Newcomers and even Salt Lake City locals might be surprised to discover there’s a lot more color—literal and figurative—here than they’d previously heard. We’re beginning to wear that diversity on our walls, with brilliant, vivid murals popping up in downtown SLC and, with growing frequency, the suburbs. This imagery both rivals and enhances architecture, putting a new and interesting face on Salt Lake’s culture. Here is just a handful of street art you should check out while you’re in town.
250 S. 400 West
In 2003, Salt Lake City-based artist Jann Haworth noticed Rolling Stone rated the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band first on their list of all-time greatest albums. It got her thinking about re-imagining her iconic artwork for the record.
Haworth and collaborator Peter Blake had asked the Beatles to list their heroes for the famous cut-and-paste group photo. About a third of the band’s roll made the cover; Haworth and Blake chose the rest. “The Beatles chose no women,” Haworth says, and “no African-Americans—who, in my book, they owed a great deal of credit. It was for those reasons, mainly, that I wanted to have a go at re-imagining the image.”
To “upgrade” the original, Haworth looked to KRCL radio listeners, West High School students, Utah Arts Fair patrons and an e-mail outreach for a more comprehensive list that would transcend celebrity, gender and ethnicity. She formed an advisory group that met every six weeks for a year before starting work on the wall of a parking structure at 250 South and 400 West.
Naturally, Haworth painted much of the mural, but a good chunk of it was created by other artists and even several painter neophytes. “The beauty of stencil graffiti [is] you can teach someone in 30 minutes how to get a portrait image. So, we had educators, filmmakers—people who had never done art before—working up a head from the list,” she says.
The final version achieves Haworth’s vision of a diverse influential litany, depicting Bob Marley, Jane Goodall, the Dalai Lama, Sojourner Truth, Akira Kurosawa, Sylvia Plath, Frank Zappa, Erykah Badu, Harvey Pekar, Frida Kahlo, Tom Waits and even Felix the Cat. “I am so much prouder of SLC Pepper than Sgt. Pepper,” she says, although “I guess ours would not exist were it not for the other. A lot of respect and love went into the Salt Lake piece.”
“Chew,” son of the shop’s titular founder, collaborated on the piece with fellow street artists “Kuhr” and Shae “Jaer” Petersen. Together, and with other artists, they’ve contributed to murals throughout Salt Lake City, including Raunch Records, Ironclad Tattoo, Skindeep Tattoo, Five Monkeys, Boro Syndicate
Productions and a multibuilding mural on Exchange Place downtown.
Most of the imagery on Mark’s Ark is horror-themed: a slavering vampire, the classic depiction of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster and bloody cheerleaders under a full moon. Abutting this scene is the smiling countenance memorializing Odle’s late friend Brandon Gonzales, as well as other pet stores that closed their doors this year. The final scene shows Mark Odle with his wife and granddaughters enjoying an aquarium full of colorful fish.
“I started painting this section in 2005,” Chew says, “and worked on it for a few years after. The rest of the wall has been painted and repainted several times.” The family scene and Gonzales’ portrait is permanent, but hurry if you want to see the spooky stuff—[it] will be painted over by springtime next year.
1576 S. State, Salt Lake City
It’s only fitting that a tattoo shop be tattooed itself, and the mural on Ironclad Tattoo is a hell of a piece. “I’ve wanted to have a mural done on our building for years,” says Ironclad owner Ryan “Catfish” Sagers. “It was just a matter of finding the right artist to do it in a way that fit us and our shop.”
Street artist Shae “Jaer” Petersen was a client of Sagers’, which led to an interesting reciprocity. “Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work on him, and we eventually became friends,” Sagers says. “We have very similar tastes when it comes to art, and once I saw some of his work, I knew he was the one I wanted to have do our mural.”
“What we do is a lot like what a tattoo artist does,” Petersen says. “Although it’s not as permanent, you wouldn’t go looking for a tattoo artist based on who’s the cheapest—you look for whose style you like the best.”
The current mural is the second that Petersen and friends Chew and Kuhr have painted on the building’s honeycomb-bricked south wall. “The bricks made it difficult the first time around,” Petersen says. This time, the hexagonal shapes are incorporated into the painting, which blends common tattoo imagery: babes, lions and lots of skulls.
“We had complete artistic freedom,” Petersen says. “As artists themselves, [Ironclad] knows that usually results in the best work. Aside from that, we just wanted to give people something interesting to look at, a variety of color and emotion. I feel like we achieved that.
Corner of State Street and Exchange Place
The mural gracing the southern wall of the building on the corner of State Street and Exchange Place is in its fourth incarnation. “In 2008, when I first leased the property,” says Korner Market & Korner Deli owner Asif “Oz” Khanani, “the mural wall was being bombed by random graffiti each week.” Tired of “covering up the eyesores,” Khanani decided a mural should stop the vandalism and attract attention to his shop as well as others on the block.
The mural, according to lead artist Kier Defstar, represents an abstract view of “2020”—the year, and the concept of visual acuity—to portray something “utopic and peaceful.” The businesses occupying the corner—Korner Market, Korner Deli, The Heavy Metal Shop, Himalayan Kitchen, The Pie Hole, Lost Art Tattoo, Uprok Records and Wasted Space Bar—fully supported the idea. “We all pitched in for the paint,” says The Heavy Metal Shop’s Kevin Kirk. Customer donations also helped fund the project.
Kirk, whose previous Sugar House location of The Heavy Metal Shop was adorned with a giant Slayer logo, was keen to have art on his new storefront. “I spoke with a couple of the artists, explaining that I wanted something a little darker,” Kirk says. One of the artists suggested Iron Maiden’s mascot, Eddie. Now, a gleaming chrome likeness of the iconic skeletal metalhead and a future-gazing goddess bookend an array of tags and other scenes.
Khanani and his fellow shop owners intend to renew the mural each year. “The murals give our local artists a canvas,” he says. “They add culture and self-expression to our walls [in a way] that plain walls do not. Art is all around us; we just need to have a clear and open vision to see and appreciate [it].”
“Ave Maria,” aka the Madonna Mural
158 E. 200 South
Gender and religious diversity inspired this mural on the east side of the Guthrie Building in downtown SLC. As ornate and colorful as stained glass, “Ave Maria” occupies the upper right-hand corner of the brick building’s east side. It was commissioned by Corey Bullough, owner of Fice Gallery, which is housed there. A fan of religious iconography, Bullough felt that female figures were underrepresented in Salt Lake City. He charged international street artists El Mac and Retna with righting that wrong, and the duo completed the piece in February 2010.
Three years later, Bullough feels that gender diversity has “come a long way” in SLC, but “I’m not really sure if ‘Ave Maria’ has contributed to that,” he says. “I’m humbled to think that, in some way, it might have.”
Many residents would say it has indeed. Since El Mac and Retna got to work, visitors of various backgrounds have stopped to ask about the piece, and speak of personal significance it holds for them. This continues even today. “People continue to stop by at least once a week,” Bullough says. Among them are tourists, neighbors and people who drive by on their daily commute. “It’s great; I love the random conversations it’s evoked and the amazing humans I’ve met because of her.”
It’s a significant contribution to the city, and a beacon of diversity in what is erroneously perceived as a one-faith town. Reflecting on this, Bullough says, “I’ve always been a firm believer that whatever positive energy you put into something, it will be returned. I’m absolutely honored to be a part of the downtown business community and Salt Lake City as a whole. I think Gandhi said it best: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’”