Detour and the Denver Scene
Last week, the Crush Walls festival kicked off its seventh year. Set in Denver’s RiNo Art District, the week-long event brought together local, national and international artists together. Creative Rituals Under Social Harmony, Crush, originated with local graffiti artist Robin Munro [aka Dread] in 2010, and has since grown substantially, alongside Denver itself.
As the Sold Mag Crew made its way around the festival, it was my mission to meet with Thomas Evans, better known as Detour. I heard he was painting the popular hip-hop nightclub, Cold Crush. However, when I arrived on 27th and Larimer, I checked the wall only to find a #WIP. Rumor had-it that Detour has been working either late nights or early mornings, to avoid the sun by his shade-less wall. It was mid-day, which meant he could be anywhere in town. And so, my mission took a detour.
First, I grabbed some coffee at the Denver Central Market, a bustling food court where locals and festival-goers took refuge from the hot Colorado sun. After, I cruised by the main hub of Crush, known as ‘Art Alley,’ a narrow backstreet filled with lively paintings. A tip took me over toward Curtis street, on the word that Detour might be helping another artist work. When I arrived, Detour was elsewhere, but I had a moment to chat with Max Sansing. A Chicago artist with a vivid style. By fusing colorful contradictions with layered imagery, Max creates complex murals.
Max and I talked for a little bit, and he informed me Detour had stopped by earlier that morning. According to Max, Detour had been functioning as a liaison for the artists on the outer-edge of the festival, making sure everyone had paint and resources, and was kept in the know. Learning this raised my interest even more, and made me all the more determined to find him. I circled around the festival, exploring other artists like Inkie, Resa Piece, Aholsniffglue, before returning to check out the Cold Crush corner.
By the time I got back, Detour was already painting, and had drawn a crowd. Detour talked patiently with fans, as people waited for their opportunity to speak with him or snap a photo. Not wanting to interrupt his flow, I caught his ear for a minute, and set up an interview for Sunday, after the festival. I left him to do his work.
I arrived early to the interview. Detour had mentioned he had patrons coming later, so when I walked in to his studio at the Redline Contemporary Art Center, I made sure I had my questions ready. He greeted me in his signature hat and ‘Be a Good Person’ shirt. We jumped right into it.
My first question was, why the moniker ‘Detour’? As it happens, the origin of the name is a journey itself. Thomas Evans was a break-dancer when he first got into hip-hop culture. At the time, he was living in Germany, but was an avid fan of ‘Originality Stands Alone,’ a California crew. Thomas came across a set of their VHS tapes, [“I’m dating myself,” he joked.] where one of the titles mentioned a ‘detour.’ Thomas was inspired; “[I thought] I love that name; I love that word.”
Artistically, his style has taken some detours too. He began with airbrushing t-shirts, signing them with the now eponymous art identity. When he moved to Denver, Detour ran with a local graffiti crew, who helped expose him to a greater range of mediums. Around 2007, they brought him to ‘The Taste of Colorado’ food festival. At the event, Detour was doing artwork on canvases, while they had made canvases out of old broken records. For Detour, this sparked a creative flame; he began to work with repurposed records, and experiment his aesthetic.
Detour's artistic style has continued to evolve with each new opportunity. By 2010, Detour’s name was getting known. Musa Bailey, co-owner of Cold Crush, prominent member of the Denver music scene, and friend, reached out to Detour for a show. Musa’s sneaker print show was designed to bring together the different aesthetics of sneakerhead culture; particularly basketball. Musa gave every artist a backboard to design, and a hoop to attach when the project was done. Rather than go the traditional route, Detour took an alternative approach. He added a speaker to the board, and surrounded it with records. That the speaker could play music, made the art transformative; it made Detour realize the importance of interactive art.
“Art that is part of your life, rather than just in it,” as Detour put it.
As we sat in his studio, Detour showed me his latest project; a pedestal with multi-colored blocks, that future museum goers will be able to play with. We talked about the recent trend we’ve both noticed — the experience economy, where people go, not to simply be passive observers of art, but take part in it. This cross-medium connection with music helped drive Detour’s latest artistic innovations, as well as encouraging him to think creatively about technology. His pieces, ‘Gravity’ and the recent collaboration with producer Mikey Fresh, are examples of how Detour has continued to strive, and push his art in new directions.
While his ambitions are on the frontline of new school cool, Detour still takes time to do traditional murals too. For this year’s Crush, Detour painted Cold Crush’s patio wall. The mural is a colorful rendition of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, known for her vocal opposition to Donald Trump and white supremacy. Musa and Detour debated which icon would best represent their feelings, something subtle yet understood. They chose Congresswoman Waters. Detour began: “because she has that look like…"
“The ‘I’m going to call your bullshit’ look?” I filled in.
We both laughed.
While the Maxine Waters piece may seem to come with an implicit message, not all of Detour’s mural work is political. Rather, it’s about bringing the Denver scene together.
“A lot of [my] mural work is more about community.” Detour explained.
Down the street from Cold Crush, the jazz-club Nocturne is illustrated with a vibrant rendition of Charles Mingus, painted by Detour. At first, I didn’t recognize the musician, but I knew his music. As it turns out, that was the point. The owners chose Mingus, as a critical figure in Jazz history, but one who is less visually represented. By going with the bassist, they knew people would ask, so it could spark a conversation. Detour told me each year he paints a new jazz legend for the Nocturne.
In the decade Detour has been in Denver, he’s seen some changes; namely, the name. Known to locals as Five-Points, the neighborhood was once called the 'Harlem of the West,' due to its Jazz culture. However, over time Five Points became associated with inner-city crime and poverty.
“We were here, when Five-Points was not as desirable to live in…”
Denver underwent a ‘revitalization’ project, which included rebranding the area. Thus, the RiNo art distract was born.
Detour first moved here 11 years ago, when most still considered it a cow town. To Detour, it was an under-rated city. Denver had its own distinct culture and style, without the big city pressures.
“[Denver’s not] a rat-race like L.A. or New York." A smaller city meant more opportunities.
To Detour, it’s a “double edged sword when it comes to growth in the area.” When he first moved here, he was rolling with the punches, trying to survive as an artist. But while higher rents come with a cost, the rising affluence has built a stronger art market. As Denver cultivates its art scene, it provides more economic stability for artists.
Amid news of the highway reconstruction, and bigger crowds in town, Detour reflected on the future: “You can see the change coming. In the next five to ten years, it’ll be totally different.”
Despite this growth: “The community hasn’t changed, at least not in terms of ideas and attitudes. But for the most part, everyone gets along.” Detour said.
He smiled. "I grew up with these people, as the city has grown.”
The foundation of a community isn’t in the name, it’s the people and the place. The Nocturne, Cold Crush, Crush Walls; all important parts of what has helped Denver thrive again. For his closing thoughts, Detour said he was most excited about where everything goes, “in terms of the art world and Denver.” As we wrapped up our interview, I wished Detour good fortune on his ever-evolving artistic career; this Fall he begins a residency at the Denver Art Museum.
As I left the Redline studio, I took out the keys, preparing to head home. But as I reached the car I stopped. I put the keys back in my pocket. I started to wander through Denver. Before I went back, I wanted to take one more detour around town.
Written by T.K. Mills
For more by the author, visit tkmills.com
Photos provided by T.K. Mills, Erica Stella, and John Domine
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