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This summer, Denver’s ever-changing skyline gets a splash of color.
The new towering neon spectacle behind Coors Field, which might’ve smacked your eyes while driving on I-25, is the latest work-in-progress from renowned Colorado muralist Pat Milbery. The mural will eventually span four walls of the Union Station neighborhood’s new co-living apartment complex and membership club, X Denver.
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Milbery, best known for his bright geometric-style works like Denver’s “Love This City” mural on Park Avenue and North Broadway, is bringing that same joyful touch to roughly 31 stories worth of X Denver’s exterior surface, making the unnamed piece one of Milbery’s and the city’s largest murals to date. The finished product is slated for a July reveal.
“[I] really wanted to understand and incorporate the heartbeat of [X Denver], and what they’re trying to achieve,” Milbery says. “A space that’s welcoming, a space that’s communal, a space that’s highly creative, and a space that can evolve and break all these rules of how things have been in the past.” To accomplish this, the mural’s “story” will stem from (you guessed it) a massive, gold heart on the side closest to the freeway—a symbol Milbery actually based off a small studio piece he painted early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when loss and uncertainty were looming large.
“There’s crazy textures on [the heart]—it’s a mixture of aerosol, and acrylic, and latex-based paints,” Milbery says of the mural’s main fixture, which he painted in unison with the X Company’s director of design, Tony Vasquez. “I actually wanted it to feel very archaic. I wanted it to feel like it was almost caveman hieroglyphics, like it wasn’t polished, it wasn’t perfect. That’s what love is like.”
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The rest of the vibrant scene will then sprawl from that core in what he describes as a “giant confetti explosion” to hopefully evoke that outward heartbeat of the social space—and the heartbeat of Denver itself. But bringing that vision to life on such a massive canvas has proven a test for even the seasoned street artist, especially while battling the elements from over 100 feet in the air.
“I’ve been getting pooped on by a lot of birds,” Milbery laughs. “That’s a big challenge.”
Milbery began putting paint to wall in mid-June. He started with sweeping rainbow gradients across what he calls “the arteries,” the concrete parking levels on the building’s west side. From there, he’s continuing to build out a connected narrative that will unfold across the other three walls, depicting what Milbery teases as an abstract, mountain sunset scene and a rising geometric butterfly figure taking center stage. “It’s all part of this transformation of self,” he says. “Anything is possible, and the sky’s the limit, as cliché as that is.”
It’s a message Milbery hopes can serve as encouragement for a city in undeniable transition, too.
“You know, it’s hard with growing pains,” he says. “I just want it to be bright. [Denver] has a great future ahead of us if we can see that, if we can feel that. There’s so much opportunity here.”
Three-dimensional, augmented reality elements will make that colorful future all the more more tangible once viewers are able to download a partnering mobile app, which Milbery says is currently still in production. “We want people there for more of a captive experience,” he says. Picture 20- to 40-second experiences that might involve the butterfly moving “like a slinky, glowing off the wall,” or the gold heart “popping off the wall and landing on the street right in front of you.”
While he and the teams at X Denver and partnering NINE dot ARTS work through those kinks, Milbery is busy putting the finishing touches on the exterior painting. He’s leaving no creative stone unturned in the process: The team is currently gathering the nearly 500 empty aerosol cans he used to create a spontaneous, recycled-art installation that will now live indoors within X Denver’s main floor and draw the whole heartbeat back inward. Milbery credits Vasquez for that little cherry on top.
“Unless we’re pushed to do stuff in life, you never know how to achieve your potential,” Milbery says. “So I’m really thankful for this project in that respect, for pushing me to try to achieve a whole new potential of what not only I’m capable of, but also what other creatives can be capable of in Denver, too.”