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.
This week’s curator is Forrest J. Morrison, a Denver-based muralist and fine artist whose work was featured in Alex Pangburn’s tour a few weeks back. For his own tour, Morrison chose to highlight pieces by artists who hadn’t been mentioned in our previous tours, as well as ones that hold strong personal significance for him.
“I think we formulate these really powerful subjective associations with art that sometimes supersede the actual piece or the artist’s intent,” Morrison said. “Sometimes we connect with art in ways that really has nothing to do with the imagery. It’s just how we’ve interacted with those pieces. So I put my list together based on work that I had kind of powerful associations with, pieces that I had connected to for various reasons, primarily as I kind of got my footing in the Denver creative scene. You know, pieces and artists who kind of inspired that process for me.”
Spend this long weekend checking out his picks below!
WHO: Jason Thielke, a Denver-based artist best known for his portraits composed of thin, scribbly lines
WHERE: 2288 Broadway
Morrison’s take: “His style is just very unique. He does a lot of portraits that are like silhouettes with these cool scribbles and lines and sketch marks that kind of create the texture of the piece. And a lot of times those lines will extend out beyond the piece. They just create this really cool movement within what would otherwise be just kind of a static portrait.
“I encountered Jason’s work for the first time probably 15 years ago, back when David B. Smith gallery was located on Santa Fe Drive and they were called Limited Addiction. It was one of those places that when I really wanted to see some kind of cool contemporary art or something just really fun and lowbrow, I could either go to the bookstore and pick up a Juxtapose or I could go to Limited Addiction and see some of those same artists’ work — you know, originals and in person. It was just a super cool scene that kind of evolved from this limited print, limited edition print gallery, into David B Smith, which is very much a reputable high-end gallery.
“But Jason was an artist whose work I saw there and really loved it and admired the style. And I immediately started picking out pieces that he had done. That piece, I drive by it fairly frequently. It’s a super visible piece. I think that might have been the first one that I saw in Denver. And there’s no mistaking his style. It’s so recognizable. There’s just a lot of movement and emotion in that piece for such a simple design… I just really love it. It’s such a strong representation of his work and his style.
“It’s a little bit nostalgic for me in the sense that his work was super-inspiring for me way back when. And just that whole Limited Addiction era was such a cool, inspiring, creative time. And for me, it kind of represents a lot of that early excitement and potential that I saw in having a career in the arts, and what that might mean or lead to.”
WHO: Mike Graves, a Colorado-based artist and muralist known for his lively characters; and Chris Huth, a Colorado-based artist and print maker
WHERE: Illegal Pete’s Colfax, 2001 E. Colfax Ave.
Morrison’s take: “Mike Graves is another one of those artists like Jason’s Fielke that for me is kind of like, their style is so iconic to their work. You can recognize it anywhere. He’s a painter and illustrator. He has this kind of cool whimsical character style.
“The first time I was exposed to Mike’s work was probably around the same time that I encountered Jason’s work. There was this gallery — it was like a gallery, a collectible toy shop and a graphic design studio all wrapped up into one in Boulder. It was called Joy Engine. And Joy Engine just kind of felt like it was like the coolest skate shop you ever went to, but it was just all these artistic ideas and graphic designs, toys and artwork. At the time, I was living in Boulder and just kind of starting in the arts. I had been doing photography for years before that and was transitioning into fine art and painting. And that was like the coolest place to see or show art in town at the time.
“Mike Graves has gone on to do so many other really cool things since then, that I think we’re all familiar with him, or it’s at least been on a lot of people’s radar. That whole crowd — you know, that Joy Engine crowd — has just gone on to do such cool things. He’s just another one of those artists who, when I see their work, it kind of represents this potential, and you know, community building within the creative community. There’s a kind of power in community. And I guess for me, when I see his work, it kind of reminds me of the opportunities within the creative community to build things that are really exciting and encapsulate a lot of different ideas or different art forms.”
WHO: Joshua Finley, a self-taught muralist and illustrator based in Denver; and Patrick McGirr, a Denver-based artist
WHERE: Mutiny Information Cafe, 2 S. Broadway
Morrison’s take: “I just really loved that piece. I just really like how many ideas are packed into that simple mural. It’s an homage to so many things all at once. Just all the characters from novels, children’s book characters, musicians, the authors, the kind of local imagery. It has a lot of that kind of West Coast, Hot Rodder feel. I think it’s perfect for Mutiny, which is a super unique place. It’s super-cool. It’s kind of as punk rock as a bookstore gets.
“And it says so much about Mutiny Information Cafe, the Mutiny brand. I really like, from a commercial perspective, commissions that really bridge brand identity with original creative thought in a way that you’re not necessarily replicating a logo or like a brand statement, but you’re able to speak to it so strongly through these other creative ideas and imagery. And I really love the way they were able to communicate the ethos, the vibe of Mutiny and in just a simple letter mural. There’s just so many so many characters and ideas packed in there that just really exemplify the feel of Mutiny. I think it’s really powerful.”
WHO: Gamma “Gamma Gallery” Acosta, a Colorado-based street artist known for his photo-real murals, many of which make a political statement
WHERE: 37th and Downing St.
Morrison’s take: “Gamma is just like incredible, right? He’s been doing it forever. He’s prolific. His pieces are so well done, from a technical perspective. He does all these really hyper-realistic pieces. And they’re always super-smart. There’s a lot of wit and compassion.
“And he’s definitely not afraid to be provocative. It’s just kind of everything that public art should be. You know, you can connect to it on this deep human level, but it’s also just jaw-droppingly beautiful. His pieces are always very technically ambitious, from just the repetition of forms. Like in this piece with the woman robed in butterflies. Just the sheer number of butterflies, the scale of that.
“I love the symbolism in that piece. She’s just kind of showing you know what’s under her mask. You know the skull, it’s like raw humanity. And she’s just totally enrobed in butterflies. There’s a lot in there about change and metamorphosis and what we are on the outside versus the inside. There’s also the ‘masks we wear’ kind of concept.
“But it’s also a momento mori, which is a tradition that I think is super-interesting and important in art — you know, the kind of exploration of the concept that our time here is limited. I think that recognizing that creates a lot of opportunity to do things while we’re here. For me, the momento mori, it’s this challenge to do better. You’ve got today to make something, or do something, or be something. The symbolism of the mask and the butterflies, at least for me, it very much is a challenge to choose to be your true self regardless of who you have been because our time here is limited.”
WHO: Gamma Acosta
WHERE: 36th and Brighton Boulevard
Morrison’s take: “It’s just a kind of like super-gentle feeling. There’s a lot of warmth and connection in the piece that’s in contrast to the samurai figure, which is this kind of violent enforcer. The way that he’s able to contrast those ideas and feelings and in such a deep way, I really admire
“I think he’s, at least in the street art scene, as accomplished technically and in his ability to connect with the shared humanity, as any reputable fine art painter. He just really embodies that kind of tradition of art, and what it means. You know, why it’s so important to us as humans, why it’s existed for so long.
“I think he touches on every aspect of the community and our shared experience and the conflicts we have. Street art in itself is a kind of provocative thing. You’re confronting people with something rather than inviting them to participate. You’re not selling them an admission ticket for them to see it, you’re just putting it right there in front of them. And he just… He does it so well.”
WHO: Gamma Acosta
WHERE: Garage door on east side of Brighton heading north from downtown
Morrison’s take: “The painting is kind of built from this colored background in such a perfectly minimalist way to render this figure from background without having to put a lot of information on it. But the lighting is just these really interesting stripes of light, like you’d see through like the blinds in a window on someone’s face. It’s just a super-simple, effective execution with a really ambitious lighting scheme. Just super-strong.”
When you’re in the area….
💈 Techniques Hair Shop
WHERE: 860 Santa Fe Dr.
WHAT: A family-owned neighborhood barbershop
Morrison’s take: “I would love to suggest to people who are on the tour that if they’ve still got that ‘COVID’ look, they can go to where Techniques Hair Shop. I just love that place. I love the guys there. They do a great job, and I’d love to send some business their way.
“Jeremy, the owner, is just a super cool guy. I’ve been getting my hair cut there forever. It very much is that true neighborhood barbershop experience where you get an awesome haircut and you get all the gossip on what’s happening in the neighborhood. All the neighbors kind of know each other. I think it’s a really important part of our experience as a community. Like you need real people and physical places where you can connect with your neighbors that’s not social media. You know, it’s not the anonymous internet experience. It’s real people and real lives and real interactions where you’re supporting your neighborhood business to make your neighborhood a better place. I think it goes kind of beyond the ‘shop local’ model. It’s investing in your own backyard.”
🛍️ Soul Haus/Squadron
WHERE: 1225 E. 17th Ave./1227 E. 17th Ave.
WHAT: A hip women’s and men’s boutique duo
Morrison’s take: “They were a men’s boutique that kind of expanded into some women’s clothing and gifts and other things. And they became so large as a concept that they moved the men’s boutique next door into a concept called Squadron. So there’s Soul Haus and Squadron.
“I’ve been shopping Soul Haus house for as long as I’ve been in Denver. It’s just this super cool place. They go to fashion trade shows every year, and they bring back really cool, edgy collections of clothes. But it’s super affordable pricing. So it’s kind of like the best ‘bang for your buck’ men’s boutique.
“And every single piece I’ve gotten there, I get compliments and comments on everywhere I go — pieces I bought there 10 years ago. So it’s just kind of that coolest place to find really unique fashion. Chris, the owner there, he’ll talk your ear off. He’s a great guy. I love the place.”
📚 Fahrenheit’s Books
WHERE: 210 S Broadway #1510
WHAT: A used bookstore with an eclectic selection
Morrison’s take: “My favorite bookstore on South Broadway is Fahrenheit’s. They’ve always got the coolest used books. A lot of times I’ll have an idea of what I’m looking for and then I’ll leave with something totally different. Which is, you know, any kind of used goods place, that’s kind of the best way to do it. A couple years ago, they had signed Edward Gorey prints. And they’ve got a really nice collection of first editions, a really great selection of art books… I just love that place.”