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Love Is the Latest Message on Denver's Most Embattled Wall

Shannon Galpin's latest intervention on the most embattled wall in Denver.EXPAND
Shannon Galpin's latest intervention on the most embattled wall in Denver.
Kyle Harris
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In the ongoing street-art squabble playing out on the back of the American Bonded building in the 2700 block of Larimer Street, Breckenridge-based artist Shannon Galpin and her crew of collaborators have made their latest move — adding massive, collaged wheat-paste letters that spell out "Love" over the ugly white paint that was sprayed on top of her last mural. That one was a call to arms for women street artists that Galpin and Koko Bayer had wheat-pasted over a three-day period earlier this month.

"To the women that color our city, paintbrushes are your swords and spraycans your battle cries claiming space and respect," the mural read. "You belong here. You are the superheroes and legends bringing bold new stories to our walls. We see you. We hear you. We love you, Denver. "

The mural's message was a response to toxic masculinity and rape culture in the street-art scene that came into sharp focus after multiple women, including prominent artist Grow Love, accused Crush Walls founder Robin Munro of sexual assault, claims that he and his lawyer strongly deny. (The RiNo Art District, which had produced the festival in recent years, launched an investigation into the accusations; it parted ways with Munro and Crush Walls last month.)

Shannon Galpin and Koko Bayer's mural celebrated women in the street-art scene.EXPAND
Shannon Galpin and Koko Bayer's mural celebrated women in the street-art scene.
Shannon Galpin

The latest addition to the wall echoes the message of the popular and elegant hope hearts that Bayer has pasted throughout the region; it's a tidy image that would be tough for all but the most nihilistic to paint over. Who can argue with "love"?

Galpin, who'd discussed this new addition with Westword before it went up, said she assumed it would be immediately graffitied over; after all, her first mural had been vandalized twice, and in recent weeks the wall has been the site of debates in paint about art, gentrification, white supremacy and sexual assault in the mural scene.

Jolt's mural in progress at Crush Walls 2020.EXPAND
Jolt's mural in progress at Crush Walls 2020.
Kyle Harris

Street artist Jolt had painted the wall for this year's Crush Walls, creating a satirical mural that blasted the RiNo Art District and the street-art scene's role in the gentrification of the neighborhood.

A few weeks after he finished, that wall was whitewashed. Then the phrase "This Mural Has Been Censored...Due to White Fragility!" appeared in Jolt's signature writing.

Jolt's Crush 2020 mural was painted over, and then this slogan appeared on the whitewashed wall of American Bonded.EXPAND
Jolt's Crush 2020 mural was painted over, and then this slogan appeared on the whitewashed wall of American Bonded.
Kyle Harris

But that message was soon tagged and bombed by others accusing Jolt of being racist. Finally, Galpin and Bayer created their first mural, celebrating women street artists, over all of that.

But the idea of a white artist talking about "claiming space" didn't sit right with Jolt.

"The irony of the message she put on the wall about 'claiming space' sounds like colonization," Jolt said, shortly after it was painted. A longstanding critic of culture vultures preying on the street-art scene and serving the interests of predatory developers, Jolt views Galpin as part of the movement that is corrupting the culture.

No doubt, this visual conversation won't end with "Love" — in part, because there is so much more that needs to be said. When the next installment appears, Galpin plans to stick with a consistent approach.

"Each time it gets tagged, a different woman from Denver or a different female or non-binary artist will spray-paint the word 'love' in their style, in their voice," Galpin explains. "It gets tagged, the next woman’s up. It gets tagged, the next woman’s up. ... The more you tag it, the more love we share."

As of late December 23, the image was undisturbed.

"We’re going to make it wholly positive, so that hopefully it will not become a flash point," Galpin says. "We’re going to create a message central to the abusive street-art culture that exists in Denver....

"The culture is toxic right now," she adds. "What will happen with the evolution of the wall and the evolution of the message will be women coming together and the women of this community standing up for what needs to be addressed: They have a right to be here and a right to work here."

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