Standing on a boom lift’s platform more than a dozen feet off the ground, aerosol artist Shae Petersen braves the blistering afternoon sun and gets to work on his new piece, an almost 4,000-square-foot rendering of a Greek titan god.
Titled “Atlas,” the massive mural—located at 455 W. 200 North—will fill up a concrete wall on the side of a new luxury apartment complex. Utah Transit Authority riders waiting on a train at the North Temple Station could watch Petersen start coloring some of the piece’s water and seals, the beginning of a two-week project Petersen expects will require 1,400 cans of paint in 45 colors.
“The representation is Atlas kind of holding the universe,” Petersen says, referring to the mythological figure tasked with holding up the heavens after the titans were defeated by Zeus.
“He’s partially underwater, and there’s a shark or different obstacles,” Petersen says of the piece. “For me, it basically means capturing your dreams—or chasing them.”
Petersen, who also goes by “SRIL” (pronounced “surreal”), has been painting since 2007. Last year, City Weekly broke news on the renowned artist’s controversy with South Salt Lake. Officials nixed his mural at Exotic Kitty gentlemen’s club, a so-called “sexually oriented business,” because city code says, “no descriptive art or designs depicting any activity related to or implying, the nature of the business is allowed. Signs may contain alphanumeric copy only.”
Petersen says he left that project after South Salt Lake officials offered a compromise he thought was fair, asking him to remove the woman he’d included in his concept design. “The business owner didn’t really agree, so I kind of stepped away from being the guy who did the mural,” he says.
Once completed, his latest endeavor will be the largest public-facing mural Petersen has ever done. He thinks it might even be the biggest in Utah. “I definitely don’t know of any bigger ones,” Petersen says. “As far as actual painted square-footage, there’s definitely nothing larger, as far as I’m aware.”
Over the next few weeks, the artist will put in 8- to 10-hour days, weather permitting, fine-tuning the monumental piece and filling in Atlas and the surrounding ocean with an array of vibrant colors.
“My biggest goal with doing these public murals is, the hope was we get more art in Utah,” Petersen says of the 10 public pieces he estimates he’s completed across Salt Lake City. “I was just speaking with someone who just walked by 15 minutes ago, and they’re excited about it. There’s eight, nine, 10, maybe 12 murals in like six blocks of here that weren’t here three years ago.”