Artwork adds a splash of COLOR to Riverfront Trail

The new mural of a field worker bending at his work on the underpass of U.S. Highway 50 along the Riverfront Trail grabs the eye with brilliant shades of green, yellow and red.

But the panel, painted by Grand Junction artist Jeremy Velasquez, has an “Easter egg” hidden in its bright colors. Observers who tilt their heads to the left will see a profile emerge out of the landscape: the face of Fernando, the longtime Palisade migrant worker who inspired the piece to begin with, Velasquez said Saturday at the unveiling ceremony of his mural.

Velasquez, who was commissioned by the Art on the Riverfront Trail project to paint a mural that honored the contributions of Grand Valley agricultural workers, said he came up with the idea for his piece while he was on vacation with his girlfriend visiting her father. Fernando, an immigrant worker from Mexico, had spent years working in Palisade.

“One day we were playing dominoes and we were, like, laughing and stuff, and I noticed, you know he had these really wonderful wrinkles in his face,” Velasquez said. “He just reminded me of … the fields that he worked in every day.”

Velasquez proposed incorporating Fernando’s face in the landscape in the painting of the field workers, whose face isn’t visible.

“The artwork is not necessarily just about Fernando,” Velasquez said. “It’s for people like Fernando who immigrated from other places to come here … for health, wealth.”

“After seeing his work, we were really impressed,” said Jerry Martinez, president of the Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce.

As Martinez, Velasquez and Hispanic Affairs Project Chairman Tom Acker cut the ribbon on “Fernando,” other artists continued to work on their own panels across the path and farther downstream. Jerad Slates, Nikkeya Gray, Matt Goss, Onyx Cly-Peek, Jason Lee Bradham, Rachel DeWeber and Nyssa Capps all worked on their own pieces of underpass art Saturday, decorating slabs of concrete under the Redlands Parkway, Colorado Highway 340 and U.S. Highway 50. The artists were vetted and selected as part of a collaborative effort among the Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture & Riverfront Commission, Super Rad Art Jam, city of Grand Junction, Colorado Department of Transportation and other groups.

Across the path from Velasquez’s panel, Nyssa Capps stood atop a ladder to paint leaves on a tree in her depiction of the entire Riverfront Trial. At the far east end of the mural, where a silhouetted dog stands atop Mount Garfield, Capps said she was planning to plant a Palisade peach tree.

“It’s going to have dinosaurs,” Capps said. “I like doing dinosaurs. It’s kind of my thing. Plus, there’s bones buried all over the place.”

Capps said she’d like to see a program in the future that supports public art by supplying volunteer artists with paint.

“I think this is an awesome way to use this space. I’m a really true believer that public space should be used for public art,” said Capps, who had friends and supporters donate some of the paint she used Saturday but who also dished out about $300 on her own. “I’m happy to be here; it’s really fun.”

Downstream, Bradham worked with spray paint to transform a pillar under the Highway 340 overpass into a double-sided art piece: a tiki on one side, a totem on the other side. Nearby, closer to the riverbank, Cly-Peek painted a panel featuring a dog, tongue lolling with pure summertime joy while he relaxes on an inner tube and floats down the painted Colorado River. Cly-Peek’s dog, Blackie Chan — the real life model for the mural — pranced and barked at the end of his leash nearby.

“I think it’s great how people are able to paint murals here,” Cly-Peek said, adding with a laugh. “Because (without paint) it’s dirty and ugly.”


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