Arts and Culture

The Saddest Graffiti in Denver

A concrete barrier turned into a scratch pad on an off-ramp at the intersection of I-25 and Alameda.
A concrete barrier turned into a scratch pad on an off-ramp at the intersection of I-25 and Alameda. Kyle Harris
Some pieces of graffiti are poetry or art. Others are political. Many are immature: naked stick figures and curse words.

And some are simply tragic — an explosion of incoherence, the diarrhea of a troubled mind, an apocalyptic outburst.

The exit ramp from Interstate 25 to West Alameda Avenue boasts a concrete canvas of particularly horrific scrawls, spanning a mishmash of tragedies, mythologies and cultural events. The writing is ugly and riddled with spelling errors. It's the sort of crass scribble-scrabble that gives graffiti a bad name.

There’s a screed about a variety of cartels that ends in the phrase: “Kill Chiuhua Cartel War," with most of the cartel names preceding that misspelled.

There are fire and brimstone references: “EPISTLE WRATH OF GOD Sodom; GEMORAA” scrawled in green – with the word “Sewdom” below it in black. There’s an indecipherable sentence with the words “sin” and “shalom.” And the phrase “Child Killers.”

And there’s even a reference to the Bolder Boulder — a race 28 miles away from this puzzling scratchpad of jarring notes: “Street Racers “Boolder Boulder Run 1 Million Sacrifices are Always made See you on the other side.”

Is this message a poetic diary? A cry for help? Maybe it’s written by a person who bonked during the Bolder Boulder and never came back? Or someone involved in a cartel who broke down from the pressure of constant war? Perhaps it was someone with a bored and busy mind who spent too much time reading Genesis? I'd like to think it was Don DeLillo pouring out notes for his next novel, but it was probably just someone with a Sharpie having a bad day.

There's nobody to ask and no way to know.

Much of the street art around Denver is paid for by the city and businesses, which can account for their messages. But just like the trendy art that’s decorating the alleys and sides of buildings around town, that’s celebrated in travel magazines, that’s touted as a sign that Denver cares about culture, these crude tags tell us something about this place where we live. 

Take a look at art — art in the widest sense of the word: any act of creative expression — and see how it can serve as a mirror. So much of what this city has been decorated with makes us look hip and pretty and chic.

But what's scrawled on this barrier isn’t pretty at all. It’s sad and strange and also telling about life in Denver today. And it will probably be buffed away soon, if it isn’t already gone.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris