Denver-based artist Thomas “Detour” Evans is one of the main creatives who worked on the vibrant Dairy Arts Center mural that commemorates Sandra Bland. The work of art, completed earlier this month, offers an initial glimpse of what Boulder can expect from the second-annual Street Wise mural festival that kicks off Sept. 7.
As part of the collective Spray Their Name, Evans has teamed up with other artists to commemorate — through large-scale portraiture — people of color who have lost their lives to police brutality and senseless violence.
His distinctive work captures the likeness, detail, intimacy and accuracy of a photograph, but manages to conjure up a vibe in and of itself with bold colors and striking shading.
Evans consistently stays engaged with new projects. The University of Colorado Boulder alum has created pieces for Denver’s Artopia, Crush Walls in RiNo and he was even commissioned by David Letterman to paint portraits of the famed talk-show host and rapper Jay-Z for Letterman’s Netflix show, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” Evans released his book “Be the Artist: An Interactive Guide to a Lasting Art Career” in February of 2020.
We caught up with the sought-after muralist to find out how the pandemic has been impacting his craft, how recent chaotic times have provided street artists with an opportunity to capture the now and what it’s like to create on towering building sides — multiple stories up — high above the hum of city streets.
*This Q&A has been condensed
Daily Camera: Love the latest mural at the Dairy. What was this experience like collaborating with fellow artists and what was the most rewarding part about seeing the completed project?
Thomas “Detour” Evans: The most rewarding thing is just to really see the community come out and support it. Because I am collaborating with Hiero (Veiga) and artist (Giovannie) Just and Cya (Jonae) it’s basically sort of like having more of a community feel on the piece, as well, because a lot of the stuff we are trying to do with these pieces … is have more of a community feel to it. Collaborating with artists of different backgrounds and skill levels has been really exciting.
DC: I read that you and Hiero Veiga are traveling nationwide and teaming up with other artists to pay homage to many of the people of color who have lost their lives unjustly at the hands of officers. Where are you headed to next and what do you have scheduled?
TDE: With Spray Their Name, Hiero is more mobile than myself right now. Hiero is traveling to different places on a more regular basis to create work in that vein … But we are both going to California in September to do some work, so I don’t know exactly where a lot of the projects will lead us. Really it’s just playing it by ear. There’s really no schedule at all. Rather than having this as something that is always planned, I like it more grassroots. We take things as I can add them to the schedule — mainly because a lot of the work that we are doing is for the community and it’s not like we are seeking things out. A lot of people have been coming to us for some of these murals of loved ones that have passed away. Really it’s as they come and based on certain circumstances it just depends on when we do it and where we do it. A lot a times a lot of these murals are super emotional and emotionally charged, and they just weigh on you a lot, so it’s not something I want to do back-to-back to back-to-back. There’s really no schedule in terms of when we do it. It just has to be the right moment.
DC: Had you always considered art to be a form of activism or have recent events inspired you to use your artistry to call attention to important issues?
TDE: I’d say that art is always a form of activism because artists try to as much as they can embed truth about current times and what they are exploring. That sort of just requires us to sort of document what’s happening around us. In a way, a lot of art is activism to some degree and it’s all based on that artist’s perspective. My work has always been somewhat in that realm — more so recently, especially with the murals and street art, it’s more explicit than before. A lot of my work in the past has been about the community and representation, that conversation. But it’s sort of ventured into the idea of BLM and police brutality and remembering those that have been lost and using it as a healing tool and a way where people can have some therapy.
DC: From checking out your social media accounts, it looks like the pandemic hasn’t really slowed work down for you at all. Do you feel that with many in-person galleries shut down in response to COVID, this is a time for street art and large-scale murals to truly shine?
TDE: Since the pandemic, a lot of stuff has just really changed. I try to always stay busy and when the pandemic first happened, I just moved more to learning and absorbing different skill sets. I bought an iPad and started working more digitally and learning about that, ’cause that’s a whole other world when it comes to creating art. A lot of galleries have to change now. A lot of places where I put my artwork shut down. You really just have to figure out how do you adjust to current circumstances and future circumstances. A lot of the work I’ve been doing on murals and walls and different places outside, its not like they are getting more attention, its like the subject matter is a lot more relevant. A lot of times when things like this happen —especially with protests and people marching and buildings being boarded up — it sort of lends itself for artists to have the opportunity to (document) this time and have people really look towards the art for that sort of documentation. There are a lot of artists right now venturing into the public art space and seeing how impactful it can be. A lot of artists are really discovering how they can transform a public space into a space for a conversation.
DC: Lastly, what’s it like working for hours on cranes above the streets of a city? I imagine it’s almost a surreal and dreamlike experience.
TDE: Working on these boom lifts where I can get really, really high has been super exciting — definitely a different perspective when it comes to creating work. The higher I am, the bigger the piece is, the more of the euphoric feeling that I get when creating this type of work. Most of it, really, just is spray paint and watching how all these different cans can come together to make something impactful and something that sort of stops people. It gets me excited. It’s definitely a really good feeling to sort of have this outdoor gallery be my place where I’m able to communicate and express myself.