CSU art students to paint mural at Spur campus during CRUSH Walls event Sept. 14-20

Design of the mural

The preliminary design of the mural calls for renderings of Colorado’s official state flower, bird and fish.

Eight Colorado State University graduate students have been invited to paint a mural on a building that will become part of the future CSU System’s Spur campus, as part of this month’s CRUSH Walls, a street art festival in Denver’s River North (RiNo) Art District.

CRUSH, which stands for Creative Rituals Under Social Harmony, was started by Denver artist Robin Munro in 2010 as an annual art celebration that turns the streets and alleys of RiNo into permanent open-air galleries. This year it spans 30 blocks and features about 100 artists working on 40 murals Sept. 14-20.

The CSU students say the experience of creating the mural from scratch and gaining exposure to the Denver arts scene will be invaluable.

“It’s very humbling to be part of this, because the artists working on the other murals are fantastic,” said master of fine arts student and painter Andrea Bagdon, president of the university’s Master of Visual Arts Association. “It’s a great chance to use the skills we’ve been building at CSU. This will open my eyes and broaden my career.”

If you go

Spectators are welcome to watch the CSU students paint the mural, as long as attendees wear face coverings and observe social-distancing guidelines. Here are the details:

McConnell Building at CSU Spur, 4750 National Western Drive, Denver

Sept. 14-20,  9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Follow on social media the week of Sept. 14: @CSUSpur

Rendering of Spur water building and McConnell building

The mural will be painted on the McConnell Building (no relation to CSU President Joyce McConnell), which is the lower building at left, pictured adjacent to the CSU Spur water building.

“There was overwhelming excitement among the grad students about doing this,” added Clark Valentine, whose concentration is drawing. “Everyone wanted to take this opportunity to work with the Denver art community.”

For Johanna Guilfoyle, a printmaker, the experience will be even more powerful because it’s happening after months of social distancing and staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrea Bagdon
Andrea Bagdon

“I’ve been separated from my studio, my supplies, and my classmates,” Guilfoyle said. “Just to have this opportunity for physical connection to the arts community is honestly the most exciting for me. Even wearing masks and being six feet apart, there’s nothing like working together with your fellow artists.”

Design thinking on display

The students in the Department of Art and Art History come from a variety of concentrations besides painting, including sculpture, metalsmithing, printmaking and drawing.

“Painting is not necessarily each artist’s home medium, but all of them have the ideation, design thinking and creative input to participate in this,” said Eleanor Moseman, the head of the department. “A metalsmith goes through the preparatory process too, sketching, designing and making mock-ups. That happens no matter what your medium is. If it’s conceptualized carefully, it’s going to be more impactful. We teach our students that visually compelling art is great, but art with expansive thinking behind it is even better.”

Eleanor Moseman
Eleanor Moseman

The wall the students are painting is on a building that will be renovated and eventually attached to the water building at the CSU Spur campus, expected to be complete in 2022. CSU Spur is located within the boundaries of the RiNo Arts District, and the collaboration between CRUSH and CSU Spur is expected to be an annual affair.

“To have our students working with renowned street artists will be quite powerful and career-building for them,” Moseman said. “They’ll be integrated into the programming and will have contact with the other artists.”

One of the artists working on a CRUSH Walls mural and engaging with the CSU students is Anthony Garcia, owner of the Birdseed Collective, who’s among the artists who have been chosen to create artwork for the CSU Spur campus.

“We’re seeing this as an opportunity to expand our students’ horizons and explore how they might incorporate socially based practice into their careers,” Moseman said.

It’s also good exposure for the department, she added.

“For us to have a presence in the Denver art scene will be a tremendous boost to our programs,” she said. “To have more visibility in Denver will help with recruitment and awareness.”

Clark Valentine

Clark Valentine, one of the M.F.A. students creating the mural at CSU’s Spur campus this month.

Ongoing partnership

“We are so honored this year to host eight artists from the CSU M.F.A. program during the CRUSH Walls festival Sept. 14-20,” added Alexandrea Pangburn, director of curation for the RiNo Art District. “Every year, CRUSH hopes to make new relationships in an effort to give more artists an opportunity to make a bigger impact on the community through their art, and it just makes sense that we would start this partnership during one of the largest mural festivals in the country. We’re so excited to be able to create something big and beautiful together. We can’t wait to see what the students at CSU do.”

The students have settled on a sustainability theme for their mural, which will be painted on a 27-foot-high east wall of the McConnell Building, 4750 National Western Drive. Spectators are welcome – with masks and proper social distancing, of course – and those who can’t attend in person are encouraged to watch the action via social media by following @CSUSpur.

The mural will focus on five elements of sustainability: partnership, planet, prosperity, peace and people – tying into the themes of water, food and health at the future CSU Spur campus. According to the concept statement the students wrote, “Our imagery will focus on scientific drawings and motifs of nature and environmental symbolism. Our goal is to create an intervention with the building’s architecture and environment to create a cohesive and impactful design.”

Lark bunting
Greenback cutthroat trout

A Colorado theme

The mural will feature various shades of blue with images of Colorado’s official state fish, bird and flower: the greenback cutthroat trout, the lark bunting and the white and lavender columbine. Guilfoyle, who has had some of her scientific illustrations published, said the artists will be using an approach called “stippling,” in which shading is simulated by using dot patterns.

“It’s not just about the environment, but peace between people and seeking prosperity in a healthy environment,” Valentine said of the theme. “I’m excited to experiment with new materials in an outdoor setting.”

He described the mural-painting process as performance art.

“You’ll get to see this collaboration in real time, each of us bringing something different to the table,” he said. “That’s a relatively rare thing for artists to collaborate like this, since most of us tend to work by ourselves in our studios. This is bigger and more ambitious than any one of us could do alone.”

Moseman noted that especially in a time of great uncertainty and unrest in areas like public health, race relations and politics, art can be more powerful than words.

“Art is a form of communication,” she said. “You can convey broad, complex and even troubling ideas in a way that sidesteps some of the barriers that we have in other forms of communication. It bypasses the rational and goes to an intuitive place — to our emotions, psyche and subconscious — in ways that reading the news does not.”

McConnell Building

This wall of the McConnell Building at the CSU Spur campus will soon be transformed by M.F.A. students in the Department of Art and Art History.

About CSU Spur

In 2022, the CSU System will open CSU Spur, where innovative ideas and unforgettable experiences come to life at the National Western Center. CSU Spur’s three buildings at the center of the landmark project in north Denver will ignite and fuel new ideas around water, food and health and their impact on our lives and our world. Spur is where learning is open and accessible to all. Where researchers tackle the world’s most pressing problems around water, food and health. Where art and culture challenge and surround you. Where rural and urban, local and global intersect. Learn more at csuspur.org.