Art News

Father-Son Mural Team Creates Timeless Works Across Denver

"Free Climber" was the first mural the father-son team made together.
"Free Climber" was the first mural the father-son team made together. Chris & Will Krieg
Chris and Will Krieg sit down at a picnic table laughing, beers in hand, covered in paint after a long day’s work. Will’s childhood best friend, Andrew Vasko, sits across from them, and they all talk jovially about that day’s project: a large stretch of bold lettering above the entrance to Bruz Beers in the Twin Lakes neighborhood of northwest Denver. The Altitude Murals team is made up entirely of this trio, which is surprising considering the scale, range and quality of work that they’ve created — not only in Denver, but across Colorado and into several other western states.

Altitude Murals started off in 2018 with just the father-son pair of Chris and Will; Vasko joined in 2021 as the business boomed. The artists' styles range from lettering to photorealist images, cartoon characters and abstract geometry. One of Chris and Will's most stunning murals, "Free Climber," towers 150 feet high near the intersection of I-25 and Colorado Boulevard, and can be seen from miles away. They completed it in just one month.
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"The Kiss" was commissioned by Andrea Frizzi for his Il Posto restaurant in RiNo.
Chris & Will Krieg
Each of their murals is painted by hand, using fine-ground oils and enamels. “We use what the great masters used,” says Chris. “It lasts forever, and when it does fade, it fades elegantly. This is high art, mixing colors, using small brushes; we spend hours and hours painting these things. That’s how I learned, and that’s what I’m passing on to these guys.”

Chris estimates that he’s painted close to 10,000 signs and murals. Growing up in Oakland, he got his start in 1973 as an apprentice for Foster & Kleiser, one of the leading advertising and billboard companies of the twentieth century. There he learned the ins and outs of painting large-format art, “from sweeping the floor to coping out the structures to rigging them to pouncing them,” Chris says. “We were just slow printing presses back then.”

In his late twenties, Chris decided to move to New York City to further his creative endeavors. He immersed himself in the New York art scene, painting countless artworks on canvas, modeling, writing for interview magazines and even starting his own publication. In between, he continued to work as a journeyman for Foster & Kleiser’s New York plant, painting signs, billboards and buildings all over the city.

He and his wife decided to leave New York when they found out she was pregnant with their first child, and her profession as a flight attendant brought them to Colorado. They settled in Evergreen in the early ’90s, and it wasn’t long before Chris was driving up and down Colfax Avenue painting and repainting many local businesses' signs and billboards. “I went off and did other things, but I always just keep coming back to this. Look, I’m 67 years old and I just love what I did today. I just painted two letters, and Will yelled at me the whole time,” Chris laughs. “I still love doing it after 49 years.”
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Breakable Bear, 65' x 65', 2019. Original painting by Kevin Sloan.
Chris & Will Krieg
When the couple's second kid — Will — came along, Chris decided to start his own sign company in Evergreen while continuing to work as a contractor. It was the 2000s, and the trend of vinyl-wrapped billboards was taking the advertising scene by storm. “I couldn’t give a hand-painted sign away," Chris remembers. "They replaced me with computer-generated vinyl. But I had to make a living. And in the meantime, I was still doing murals.”

Will and Vasko also remember the vinyl phase: When they’d get into trouble as teenagers, their punishment was helping to fold and wrap the large vinyl sheets that Chris was using for his billboard jobs. They didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of their own journeys to become muralists.

Will says that he avoided his artistic side for as long as possible. He trained to be a firefighter, traveled and lived abroad, and also worked as a mechanic alongside Vasko in Fort Collins for a few years. It wasn’t until his dad needed help painting "Free Climber" in 2016 that he realized that mural painting was something he wanted to pursue.

Then it was his turn to go to New York. Will got an apprenticeship at Colossal Media, an outdoor-advertising company with the same values and focus on hand painting that his dad had learned and practiced. For two years, he dedicated himself to the craft, earned his Master Rigger certification and developed his knowledge of the mural-making world tenfold. “It’s not just showing up and painting a mural,” he explains. “It’s the rigging, the setting up, the breakdown, burning patterns.... The rest of it is more technical. The painting is the easiest part.”

After burning out on sixty-to-eighty-hour weeks in New York, Will decided to come home to Colorado, where he formed Altitude Murals with his dad. Chris was just beginning to slow down on painting murals, but when Will returned with fresh energy and ideas for Altitude Murals, they decided to pick up where they'd left off two years prior with "Free Climber."
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Will Krieg (right) repainting one of Chris Krieg's (left) original murals in Golden, CO.
Andrew Vasko
“I was just blown away with what information he came back from New York with,” says Chris. “Because I gave him a taste, and he ended up just really elaborating on it. He obviously saw the value of learning as much as he could in a short period of time, and he came back with some really good skills. Aside from Andrew, he’s the best apprentice I’ve ever had.”

Vasko has been a creative for as long as he can remember, but he was unable to go to art school. Like Will, he ended up traveling, trading states and changing jobs before finding his way back to his artistic instincts. Since joining Will and Chris in the spring of 2021, he’s been learning the ropes, pioneering some new design work and helping run the business end of Altitude Murals.

“[Chris is] like my surrogate dad ’cause I’ve known him for so long, and [Will and I] are pretty much brothers, so every time I’m on the wall with them, it’s just so fun,” says Vasko. “I don’t know how many people can say that they love their jobs and get to work with their best friends. We love what we do.”

With each artist using his own personal fine-art painting practice, it's clear to see what sets Altitude Murals apart in the Denver mural scene — namely, quality and archival value. “It’s as classic as it gets,” says Will. “We love to make something timeless for everyone, not just for museum-goers or private collectors. This is fine art for the masses.”

As for what's next, Altitude Murals has another wide-scale project coming up, but the team is keeping details under wraps for now.

“Our work is about community engagement — it relates to the environment it’s sitting in," Chris concludes. "What would work best in this neighborhood? And how are people going to relate to that in ten years? Does it make people feel good about where they live? We create beautiful images that people look forward to looking at."

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