A mural by the artist Jolt, created for the 2020 Crush Walls festival, was painted over with white paint. Jolt then wrote “This mural has been censored due to white fragility,” which led to further defacement of the mural and the area where it sits at Larimer and 27th streets. The initial mural was a commentary on the gentrification of the neighborhood. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)
Murals that depict social justice and political themes have been defaced or painted over in Denver in recent days, and at least one artist thinks the timing is anything but coincidental.
“It’s the election,” said Jolt, a longtime Denver street artist whose mural at 2706 Larimer St. — on the wall outside American Bonded in the River North Art District — was painted over with white paint sometime in the last week.
On Wednesday afternoon, the acclaimed, Denver-based artist Detour posted a picture of his George Floyd memorial mural on East Colfax Avenue (between Race and High streets). The face of Floyd — who was killed by police in Minneapolis in May, touching off weeks of sustained protests — had been splattered with yellow paint. The mural was created by Detour and artist Hiero as part of the Spray Their Name project.
“If anyone is capable of power washing latex paint off, Let me know,” Detour, a.k.a. Thomas Evans, wrote in the message. “The mural is coated so there’s a protective layer.”
If anyone is capable of power washing latex paint off, Let me know. The mural is coated so there’s a protective layer. pic.twitter.com/hh2NtGYY9b
— I am Detour (@IamDetour303) November 4, 2020
About a month ago, someone also spray-painted “Fentanyl Floyd” across his face, according to Denverite. Less than 10 minutes after Detour posted about the new vandalism, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock responded on Twitter: “Where is this mural?”
Evans was not immediately available for comment.
Graffiti used to be a bane of Mile High City businesses, from North Denver to South Broadway, but in the past decade, Denver’s street art has been embraced as everything from city-beautification to a marketing tool.
The irony now, said artist Jolt, is that it’s the sanctioned, meaningful street art that’s getting censored — not random graffiti.
The original mural outside American Bonded, which was whitewashed at some point in recent days. (Provided by Jolt)
“And there was another Black Lives Matters mural that got defaced in North Denver that I noticed yesterday driving to my studio,” said Jolt, a.k.a. Silas Ulibarra. “There were a bunch of people out there working to clean it up, and I offered to put this stuff called Vandal Guard over it, like a clear coat.”
Jolt said he knows why his mural was whitewashed, and he claims to also know who did it, though he declined to share details. The wall-sized image in RiNo, which he painted as part of the 2020 Crush Walls street-art festival, depicted hulking, sport-coated animals gathered around table, their claws hovering over a small home. A speech bubble, in red stylized lettering, reads: “So a rhino, a wolf and a vulture walk into a community…”
It’s the second part of a mural that Jolt started last year, he said, which also took shots at the widespread gentrification in Five Points and RiNo. The previous mural depicted a white developer holding money bags, a yoga practitioner, a shopper and a generic hipster riding atop a menacing, orange rhinoceros as it bounded (a wolf at its side) toward a small home guarded by a woman of color smacking a rolling pin in her palm.
A 2019 mural by artist Jolt depicts sinister forces invading what’s now called the River North Art District. (Provided by Jolt)
“These are visual representations of what’s going on in the city, and unfortunately people want to censor our voices,” Jolt said.
However, he has no plans to repaint the 2706 Larimer St. mural. In fact, it’s become something of a message board since the whitewashing: First, Jolt returned to add his own comment in unmistakable black lettering: “This mural has been censored… due to white fragility!” And since then, more wording has appeared on the white wall, accusing Jolt of bigotry, racism and hate speech.
“I’m half-white, so when I talk about white fragility, that’s the part of me that’s talking about it,” he said. “The whitewashing of the mural is simply creating a platform for the conversation to continue, which is what good art is supposed to do. I almost feel like it’s more powerful than it was before.”
Crush Walls and the River North Art District have not responded to requests for comment.