COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Bold, vibrant colors creating a two-story mural now stand out against a red brick building in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs.
In her 2021 Art on the Streets mural “Low Rider,” artist Mel CK, 27, blends her Central American roots with United States street art influences.
Blend of Central American street art vivifies downtown alley
Created with spray paint and latex paint, the mural depicts a toucan perched inside a low-rider car in lively purple and pink hues. Drawing from the heart and soul of CK’s native Panama City, it will live on the south wall of the Venezia Building at 128 North Nevada through May 2022.
Growing up in the street art scene, CK is no stranger to alleys.
“I remember my first time getting my mom to buy me spray paint,” she said. “I told her it was for art class.”
After her family relocated to the United States from Panama City, Panama, CK strived to inhabit both cultural spheres.
“My family came to the U.S. when I was a baby, because they were kicking the military out of Panama — and my mother had married an American,” said CK.
After several moves, her family settled in Colorado Springs, where CK grew up.
“I think it was like a culture shock,” she said. “I was a baby when I came to the United States. When we would go back to Panama, I would see how poor my mom grew up. Scrap metal house, cement bricks. It was just so different.”
These every-other-year visits to Panama also had a profound impact on CK’s perspective on craft and style.
“There started to be a mix inside me — of what I see,” she said. “I try to keep both sides, my Panamanian culture as well as the American culture, as a combination — to make it more beautiful that way.”
Walking the same alleys where her mother once lived in Panama City, “I saw how colorful they were,” CK said. “The colors, I took with me. I just put it in the hip hop motion — a lot more rhythm in the steps. And a lot of happiness. I feel like that’s why the bold colors have so much meaning, is to bring that feeling to the people. I want people to have that same feeling I feel when I’m with Panamanians or Columbians.”
CK, who is inspired by kid’s books, movies, and a mash-up of different cultures, says this work is about “the mix of Chicano car culture and Panamanian culture, and colliding it together. I feel like people kind of forget that there are different Latin countries that are involved in the community. I wanted to show my side, because there are not that many Panamanian artists out here at all.”
“Not only am I a Panamanian artist, I am a female,” said CK. “There’s not that much representation.”
To embellish a statement of cultural celebration in a downtown Colorado Springs alley in 2021 is to share it with the world. CK said her family in Panama is overjoyed with her work.
“Oh my goodness, when they see it on Facebook, they’re like, ‘Wow, look at the artistsa! Mira!’” CK said. “They’re so excited and happy and proud. And that’s what I want. I want them to be proud of what I do. I want to represent the culture the best I can.”
Downtown Colorado Springs’ 23rd annual Art on the Streets was revealed June 4th, presenting 12 new works by local, national, and international artists. Since 1998, Art on the Streets has displayed over 300 pieces of art downtown. The district is also home to over 50 permanent works.