What if people came here from all over the world just to look at the sides of buildings, crawl around under bridges, and stare at ceilings? That'd be weird ... or maybe not.
If those tourists came to look at the murals that are becoming more and more common these days, that "what if" might not be so far-fetched. It might even be pretty cool.
After all, says Australian-born muralist Kim Polomka, in this genre, excellence rules.
"Sometimes mediocrity rules, but public artwork affects the environment of a city. You can't just go down some alley and start painting. You need to plan it."
The number of murals in the downtown area — where, despite some notable west-side creations, the highest concentration of them exists — is a little hard to pin down. If you're talking about murals available for viewing from the road, they number a little more than a dozen. But if you include interior spaces, and areas under bridges and such, the number can be as high as 30.
Polomka's work can be seen in several places, including his "Mozart @250" mural at Cascade and Pikes Peak avenues, and the Burns Theater Tribute mural on the west side of Kimball's Peak Three Theater. He's looking forward to starting work on his newest creation at The Lennox, on the corner of Tejon Street and Platte Avenue. The piece will honor the train that ran between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek between 1890 and 1910 (the mock-up is pictured).
But even Polomka's output is trumped by that of Eric Bransby. Dating back to the '40s, his work graces everything from Colorado College's Cossitt Hall to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, which unveiled his "rolling history" mural last year as part of its 75th anniversary celebration.
Trevor Thomas, who was Bransby's apprentice on the FAC project, says he notices a difference between the older and newer works. "A lot of the [older murals] in the city are decorative," he says, "but now people seem to want more substance."
Thomas himself likes working with historical images, and has recently been commissioned to paint a mural in the same hall at CC as that of his mentor. "I'm going for a little abstract, some Art Deco, and a historical tribute to Hanya Holm," one of America's most prominent dance instructors, who taught at CC for 43 summers.
Such works testify to the vibrancy of Colorado Springs' arts community, and Polomka believes that community is ready to be recognized. In fact, "it's time we bloody well won the [Governor's Arts Award],"he says, referring to the annual state prize given to a town or city for "collective efforts to enhance their community and their economy through strategic use of the arts."
Douglas Rouse's 12 Mural Project was designed specifically with art tourism in mind. The flagship of the project — which he hopes to resume soon — is his nearly 10,000-square-foot trompe l'oeil piece covering the Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery at 25 W. Cimarron St.
Thomas says that the popularity of murals is cyclical, with a tradition going back hundreds of years. And Polomka tends to think that we as a collective are currently swinging back toward embracing them.
"Murals can do a lot — they can help uplift an area, you know? There's a lot going on already, and there's a lot of good going on."