(Mural of Denver Nugget Nikola Jokić by Detour303)
Denver’s been growing for years now and the past 10 years have been transformative, thanks to, among other things, the booming cannabis industry, an influx of tech companies and everything that goes with urban growth. Development is often good for art, and Denver’s local street art community is among the most vibrant and diverse in America. There’s a plethora of interesting and colorful walls to wander among and admire. Consider this your starter guide to Denver’s best street art right now, as well as some of the muralists to look out for.
RiNo Art District
River North Art District (RiNo) is home to hundreds of murals and has become the central hub for Denver’s street art scene. Spanning about a square mile, RiNo Arts District sits near the heart of the city, running from 38th Street in the north to 20th Street in the south with the city’s major highway, I-25, on its west — an easy drive from anywhere in town. One of the neighborhood’s distinctive features is the large number of back alleys, which are full of murals and graffiti productions from esteemed artists such as Birdcap, PichiAvo, Hoxxoh, Dirt Cobain and more.
Beyond the abundance of murals, RiNo is also filled with local coffee shops, craft breweries and cannabis dispensaries. Many businesses buy into the artistic vibe, commissioning local artists to decorate their walls with art and paintings. There’s also a host of galleries, such as RedLine, The Temple and Visions West Contemporary, should you want to take some of the art back home with you.
If your trip is near the beginning of the month, make sure not to miss First Fridays, a monthly event held on the first Friday of each month where galleries and studios open their doors to the public late at night with parties and free drinks, offering a chance to meet with local artists and curators.
Detour303 / Thomas Evans
While cruising around looking for murals, there is one artist whose work will be sure to catch your eye: Thomas Evans aka Detour303. Evans is among the most high-profile artists in town, known for his myriad of colorful portraitures, often of musicians (like Charles Mingus, Jay-Z and Prince); civil rights icons (such as Maxine Walters, Martin Luther King and John Lewis); and local sports stars, including players from the Denver Nuggets. As an African American artist, Evans frequently paints prominent Black figures who historically have been underrepresented in artistic media.
His artistic moniker comes from early in his creative journey. Formerly a breakdancer, he was living in Germany and came across a VHS tape of a California dance crew titled “Detour,” liked the name and took it with him when he transitioned into murals. The 303 is an homage to the Colorado area code, his adopted home.
Beyond his incredible murals, Evans is known for his supportive personality and his efforts to help up-and-coming artists. One of his traditions is Art Tip Tuesday, a weekly video series in the style of an advice column, where he offers guidance to artists looking to improve their craft. He also published a book, “Be The Artist: The Interactive Guide to a Lasting Art Career.”
Speaking of community interaction, one element that sets Evans apart from other artists are his interactive pieces. A musician as well as a visual artist, he has released canvases connected to a soundboard with different colors coordinated to different sounds. Viewers can touch the pieces and manipulate the colors and sounds, allowing them to create an audiovisual mixtape.
Across Denver, Casey Kawaguchi’s murals stand out with their sharp black lines and captivating poise. Growing up in a Japanese family in Utah, Kawaguchi was inspired by the samurai memorabilia in his grandma’s house and utilized those memories when he moved to Denver to pursue a career in street art.
Kawaguchi’s murals look as though they were pulled straight from the page of a manga. As he honed his craft, he began experimenting with the recurring character of the female samurai, outlining a story that viewers can write in their own heads. By painting his heritage, Kawaguchi pays homage to the art and ancestry that inspires him while also honoring his family’s legacy in America.
“My character is a type of person who’s different from me,” Kawaguchi explained in describing his iconic female samurai character to UP Magazine. “She helps me disconnect from the art a little bit. But at the same time, it is a self-representation.”
His work can be found on walls across the city as well as in local galleries such as ILA.
Pulling from graffiti roots, Chris Haven’s charming art is personified in the form of a cheeky smiling pyramid character. The Denver native has developed a range of interpretations of the pyramid, swapping color palettes and form. Some renditions have taken shape as a Smurf, an archery target, a Christmas tree and more. The pyramid character was originally a symbol for his old graff crew: they would all paint triangles, which, when stacked together, formed a pyramid. In the past few years, Haven has begun painting murals to explore the range of ways in which he can express himself. He found that by painting he could create a positive impact on the community around him. No matter the form, the pyramid is always smiling.