There’s CRUSH Walls, and then there’s the informal street art that happens nearby

Here’s who is behind some of the underground art scene in Denver.

Sie, right, and Keith Jive, center, paint as Brooke Juno looks at her wall from afar in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Sie, right, and Keith Jive, center, paint as Brooke Juno looks at her wall from afar in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
e678fae597e10226eb3452adb225d4ea

By Eli Imadali

The sharp smell of spray paint drifted through an alleyway a half-block from Larimer Street. The sounds of the nearby CRUSH Walls festival — its hundreds of attendees, blaring music and scissor lifts moving up and down — were mostly drowned out.

All that could be heard in the alley on Thursday evening was the hissing of spray paint canisters, occasional banter and laughter, and techno music coming from a small portable speaker. Several artists, all locals but one, worked diligently on their pieces splayed out across old brick walls. Some kicked back, drinks in their paint-splattered hands, joking around with each other and discussing different spraying techniques, while others tested paint colors to find that perfect shade.

These muralists weren’t technically part of the CRUSH Walls festival. They weren’t assigned these walls, paid for their work or given supplies, like CRUSH artists. But every year, they, along with many others, flock to the alleyways of the River North Art District during the festival to carry on a historic tradition of unsanctioned graffiti and street art.

“No matter the event, you’re still going to have the original artists and crews coming out. It’s our way of saying we’re still here…and we don’t need a gallery for it,” said Zeek, a graffiti artist from Elyria-Swansea.

He’s been doing graffiti for more than 11 years, since middle school. For as long as he can remember, he says local street and graffiti artists have been painting the alleyways of the area now known as RiNo, which includes parts of Five Points, Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and Cole. In 2010, CRUSH Walls was founded, formalizing the area’s artistic traditions with a mural festival that produces a plethora of beautiful work.

But informal art in the alleyways has remained vibrant. Crews come out year after year, Zeek said, showing people that they’re still here amid the art district.

Artists who joined Zeek on Thursday included Keith Jive, Sie, and Brooke Juno, whose paint canister jutted out of her camouflage leggings. An artist who goes by Adam sprayed the wall across from them, and just down the alley, Margarita and Milo relaxed in lawn chairs as Crudoe painted. Jethro, a local, hung out and watched.

These artists, as well as other crews, will be painting through the weekend.

Here’s what Thursday looked like:

Crudoe spray paints what he described as “death phonk” on his section of wall in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Crudoe spray paints what he described as “death phonk” on his section of wall in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Milo moves his ladder to work on a section of his mural in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Milo moves his ladder to work on a section of his mural in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
From left, Jethro, Milo and Margarita discuss different paints in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

From left, Jethro, Milo and Margarita discuss different paints in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
A few leaves caught some of the paint from Zeek’s mural in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

A few leaves caught some of the paint from Zeek’s mural in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Seek works on his piece in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Zeek works on his piece in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Zeek plans out his mural with a “lazy grid” on his tablet in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Zeek plans out his mural with a “lazy grid” on his tablet in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Margarita paints her section of wall in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Margarita paints her section of wall in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Milo laughs with friends as he paints a strawberry in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Milo laughs with friends as he paints a strawberry in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Paint smears collected on Keith Jives pants in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Paint smears collected on Keith Jives' pants in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Zeek looks up at his work from his trunk in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Zeek looks up at his work from his trunk in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Sie and Keith Jive’s murals covered a metal pole in addition to the wall in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Sie and Keith Jive’s murals covered a metal pole in addition to the wall in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
Brooke Juno, reflected in a window, works on her piece atop a ladder in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Brooke Juno, reflected in a window, works on her piece atop a ladder in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite
A step stool covered in paint leans on an artist’s truck in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

A step stool covered in paint leans on an artist’s truck in a River North Art District alleyway on Sept. 17, 2020.

Eli Imadali for Denverite

Thanks for reading another Denverite story

Looks like you’re the type of person who reads to the ends of articles! Well, true believer, you might really like our morning newsletter. It’s quick, free and gets you up to speed on the important and delightful things happening right here in Denver. Does Denverite help you feel more connected to what’s up in your area? Do you want to be a part of it?

Member donations are critical to our continued existence and growth.

Weird times

Denverite is powered by you. In these weird times, the local vigilance, the local context, the local flavor — it’s powered through your donations. If you’d miss Denverite if it disappeared tomorrow, donate today.

You’re our superpower

Denverite supporters have made the decision to financially support local journalism that matters to you. Ready to tell your networks why? Sharing our “About” page with your own personal comments could really help us out.

You’re our superpower

Denverite members have made the decision to financially support local journalism that matters to you. Ready to tell your networks why? Sharing our “About” page with your own personal comments could really help us out.