. It’s starting to fade a little bit, but he’s such a great painter. I just like the mastery of his style. It’s a spray paint piece, and it’s just so well done. And also the kind of mysteriousness of it. I tend to like that. I like it when I can’t really figure out what something is about right away.”
WHERE: Cherry Creek Trail, between Lawrence and Larimer streets
WHO: Casey Kawaguchi, a Denver-based artist whose paintings of female figures that are inspired by his Japanese heritage are easily recognizable around town
Bayer’s take: “Down along Speer, there’s just a ton of great pieces. And one by Casey Kawaguchi is one of my very favorites. That’s a really amazing one.”
WHERE: Platt Ave. and 15th St.
WHO: Stefano Castronovo, an Italian artist known for his large-scale depictions of the “Mona Lisa,” as well as for his painted leather jackets
Bayer’s take: “I thought another interesting tour to do at some point would be Denver’s classic murals. Like, ones that have been here for a long time. This one would be on that list as well.
“Just by the nature of what they are, they don’t tend to last that long. It’s really the oldest mural in Denver that I can think of. And I remember it from being a kid. For me, this one is partially just nostalgia in that it’s a mural that I’ve kind of been looking at my whole life. In this town, it’s almost like, oh, you want to build something there? We’re gonna tear this down. There’s this constant remaking of the town, so it’s cool to see these things that do stick around. You kind of treasure those things that are still around from when you were a kid.
“And then I remember when I was in New York, seeing like a big one of his somewhere downtown, a big, giant version of the “Mona Lisa.” I was like, ‘Oh, man, we got one of those in Denver!’ Through the ’70s, he did these Mona Lisa’s all over the world. I don’t know why the Mona Lisa… he’s just obsessed with it. I have a couple photographs of those in my dad’s archive. And it was color, and it’s totally faded out to black and white, but it was red, I think the edges around it. So it’s had a really long, interesting life. To me it has that sort of varnishy look to it. It has that sort of greenish cast.”
WHERE: Across from Improper City, 3201 Walnut St., another one of Bayer’s all time favorite mural spots
WHO: PichiAvo, a Spanish artist duo known for urban artwork that blends classical art with contemporary graffiti. Last week’s curator, Alex Pangburn, also chose this piece, but Bayer points out a contribution by the Belgian artist Jaune Marion: a few teeny-tiny construction workers hidden on the right side of the mural.
Bayer’s take: “It’s so epic. Those ones up top, that’s the toss-up style where you get that outline and then just sort of a sloppy fill. And then to be able to recreate that and then within that…
“Do you see where it says SJK 171 and Mike 171? Those two guys are two of the original New York taggers that started it all. They happened to be out here for CRUSH and they put them up on there.
“And then there’s those little construction guys in there which are by a Belgium artist. He does these little tiny, tiny guys.”
WHERE: Outside of Improper City, opposite the PichiAvo piece
WHO: MPek, a Mexican artist based in Denver. MPek blends futuristic alien imagery with images inspired by the Mexican, Aztec and Mayan cultures.
Bayer’s take: “I love MPek. He’s one of my favorite painters. They’re all sort of Aztecy. But also kind of like, UFOs…. he had this alien encounter when he was a kid in Mexico City that somehow informs his paintings.”
WHERE: The alley behind Dateline Gallery (3004 Larimer St.), on 30th and Larimer streets
WHO: A collab between Chris Haven, a Denver-based artist best known for his pyramid-shaped characters and for his city scapes, and Jaune Marion, the artist known for his small construction workers. Plus, another Kawaguchi piece.
Bayer’s take: “(Haven’s) probably my favorite graffiti artist in town and is also a good friend. And then these are the pyramid people. They’re almost various topics — like, this one was right when White Claw was super-popular. There’s always this commentary.
“This is a collab between between Haven and that guy who does construction workers. And there’s a great little classic Casey piece.”
WHERE: The alley on 29th St. between Walnut and Larimer streets
WHO: Jody “Chroma J” Herrera, a New Mexican painter whose work showcases women persevering through difficult times in their lives
Bayer’s take: “I love this piece by Chroma J. Jody Herrera is just one of my very favorite painters. She’s from Albuquerque, and she’ll be back again this year for the CRUSH. She’s an amazing painter.”
WHERE: A garage door on 28th, between Larimer St. and Walnut St.
WHO: Casey Kawaguchi
Bayer’s take: “It’s really hard to pick with Casey’s pieces because he’s just so consistent. But I watched him paint this one, and I always really love it whenever I come by it.
“These alleys actually used to be railroad tracks. And they would pull these boxcars right up to these buildings, and so that’s why some of them look like that — that’s a boxcar height. I think it’s just a really classic Casey piece and it’s a very challenging wall. That garage door is a huge pain in the a**. And I love the way his brushstroke becomes the snake. I just love his pieces.”
WHERE: Behind Meadowlark (2701 Larimer St.), on 27th and Larimer streets
WHO: GATS, or “Graffiti Against The System,” a California-based artist best known for his signature masks, seen here
Bayer’s take: “This is, I think, one of the greatest pieces of graffiti in town. He’s a world renowned graffiti artist. I just love his style. Something about style is so unique, and it just really pops. I don’t really know exactly what it is about it. I just have always loved his pieces.”
While you’re there…
WHERE: 2862 Larimer St.
WHAT: A hip coffee shop and breakfast cafe on Larimer
Bayer’s take: “I would definitely put Crema as my spot to stop. They make consistently great coffee, which should really be the only criteria for coffee shop. But I think most places make horrible coffee. I don’t know why. It might have to do with the altitude. But I like espresso. I don’t like milk and sugar and stuff. The cortado is my coffee call of choice.”