SALT LAKE CITY — Street artist Yvette Vexta is known internationally for her bright and bold spray paint art, found on city buildings from Mexico to India to Australia. Now Salt Lake City is the home of her latest creation.
The side of a downtown building at 150 S. State used to be a featureless brick wall. Over the past two weeks, Vexta has been transforming the bland wall into a masterpiece.
"I’m interested in taking graphic and bold imagery and juxtaposing it with a sense of movement," she said. "That challenges me as an artist, and it’s an interesting thing to work with."
The Utah-based creativity support group 3 Irons commissioned the mural in April. The group is working to sponsor 50 art and culture projects in Salt Lake City before next year. Vexta's mural is number eight on the project list.
"It’s not easy to build these kinds of murals," said Steven Labrum, co-founder of 3 Irons. "It’s hard to access such a big wall and find someone who can have a vision for such a large canvas."
To start, the entire five-story brick wall was painted black by the building's owner, Andy Renfro. Next, Vexta maneuvered a boom crane truck alongside the building to paint scattered geometric shards 150 feet across the top of the building.
"My first impression was that it was going to be challenging," she said, as she had to navigate a boom lift in a small parking lot. She also had to avoid running into chimneys and telephone wires of two other adjacent buildings.
Armed with a gas mask and dozens of spray paint cans, she worked in burning heat, smokey air and occasional rain for two weeks.
"We’re super grateful to get someone who had experience dealing with heavy equipment and being up on a big wall like this," Labrum said. "There are so many reasons why this project could’ve gone wrong, but it’s coming together."
The centerpiece of the mural is an enormous image of a Utah-native bird, the flammulated owl, perched on a collection of colorful geometric shards.
"I always hope that people have their own relationship with the work," Vexta said. "For me, the owl is a symbol of wisdom and nature. I hope that people are inspired to appreciate the natural environment of Salt Lake City."
Vexta often uses triangular geometric shapes in her art. For the particular shapes on the Salt Lake mural, she said she drew ideas from visiting the Salt Flats.
"I’ve been painting these shapes in my work for a while. They’re representative of particles that make up all matter," she said. "I was looking at the salt crystals and thinking about how they’re kind of representative of all the small parts that go into making a whole."
The geometric pieces and the owl are all painted in neon colors that contrast sharply with the black background. Vexta named the mural "The Nature of Wisdom."
"We have a lot of great murals, but this one is definitely a game changer," said Nick Como, communications manager for Salt Lake's Downtown Alliance. "Downtown is the place for art and culture as well as entertainment in Utah and the Intermountain West."
The downtown mural is one of the largest murals in Utah, Labrum said. It was funded completely by private donors, a rare accomplishment for a prominent piece of public art, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Major private supporters included Richter7, the Eva Carlston Academy, and Rheda Fouad and Amy Leininger. The building's owner also supported the project by providing the boom lifts for Vexta.
"It's just another step in that direction of Salt Lake being an internationally renowned place for cool art and culture," Como said.
Vexta is a self-taught street artist from Australia. Her work is exhibited across the world, including at the National Gallery of Australia. She is based in New York, and just finished another project in Sweden.
"(The mural is) huge, and I think it's gorgeous. We’re just so happy with how it turned out," Labrum said. "We’re really hopeful that this also inspires other private investments in street art."