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: