Back to the Basics

A portfolio of three artists in Salt Lake City pushing their craft to the next level

Story by ROBERTO ELGUERA

Grabbing a quick bite from the drive-through, Chris Peterson is ready to go with his Denali and trailer full of his art equipment to take on his next job. 

With two master’s degrees in nonprofit and environmental policy and in environmental humanities, Peterson has his eyes set on getting back in the studio. He’s had plenty of years working in art programs such as the Road Home Mural Fence, the Colorado River Restoration, and THE BLOCKS.

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Edison & Broadway Mural by Chris Peterson. Photo by Roberto Elguera.

You never stop working as an artist. That’s because the inspiration is endless. For Peterson, he gets his inspiration from his love of wildlife. The Edison & Broadway mural is an example of that. Located in the alleyway between Broadway and 200 South in Salt Lake City, the mural displays some of Utah’s best assets — our booming city life, and our beautiful outdoors. On this piece, there are images of bears, bison, elk, and Utah’s trademark, the honeybee. In the middle, you see the heart of downtown surrounded by the famous snowy mountain ranges.

“It’s a great time to be a muralist in Utah,” Peterson said in a phone interview. Now having plenty of pieces under his belt around Salt Lake City, he believes that more art should be installed along the Wasatch Front. 

Sometimes that drive to push one’s limits to the next level can come in a number of ways. For Justin Johnson, it’s watching his son practice his lettering. He wants to go back to the essence of graffiti. “You practice your ABCs and I’ll do the same,” Johnson said. 

Painting and drawing were always a part of Johnson’s life. But when he turned 18, he was introduced to a spray can. That would take his art in a new direction. 

Early on, Johnson made pieces that were influenced by Hip-Hop and Punk culture. Themes of anti-establishment were prominent in his early pieces. Through the years his methods evolved and his art yet again took another direction. Now it’s about social justice. Johnson’s stance for a better community is visible, notably in the Road Home project. This painted mural fence was constructed to protect the children from being exposed to violent crime and drug trafficking common on the corner of 200 South and 500 West. On his side of the fence, Johnson wrote, “Hope for the future gives us strength for today.” 

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Road Home Mural Fence. Photo courtesy of Justin Johnson.

This need for change and art went hand in hand. Johnson’s dedication led him to be a part of the Hartland Community 4 Youth and Family board. He had a hand in setting up activities and community projects for youth in the Glendale neighborhood. In between board service he was doing graphic design and commission work. He and his crew were taking on at least five major projects a year. This work entailed planning and designing installations for Das Energi and flying across to Nevada for Elko Mural Expo. This hard work kept their skills honed, but they didn’t forget to have fun. 

For his son’s room, he installed a Pokémon-inspired mural. “It was so nice to paint from the heart, at my own pace, and with total freedom on content and style,” Johnson said. 

Humberto “Beto” Sanchez walks into the local art shop Uprok. He needs to restock caps and spray cans for a new piece he’s working on. Today he especially needs purple. Back at his house, Sanchez has set up a painting wall made out of four big panels of wood in his backyard. It’s mostly for practice, but also to build his portfolio digitally using Instagram. The usage of time-lapse and images of his work in a do-it-yourself style creates a sense of clarity and authenticity. 

“It’s like things you draw are a reflection of what you know,” Sanchez said. His pieces have influences of Chicano culture and Central American roots. In his latest painting, he portrays the quetzal, the colorful bird that represents wealth in Aztec and Mayan culture. On the right side of the backyard, there’s a depiction of a Mayan warrior. 

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Humberto “Beto” Sanchez. Photo by Roberto Elguera.

Sanchez wants to see more culturally diverse art in Salt Lake County. But for now, there is some sacrifice that takes place. “To get into these spaces that aren’t designed for us, you have to adapt,” Sanchez said. With professions in design, there are some compromises that need to be made when working with clients. This can be frustrating, but it’s those passion projects that keep an artist’s integrity intact. 

Sanchez wants to bridge that gap and create a space where artists can be free and push more art into the city. He wants to build his brand West Temple Workshop to where he can one day give scholarships to aspiring artists and teach workshops.

For now, it’s time to bust out the black spray can and go over the quetzal. Faced now with a blank canvas in front of him, it’s time to work. After all, practice makes perfect. 

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