Utah artist wants to paint a panther mural on the side of a South Salt Lake strip club — but officials say it violates code

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shae Petersen in front of one of his murals on 300 West and 3300 South in Salt Lake City. Petersen is a muralist trying to get a mural painted on the side of the Exotic Kitty strip club in South Salt Lake. Friday, December 15, 2017.

Shae Petersen is a Utah-born “aerosol artist” who uses spray paint to create large-scale murals that adorn walls and buildings in Las Vegas and Denver and along the Wasatch Front.

One of his most heralded local pieces is near the corner of 3300 South and 300 West in South Salt Lake, a psychedelic rendering of bearded Greek gods being all Greek-goddy.

Painted in 2015, that mural won Petersen an award from South Salt Lake for its artistic contribution to the city.

Now Petersen wants to paint another mural in South Salt Lake. But this time, the city is balking.

Petersen, who signs his work SRIL (as in “surreal”), thinks he knows why. The new mural is supposed to be painted on the side of the Exotic Kitty, a strip club at 3055 S. State St.

“The city just doesn’t want to draw any attention to the strip club,” Petersen said.

Exotic Kitty owner Tommy Eddy said city officials had talked to him about putting art on the building, and even mentioned Peterson’s work, “which I considered to be an endorsement.”

Petersen said when Eddy contacted him in September about doing a mural, “he gave me full creative freedom to paint whatever I wanted, as long as it was approved.”

According to Petersen, the South Salt Lake arts council gave full approval to the mural and its design, a large stylized depiction of a panther, with a woman in the background teasing an exposed shoulder.

But when the proposal reached the city planning commission, the permit was denied. They saw Petersen’s design as an advertisement for Exotic Kitty.

“They disregarded it as a mural altogether,” Petersen said.

According to South Salt Lake city code, signs for sexually-oriented businesses cannot exceed 32 square feet in area, and “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.”

“The city has something against strip clubs, even though they like the money they bring in,” Eddy said.

City planner Alexandra White did not respond to requests for comment.

Petersen is appealing the city planning commission’s denial, and a hearing is set for Jan. 12.

“If the city has a problem with the image, I’ll work with them to alter it or come up with a new one,” Petersen said.

Meanwhile, he’s taken his battle public with a change.org petition that launched Thursday, and within 24 hours had snagged more than 1,500 signatures.