Detour, Hiero paint murals of Elijah McClain, George Floyd in DenverJuly 16, 2020
On a Thursday afternoon, Ana Thallas sits on a rooftop bar with artist Hiero Veiga as he paints a mural of her daughter Isabella’s smiling face on the side of the building. Only a month ago, Ana was here at The Park Tavern and Restaurant for her daughter’s 21st birthday. She points to where Isabella stood at her party, beaming with her friends and family, days before she was shot and killed.
“This is a place where I can come — it’s different to go to a cemetery,” Ana Thallas says. “This was her and her light in her moment with the people that love her. I’m grateful to Hiero. He’s our (expletive) hero.”
Veiga has spent the past month painting memorials across Denver to honor Thallas and other people lost to gun violence or police brutality. He and Thomas Evans, known professionally as Detour, started the Spray Their Name campaign to create public art of people murdered by the police — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain, who died at the hands of Aurora police officers last August — as well as other local people lost to gun violence, such as Isabella Thallas, who was killed near Coors Field while walking her dog with her boyfriend on June 10.
Though Veiga is based in Boston, he ended up in Denver in May for another show just as police brutality started sparking protests worldwide.
“George Floyd got murdered and a bunch of others, and the world got raw,” he told The Denver Post on Thursday. “It’s about time. I’m sick and tired of it being swept under the rug.”
Evans, who’s been based in Denver since 2006, started with the mural of Floyd at Colfax Avenue and High Street, where he and Veiga first started collaborating. As Evans finished the face, Veiga painted brilliant pink and red flowers, matching the bouquets and candles people have left at the mural since they finished.
Evans said the collaboration emerged organically as the two artists watched how the murals impacted people. Other locations were eager to provide walls for new installations, and soon, Veiga and Evans started looping in other Black artists for Spray Their Name installations. They also created a GoFundMe for a national campaign, helping with supplies and transportation costs.
“Creatives are the historians of current events,” Evans said in an interview on Tuesday. “Today we have to do that, and the work that I’m doing is telling that part of the story about what’s happening when it comes to race and police brutality.”
The mural for Isabella Thallas hit especially close to home, since Veiga knew Thallas and her boyfriend, Darian Simon, who was also injured in the shooting. Simon co-founded the Denver fashion company Be A Good Person, which also worked with Spray Their Name for one of the installations near Larimer Lounge.
Veiga said his murals provide a space for healing from the trauma of violence, giving figures like George Floyd a new life through public art. He described people sharing their own stories after seeing his pieces, building the conversation about how to deal with losses that are tied to police brutality or gun violence. But Veiga knows these systemic issues aren’t going anywhere, and he’ll continue fighting the way he knows best, by facing these walls with a can of paint.
“Unfortunately, I feel like Spray Their Name is going to have a long life,” Veiga said. “It (expletive) sucks. I don’t look forward to painting memorials every day, but I understand what they do for people, I understand what they do for families.”
Veiga and part of his team have already relocated to Miami for more Spray Their Name murals. Evans will remain in Denver to finish pieces of other locals killed by gun violence, and then he’ll hit the road later in the summer, too.
For Evans, Spray Their Name is also about carving out space for other Black artists through these collaborations and making people like Ana Thallas feel seen. It’s a lot of work to create a mural, he said, and pouring that time and energy into a memorial for a loved one means a great deal.
At The Park, Ana Thallas keeps looking at the image of her daughter on the wall as it changes from an outline to the contours of her face. It’s been an unimaginable road for her family, but every day, Ana Thallas meets someone else who knew her daughter or saw her murals. Isabella Thallas touched so many people, she says.
“I’m not going to let my daughter’s death go down in vain,” she says. “I fought to have her and I’ll fight to keep her memory alive.”
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