An Ode to Street Art: A Snapshot of Graffiti Art in Denver

Essay and photos by Giles Clasen

The Denver Urban Arts Fund seeks to minimize graffiti by funding large murals.

I first became aware of the artistic value of street art when I was working with homeless teens 10 years ago. I wasn’t naturally skilled at working with kids, but I was curious and wanted to find a way to relate to them.

Several of my young friends carried markers and “tagged” street signs, light posts, and buildings. Some parents thought of this as vandalism, and they wanted me to help them address it. I began doing a lot of research and started seeing the artistic value of the work street artists accomplished around the world.

I went to the kids I served and showed them what some street artists were making. The kids were inspired, and wanted to move from writing their initials in a stylized manner to broader urban art. 

Wazzee Union, 3501 Wazee Street. Corner painted by JESTER.

I bought some particleboard, made 1-foot by 1-foot squares, and we began practicing more complex work inspired by some of the major artists around the world.

I’m still in awe of the work artists are able to accomplish with stencils and spray cans. I am also fascinated by the impermanence of the work. When I began working on this project for the Denver VOICE several works were recommended, but by the time I tracked down the addresses, many had already been painted over and
painted over again. Some works had weathered, giving the art a character more akin to the wrinkles of a face rather than the painted and textured lines of more traditional art.

Some may disagree about whether or not this is art, but much contemporary street art—including the art featured in these photos—is now done with property owners’ support and support from more established and formal art organizations.

9th & Santa Fe. by Josiah Lee Lopez, VSA students, and Ratha Sok.

I see the murals of Denver as a mirror to an ever changing and growing urban landscape. These street murals rival much of the art that is hung on the walls of museums, but with a driving ethos of independence and anti-authoritarianism, helping to define the communities they decorate. ■