Chris and Will Krieg sit at a picnic table laughing, beers in hand, covered in paint after a long day at work. Will’s childhood best friend, Andrew Vasko, sits across from them, and they all talk jovially about that day’s project: a large stretch of bold lettering above the entrance to Bruz Beers in the Twin Lakes neighborhood in the northwest. from Denver. The Altitude Murals team is made up entirely of this trio, which is amazing considering the scale, variety, and quality of work they’ve created, not just in Denver, but throughout Colorado and several other states in the world. West.
Altitude Murals started in 2018 with just the father-son pair of Chris and Will; Vasko joined in 2021 when business boomed. The artists’ styles range from lettering to photorealistic imagery, cartoon characters, and abstract geometry. One of Chris and Will’s most impressive murals, “Free Climber,” towers 150 feet near the intersection of I-25 and Colorado Boulevard, and can be seen from miles away. They completed it in just one month.
Each of his murals is hand-painted, using fine earth oils and enamels. “We use what the great masters used,” says Chris. “It lasts forever, and when it fades, it fades gracefully. This is high art, mixing colors, using small brushes; We spent hours and hours painting these things. That’s how I learned, and that’s what I’m passing on to these guys.”
Chris estimates that he has painted close to 10,000 signs and murals. Growing up in Oakland, he began in 1973 as an apprentice for Foster & Kleiser, one of the leading advertising and billboard companies of the 20th century. There he learned the ins and outs of large-format fine art painting, “from sweeping the floor to dismantling structures, setting them up and slamming them down,” says Chris. “We were just slow printers back then.”
In his late twenties, Chris decided to move to New York City to continue his creative endeavors. He immersed himself in the New York art scene, painting countless works of art on canvas, modeling, writing for talk magazines, and even starting publishing himself. Meanwhile, he continued to work as a journeyman for Foster & Kleiser’s New York plant, painting signs, billboards, and buildings throughout the city.
He and his wife decided to leave New York when they learned she was pregnant with their first child, and her career as a flight attendant brought them to Colorado. They settled in Evergreen in the early ’90s, and it wasn’t long before Chris was driving up and down Colfax Avenue painting and repainting signs and billboards for many local businesses. “I went away and did other things, but I always keep coming back to this. Look, I’m 67 years old and I love what I did today. I just painted two letters and Will yelled at me the whole time,” laughs Chris. “I still love doing it after 49 years.”
When the couple’s second son, Will, came along, Chris decided to start his own sign company in Evergreen while continuing to work as a contractor. It was the 2000s, and the vinyl-wrapped billboard trend was taking the advertising scene by storm. “I couldn’t give away a hand-painted sign,” Chris recalls. “They replaced me with computer generated vinyl. But I had to earn a living. And in the meantime, I kept making murals.”
Will and Vasko also remember the vinyl phase: When they got into trouble as teenagers, their punishment was to help fold and wrap the large sheets of vinyl that Chris used for his billboard jobs. They didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of their own journeys to become muralists.
Will says he avoided his artistic side for as long as possible. He trained to be a firefighter, traveled and lived abroad, and also worked as a mechanic with Vasko in Fort Collins for a few years. It wasn’t until his father needed help painting “Free Climber” in 2016 that he realized mural painting was something he wanted to pursue.
Then it was his turn to go to New York. Will got an apprenticeship at Colossal Media, an outdoor advertising company with the same values and focus on hand painting that his father had learned and practiced. For two years, he dedicated himself to the craft, earned his Master Rigger certification, and increased his knowledge of the world of mural creation tenfold. “It’s not just about showing up and painting a mural,” he explains. “It’s the rig, the setup, the breakdown, the burn patterns… The rest is more technical. The painting is the easiest part.”
After spending sixty to eighty hour weeks in New York, Will decided to return to Colorado, where he formed Altitude Murals with his father. Chris was starting to miss a beat painting murals, but when Will came back with new energy and ideas for Altitude Murals, they decided to pick up where they left off two years earlier with “Free Climber.”
“I was impressed with the information he came back from New York with,” says Chris. “Because I gave him a taste, and he ended up really making it. She obviously saw the value in learning as much as she could in a short period of time, and came back with some really good skills. Aside from Andrew, he is the best trainee I have ever had.”
Vasko has been creative for as long as he can remember, but he couldn’t go to art school. Like Will, he ended up traveling, swapping states and changing jobs before finding his way back to his artistic instincts. Since he joined Will and Chris in the spring of 2021, he has been learning the ropes, pioneering some new design work, and helping manage the business side of Altitude Murals.
“[Chris is] as my surrogate father because I’ve known him for so long, and [Will and I] they’re practically brothers, so every time I’m on the wall with them, it’s a lot of fun,” says Vasko. “I don’t know how many people can say they love their job and get to work with their best friends. We love what we do.”
With each artist utilizing their own personal fine art painting practice, it’s clear to see what sets Altitude Murals apart in the Denver mural scene, namely quality and archival value. “It’s as classic as it gets,” says Will. “We love making something timeless for everyone, not just museum visitors or private collectors. This is fine art for the masses.”
As for what’s next, Altitude Murals has another large-scale project underway, but the team is keeping details under wraps for now.
“Our work has to do with the participation of the community – YoIt relates to the environment it’s in,” Chris concludes. “What would work best in this neighborhood? And how are people going to relate to that in ten years? Does it make people feel good about where they live? We create beautiful images that people expect to see.”
For more information, visit AltitudeMurals.com.