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This is the mural, Huitzilopochtli.
This is the mural, Huitzilopochtli. Photo: Courtesy of David Ocelotl Garcia

After being whitewashed, Latino artist’s first mural is preserved in Denver

David Ocelotl García’s work was covered in white paint by new building tenants. A new technique is removing the primer.

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In the Sun Valley neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, a mural by local Latino artist, David Ocelotl Garcia lived on the wall off Eighth Avenue. Called the Huitzilopochtli, or ‘Hummingbird Warrior’ in English, it was a mural showing characters reminiscent of his family and was dedicated to his late mother. 

It had become a sight to drive by for many of the residents in the area. Many locals even say they saw a little bit of their families in the mural as well. Latinos make up more than 22% of Colorado’s population, almost 30% of Denver’s population, and more than 40% of its Sun Valley neighborhood. Ocelotl Garcia painted it first back in 2007. The building on which it was painted operated back then as a community center space called Sisters of Color. 

More than 13 years later, in April 2020, Ocelotl Garcia received many phone calls from people around the area that his mural was no longer on the wall it had lived on for so long. New building tenants, in this case a new marijuana dispensary, had painted over the mural with white paint. It was a whitewashing of a mural that meant a lot to the surrounding community. 

Ocelotl Garcia told the community that one way or another, he would paint the mural again, but it’s a very hard task for any artist to try and replicate a piece. According to Ocelotl Garcia, the new tenants painted over the mural unknowing of the significance of the piece to the community and the artist himself. The tenants worked with Ocelotl Garcia after they realized their mistake and helped put a plan together to make the situation right. 

He previously thought the only way to bring it back would be to paint the mural and try to replicate it again. However, Lucha Martínez de Luna with the Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project, brought the idea of restoring the piece instead. 

After finding out about a technique in California in which he could remove the primer on top of the mural that would reveal the mural buried under, Ocelotl Garcia wanted to learn more about the process. With grants from the organization, he was able to go to California to learn the new technique that could very well save the important mural. He came back to Denver to try it.

The process involves applying a special solution with a paintbrush onto the wall. He, along with help from his assistant Gavin Weir, used a power washer to spray the wall that would then remove the white paint, revealing the mural. It worked on some parts, but others needed to be repainted. The mural was still there in its entirety after thinking it was long gone. 

In the effort to preserve the Huitzilopochtli, the Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project also applied a “mural shield.” It is a sealant that will further preserve and protect the piece from any future wear and tear that could occur. It is applied in two coats with a special sprayer. 

The Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project was also able to get two grants totaling over $23,000 that are going towards applying the shield to many murals across the city. The murals are usually those in danger of being painted over like Ocelotl Garcia’s. 

The mural is now protected and will be continued to be restored by Ocelotl Garcia and can be seen at 938 W. Eighth Avenue, Denver, Colorado.

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