Graffiti goes from alleys to gallery

Museo de las Americas hosts unusual exhibit

Sonya Ellingboe
“Revolutionary Bushido” by Javier Fideles Flores, is his name for his body of work, including this serpentine image, moving quickly down its wall. He writes of its symbolism: “The way of the warrior.”
Sonya Ellingboe
Mario Zoots’ colorful large painted canvas reflects folk patterns, cartoonish faces and precisely arranged artifacts of some sort. It glows at the viewer.
Sonya Ellingboe
Paper panels by Josiah Lopez, with powerful black and white drawings of street people fill a wall.
Sonya Ellingboe
Jack Avila’s large painting is on unmounted canvas, with grommets in the edges for mounting on the wall. Is it an image of a deconstructed piece of machinery? Some of his tools are displayed beneath it on the floor.
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“The marks told a story of the beautiful crude, the elaborate conversations, transforming the surface …,” artist Josiah Lopez writes.
A visitor to “Outside in 303” at Denver's Museo de las Americas walks through a darkened passage, past dingy gray (think alley) walls filled with urban graffiti, then into galleries filled with mostly brilliantly colored, edgy, lively, skillfully rendered works by artists whom curator Maruca Salazar calls “the west side warriors.”
She and co-curator Gwen Chanzit turned to poetry for an unusual curator's statement — and the seven varied artists' statements also take a poetic turn. Allow time to read them.
The curatorial statement says: “My plate is full! ... And I have devoured my place / in this world. / I smell the poison vapors of the can and am / Protected by smoking mirrors, I find cold alleys / phantom shadows and the other side of the tracks. / The cracks in the street of my neighborhood / reflect ancient peaks to the west of my heart. / Can I be swallowed by the streets and become / invisible? / I call the West Side warriors to protect the hollow ground. / But … for now I can only paint the emotions, / dreams and hopes of the voices on the walls. / To the graffiti artists of Outside In 303 / Be Brave.”
This group of seven local artists, born and raised on Denver's west side, “who typically use the environment as their canvas, face the challenges and constraints of being placed in the `white box' walls of a museum,” Salazar said. They are: Jack Avila, Javier Fidelis Flores, “Kans 89,” Mario Zoots, Josiah Lopez, Victoriano Rivera and Gabriel Salazar.
In addition to his wall art — strong black-and-white drawings of street people on carefully arranged slabs of paper — Josiah Lopez has created a short video piece called “Enter, Escape, Viajar.” It includes transportation images, both realistic and abstracted, constant motion and an accompanying soundtrack of Denver's urban noise. He also is responsible for a wall of patterned folk images and the mini-tagger figure standing at the edge of it, contemplating.
“Kans 89” told museum staff that she has a long connection with the Museo — she remembers coming there as a 6-year-old. Her body of work, “Broken Peace's,” speaks to her playful exploration of individual identity, including music, cartoons, graffiti art and color — some images deconstructed. She uses traditional materials and those of the graffiti artist, hoping for a dialogue between artist and viewer wherever her art is located.
Jack Avila writes of his youthful fascination with graffiti: “… notices and claims of who's been there and who stays there by inner city youth; as common as it was, always fascinated me from an early age. Like a secret language posted in public, so foreign to most it was visually discounted as garbage.… This living bulletin, virtual barometer of the streets, of all its hazards and gems, still speaks to me today….”
His unmounted canvas, secured through grommets like a banner, is a large, powerful yellow and black graffiti/painting suggesting deconstructed machinery to this viewer. Beneath it, he displays his tools and as the wall progresses to the corner, there is a composition of found materials and the dictum: “Use your world.”
“Outside In 303” offers a color-filled, sometimes gritty, image of Denver artists who deserve recognition as a vital part of our societal fabric. It will run until Sept. 21 and should be included in a visit to the active Denver Arts District — an area with lots of messages awaiting.

If you go
“Outside In 303” is at the Museo de las Americas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, through Sept. 21. An artist panel on July 24 from 6 to 9 p.m. will discuss “Art vs. Vandalism.” Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays. Admission: $5, members free. 303-571-4401, museo.org.