Artist Delton Demarest has spent the summer creating portraits of deceased musicians — Amy Winehouse, Biggie Smalls, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia — that comprise an album of artists you wish were still alive today. It's all part of his larger-than-life triptych mural project on the garage doors of the new Cross Genetics recreational-medical dispensary and grow warehouse at 4902 Smith Road. You'll be able to see the pieces from the light-rail route that will cross by this exact spot.
Demarest's work leans to the realistic, but these portraits — all musicians chosen by the owners — are bordering on abstract, capturing creative, tortured souls. "It's kind of cool to breathe life back into them in a weird way," he says.
Demarest is a Denver native who's known for his illustration as well as his role in the graffiti world. He began his formal art education at Pratt Institute in New York, where he was taken under the wing of a major graffiti artist claiming the streets in Brooklyn, and learned as much as he could. Demarest ended up back in Colorado, where he earned a degree in Illustration from Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. He brought with him his experience in aerosol art and the earned respect of the local graffiti community.
"I've been painting for, I don't know, eighteen years. I graduated in '06, I didn't really get my feet wet for two or three years, I wouldn't say until like '08 that actual work started to come in, when I was able to move myself into a position to be a full-time freelance artist."
"You've got to find a niche," he continues, "some sort of place where you're comfortable working, and hopefully you're putting out good work so you can continue to get work. All of those things pay off. Murals were a part of that. I was always doing murals, because of graffiti. The transition was pretty clear, as far as moving on to this scale; it kind of made sense. I love large-scale art work. It's always been something I've been really attracted to. It's impactful."
Demarest is something of a lone wolf. He isn’t into the commercial aspect of some urban art events and has found ways to be in control of his work, working directly with clients; he says he's always liked the interaction he has with the businesses that commission his work — including this one.
"It's crazy — there ain't shit out here," Demarest says of the far-out Smith Road location, near a secret train spot he remembers tagging so many years ago. "The fact that Cross Genetics is doing a location out here, it's like I've come full circle."
The triptychs seems to effortlessly capture the emotion of each of the late musicians. Janis Joplin required a great deal of meticulous patience, as Demarest filled out the beautiful gray, blue and violet color scheme in the waves of her hair; this may be his favorite palette of the entire project. The garage doors seem to be balanced perfectly in art's favor, with the wall rotating warm and cool tones, the center left for the Cross Genetics logo.
Demarest started on the first Cross Genetics mural, a portrait of Jimi Hendrix, in March, while taking on other jobs along the way. For example, this spring he painted the "Teen Wolf" PBR homage at Benny Blanco's Pizza. "I work as an illustrator, and I've always done murals, but this year has been a lot more heavy," he says. "It's rad, I really like it — I mean, running back and forth in between projects; it has been nonstop. It was cool working for Benny's. That was awesome; I got free pizza."
He's also been working with Colossal media's Patrick McGregor, who's currently painting a lion on Cold Crush. "I've been working with him on a bunch of Colossal stuff — like, they do oil-painting murals," he says. "He's actually got one there right by Wax Trax. The ad changes all the time, and that's all oil painting. This is just spray paint."
"I generally work with just spray paint, but I do a lot of studio work and a lot of illustration, but it's mostly oil. So the transition made sense, but its definitely been a huge learning curve, trying to understand oil painting at a large scale," he continues. "I'm just a complete novice at it. The ropes of Colossal media — they really have to pay their dues first and foremost, so I kinda got lucky meeting Patrick and he put me on the crew here. I'm kind of apprenticing under him. Luckily, he's been giving me the opportunity to paint some imagery. It's not the way it normally goes."
Demarest will be live-painting this Saturday, August 1, at the Denver Days and Sun Valley Ink Monstr event. It's part of the third annual Denver Days, a gathering meant to bring neighborhoods in Denver together to celebrate how far they have come. Donations are encouraged, and all food, clothes, and funds raised will be given to Sun Valley Community Coalition. While you don't normally see Demarest at larger, city-run events, this is for a good cause, he says: "Anything for Sun Valley."
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