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By Dave Schutz
Taking 8th Avenue into downtown Greeley from the north isn’t any prettier than it’s been for a long time. First comes the stench of the meat packing plant, then a string of auto shops, the long-empty State Armory, and the nondescript Greeley Tribune building. But a detour over to 9th Avenue across from the public library leads to a stunning, wildly colorful mural of Albert Einstein. Suddenly, Greeley starts to feel like a different city.
A closer look reveals that a lot of the empty or antiquated storefronts that have hampered the vitality of Greeley’s central business district in recent years have given way to several new restaurants and other businesses, including Café Panache, a French-style crêperie where I met with the mural’s creator, 24-year-old Armando Silva.
Since graduating with an art degree from the University of Northern Colorado just over a year ago, Silva has propelled himself to the forefront of a growing Greeley art scene through a progression of increasingly high-profile mural projects.
Although undeniably talented, Silva’s greatest asset may be his seemingly boundless energy. He’s keeping food on the table largely through commission work, but his real passion lies in his murals and a bevy of community-focused projects. He is helping to start a cooperative art space similar to Fort Collins’ Art Lab; he’s an executive staff member of the Colorado Dance Collective; and he recently taught a mural painting class through the UNC Community Arts program, whose students are working downtown on a piece slated to be finished in August.
That mural is part of Greeley’s Paint The Town program, a partnership between the city and local artists to support more public murals. The program started when Silva and some UNC classmates approached the city about funding a collaborative mural on the outer wall of The Kitchen at 9th Avenue and 16th Street.
The City of Greeley isn’t the only entity taking notice. Because Silva already has some projects on the burner through Paint The Town, when he thought up the Einstein mural, the city was reluctant to take on the project. That’s when the Greeley Downtown Development Authority stepped in to pick up the tab.
It’s a good thing for all of us that Silva chose to be an artist rather than, say, a commercial airline pilot or backcountry guide. His methodology for the Einstein mural was downright reckless. Once he got the go-ahead from the DDA, he set to work with a black and white photo of Einstein and a sketch of his idea. Unsatisfied with the results he was getting from a paintbrush on the brick wall, he switched to spray paint, a medium he’d never used before. After a little bit of research on techniques, he dove right in with little practice and cranked out the mural – which is about 35 feet high and over twice as wide – over the course of just three days.
“I love graffiti art. I love street art. And I love the color that they use. I’m inspired by it,” Silva says. “As an urban feel, I love it, but I’m not a graffiti artist.”
And while the piece obviously draws from graffiti art in both the choice of medium and the pace of work, the finished product is sharper and more impressionistic than most work done with spray paint. It’s also less hyperbolic than some of his other work. The piece is based on one of the more stoic photos of Einstein, and it’s almost as if Silva challenged himself to inject life into relatively ordinary base material (compared, say to the famous photo of Einstein sticking his tongue out.)
It’s been a busy year for Silva and it’s not slowing down. In addition to the community mural and proposed cooperative art space, he’s branching out for shows at designHaus Denver and in Nashua, N.H. in August.
But don’t expect Silva to stay away from home for long. Where other artists of his age and caliber often hanker to move on to a bigger pond, Silva is intent upon staying in Greeley. Born in Mexico and having spent part of his childhood in Milliken, he’s lived in Greeley since he was about 12 years old.
“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of things to look up to or look forward to here in Greeley,” Silva says. “So if I can set a platform for that and even have people outdo me by tomorrow, so be it. But I want to be able to open up that door – or to just show people the door, because the door’s open.”
Silva would prefer to build the Greeley scene rather than try to compete in a bigger one and risk compromising his creativity.
“[I’m] not saying that this is the safe route, but this is much more of an open route,” he says. “You have no limitations here.”
Find out more about Armando Silva and his work at aisgarts.com.