Described as the unofficial Mayor of Salt Lake City by his peers, Josh Scheuerman is an extroverted and caring artist/activist who leaves a trail of goodwill wherever he goes. Josh successfully navigates the art world by developing meaningful relationships and creating art with a purpose, never deviating from his mantra Be Kind, Be Brave.
Can you give us a quick summary of your background?
I grew up in West Valley City, Utah and started creating art as a child. I was nearsighted and since I couldn’t see what was on the chalkboard, I just drew a lot. I loved drawing and doodling all the time, even through college. That gave me my love and passion for drawing and art in general.
I went to Dixie State College down in St. George for two years. It was a junior college at the time. Right when I was finishing in ’99, I got a photo pass to Woodstock. That was kind of the catalyst for me changing from art into being a photographer.
I came up to Salt Lake and worked for SLUG [Salt Lake UnderGround Magazine] for 6 years and then worked for Ski Utah for 10 years doing terrain park videos and photos, as their token snowboarder. Then quit when I was 30 and started painting. Up until that point, art in general had taken a backseat to throwing [amateur snowboard and ski contests and] events, publishing magazines [Three Magazine, a snowboard/skate/music], taking photos and interviewing bands.
I bought $500 of paint and canvas that year and started painting for the first time. Within a year I had my first art show – paintings of old iconic motel signs from State Street. For my show I got a coffee shop on State Street and made it look like a motel room with beds, dressers and bibles in the drawers. I even stayed a few nights in the motel rooms on State Street and took medium format photos of my time there over three weekends. So for my show I had paintings of the motel signs and photos.
I then painted inside Sugarhouse Coffee and that was my first mural. So just painting for a year I had my first mural and art show. I kept painting in different styles and mediums. I was also doing some commissioned work and window paintings on glass.
Then I went to Spain 6 years ago for the summer and painted a large mural of the city I was in, San Carlos de la Rapita. That took about a month, a big 80-foot wall.
How did you get hooked up with that? Is that something you planned or just fell into while you were there?
I was just bored. [Laughs.] Even living in Spain you get bored after being in the same place. I saw this giant wall that’s right when you’re coming into the city and there were two tags on it from a local guy named Vlad. He was from Croatia and didn’t speak English. My friend, who I was staying with, found him – because it’s a small city – and I just asked permission to paint over his tags. And he said, Oh, yeah, not a problem. So Vlad took me to the dump and we just picked up some recycled paint, I got rollers and started painting.
Vlad didn’t own the building?
No, the city did and they never came and talked to me about it. Two years later, though, I contacted the city and asked if I came back to Spain, would they be willing to buy the paint so I could redo it with better paint. They said yes, so I flew back over there and they bought me paint.
So this time it was official.
It was official because the mural had kind of become a tourist attraction. When they did tours of the city they would say, This is a mural done by an American. It was kind of a big deal for them. So I went back and redid it and it only took me 5 days. But it was a long, hot 5 days. [Laughs.]
After I came back to the US, I just kept doing small work, paintings. And then 2 years ago, a friend contacted me about doing a mural here in Salt Lake. I hadn’t done an outside mural here so I said I’d love to. For the next 4 or 5 months we talked and those talks became the Granary Murals [a mural grant program where 15 artists were commissioned to create murals in Salt Lake City’s Granary District] and we got the money from the RDA [Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City]. It took almost a year to get that money because of bureaucracy, but I’m glad we got it.
In the meantime, that’s when I painted the Bears Ears [National Monument mural] pro bono. I saw this huge wall across from Fisher Brewery I wanted to paint. It’s a city-owned building, as well, so I asked for permission, because obviously it’s downtown Salt Lake so you can’t just paint a wall here. That took 7 months for approval. But I got approval for that and finished it. I dedicated it with Carl Moore, who’s from the Hopi tribe.
The reason for painting that was because we lost $40 million a year annually since the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow left town over the fight for the Bears Ears land. So the mural was a big billboard to promote southern Utah and remind people what we’re fighting for with their legislation. A billion dollars that we make from tourism here in Utah is now subject to industrial lobbyists. And being from Utah, I respect public lands and want to keep fighting and advocating for them.
For the Granary mural, you said you had a friend you were talking with early on to get that project going, but they also did an official call for artists. Were you already in it before that?
I still had to submit. And for this one they asked the artist to contact the business in Granary and get approval from that business owner to paint on the wall.
You had to specifically target people?
Yes, which was actually backwards. The city should have found wall space and then put out a call for artists. I wanted to paint Fisher Brewery because I’m there all the time. I know the guys and they supported me in getting that mural. I submitted, along with other people, obviously, because it was a popular place. So I wasn’t a shoo-in, but I got it.
You said you just up and quit your full-time job to paint full time, but you’ve also mentioned before that it’s hard to make a living painting. So how did that transition come about and how do you make ends meet?
Well, I’ve always worked, but this is the first time I’ve actually quit my full-time job. Six months ago I was working full time as a designer and photographer for City Weekly, and then when I got the commission for the Granary I was given a lot of money – $30 a square foot, which is $15,000. I didn’t have time to paint the mural while doing my full-time job, so it became time for me to move on from my full-time job. It took me a month and a half to complete the mural with it being my only job. So if I had kept my full-time job, it would have taken me 3 months to do.
The mural was a stepping stone to becoming a full-time artist. If I look back at all the other things I’ve done, everything was a stepping stone to get to that point. I’ve now done 11 murals. I was finishing one today and then start another one on Monday. So now I’m painting full-time.
So you were a full-time employee up until about 6 months ago?
Yeah, I still do graphic design and photography though. I’m busier now than I was having a full-time job because I have to actually go and pursue work. I gotta find more work, and once I find work, I gotta continue to keep looking for more work.
Not being an employee allows me the opportunity to be creative and flexible, but I’m also working through the evenings. I’ll come home and design sometimes until midnight. If I have time, I’ll go out into the studio and paint until 2 or 3 in the morning. Then I’ll get up and do it all again. Having big projects is a great way to keep busy and be creative and I think it’s allowed me to make more connections and keep getting referrals for work.
Are referrals the main way you find work, either through the connections you already have or the new ones you’re making?
Yeah. I just did a mural in Kamas at a restaurant called Gateway Grill. That referral was through a friend I used to work with. Her husband bought the restaurant and wanted me to do some murals inside.
I was able to paint the Sugar House mural because of a reference from Fisher [Brewing]. Referrals come from doing Bears Ears – that mural had a lot of traction when it first happened. And then just being in the community, doing Art Adoption, going to galleries, being in the city. You get to talk to a lot of artists and then, if people have a job they know about, they’re like, Oh, I know a guy who does that. So that’s mostly how I get all my work.
People have also come up when I’ve been painting and asked for business cards. And from that I’ve gotten some work, too. The visibility of murals I think helps and there’s no way, at this point, I’ve sold a painting for the amount of money I can get for a mural.
I want to continue to do art, but the new mural scene that’s happening wouldn’t have happened 15 years ago. It’s only because a lot of people put in the groundwork.
What about social media, your website and your time-lapse or behind-the-scene videos? Do those help?
Yeah, so a couple of years ago I built a new website and I’ve done these time-lapse videos of my murals since the first one in Spain. I just kept them on my Vimeo page, but it’s kind of hard to share that. So now I’m able to have an updated mural and video link to my website.
As an artist, you spend countless hours and money on materials. But once you create art, you have virtually nowhere to show it. That’s what artists don’t understand. Creating the art is one thing, and then finding a place to show it is entirely a different racket. But there is the option of Gallery Stroll.
What’s Gallery Stroll?
Yeah, so the third Friday of every month all the galleries open up. A lot of fine art galleries will have stuff that’s always available, but they’ll also bring in one new artist for a new show. A lot of the smaller galleries will just rotate artists every month. To get up to the gallery level you kind of have to have a name. Otherwise you’re showing in coffee shops or restaurants.
After I had my first show, I had “orphaned art”, I like to call it. Because once you show art once or twice as an artist you really don’t want to keep showing it. And so then you have art that starts stacking up in your studio and you’re thinking, What am I gonna do with this?
So I wanted to sell my art but thought, How do I do that? I decided, well, if I can sell it for the price I need to get out of it – not what I want to get out of it – and if I’m not at a gallery where they’re taking a percentage, a 20- or 30-percent cut, then I can sell something for $100. It doesn’t have to be $300, I really just need to get it moving.
So I came up with this idea which would eventually be like a pop-up shop. The premise was selling neglected art and giving it to warm and loving homes. This became Art Adoption. I had a friend who had a garage and I got artists – I think there were 6 artists at the first one – and I said, Bring some art down and price it. My friend was in a band so I decided we’d have the band play, I’d get some beer and then we’d sell some art. That first one was successful and I think we sold $400 of art, which blew my mind.
When was this? Pretty early on?
11 years ago. I’m 41 this year, so it would’ve been when I was 30. I did one once a year for 3 or 4 years and now I do one in the spring in May and then one every December.
Now there are 30 artists involved and we sell $4,000-6,000 in 5 hours. 95% of that goes directly back to the artists and 5% goes to Square payment fees.
Did you handle all the Square payments? Everything was going through you?
Yeah, artists just need to bring art and price it and I do the checkout. It’s a way for unknown artists to actually show alongside renowned – who I personally think are some of the best artists in Utah. So even for their first show they have confidence because they’re showing it alongside someone like Trent Call. They’re very excited about it and they invite their friends and families down because they’re in the art show. It helps give first-time artists confidence to continue to do art.
How do you pick the artists? Are they the same artists or do they come and go?
They come and go. During the year, I’ll go to gallery strolls or meet friends who are artists. I’ll try to get artists who have a following and a body of work. And then randomly people will just reach out or they’ll come to Art Adoption and say, How do I get involved? And I say, Just email me and you can be in the art show. That blows their minds that they finally have an avenue to sell their art. Now there are bigger festivals and popup shops, so it’s good there’s a lot of art available. I’ve told people if Art Adoption is still successful, then we’ll do it. If it’s not, if it’s served its purpose, then it won’t exist.
You’ve done 11 murals since the beginning. How does your process differ and how do you approach each mural?
Working with the business owner, sometimes it’s helpful and sometimes it’s not. There’s a new apartment building downtown called C-9 Flats that I’ve done five different murals in. The building owner literally said, Whatever you want to do.
So you had full creative control?
Full creative control. And I had no ideas. But I started painting marble statues in that building and now it’s kind of the theme for the building. But the mural in Kamas, they wanted animals. I’ve never painted animals before, so that was totally unique, as well. The one I’m doing now at Industry is literally just shapes and flow. It was so hard to actually come up with a concept.
Each project is different and varies depending on the scale of it, the detail on it. If it’s super detailed, you can project it on the wall. The one in Spain and the Bears Ears one, I just took a picture of the wall and in Photoshop placed the picture I wanted to paste over it, and then dropped it down to half opacity so I could see through the picture to the wall. Then I could kind of gauge where things were on the wall and where they should be. The smaller ones, you can project to save time and just draw it out with charcoal and then just go back over and repaint it.
Have you had some proposals get turned down?
Yeah, I’ve been denied murals before. I’ve only been painting murals for a year, but I still have six rejections.
What was rejected – the proposals or concepts?
Both. I submitted stuff and they said, Oh, we went with another artist. Which is fine, because I want artists to have work. Other times they might say, Well, we thought we had money and now we don’t.
Now that you’re doing your own thing, how do you figure out how to spend your time? Because you said you’re actually working more.
I guess discipline, but I should be more disciplined. Or maybe I should work less, I don’t know.
My philosophy now is get up and leave the house by 9. And if I’m doing a mural, don’t come home until after 5. For a year, I did graphic design work from home and it was the saddest year of my life. My home wasn’t my home, it was my work space. And I was very bad about turning off the computer at 5 and making it my house. I’ve learned that being here isn’t necessarily productive, so I try to get out, even if it’s driving around and thinking of new ideas or meeting people or getting coffee. I also have a to-do list to make sure I’m accomplishing things.
When I came up with the Four Corners project [paintings and photography highlighting the beauty of Utah in the four corners] I was just running and started picking up trash. Then it became a full project.I see artists do incredible things, and my art, I just say it’s community activism now, because it’s part activism, part art.
Just starting, I think, is the hardest thing for any artist. You get an idea, one. Create it, two – which is a really hard obstacle. Because unless you do art all the time, you’re going to judge yourself, you’re going to have self-doubt, you’re going to be critiquing yourself. And the third one is selling it, selling the idea. Social media is good for that because you could have an Etsy store, a Big Cartel store and literally sell things to people all over the world. Or you have to get a local show or get some way for it to be promoted. So those are the hurdles that artists have to go through, regardless of who they are.
And you basically do everything yourself, is that right? You don’t have assistants or other help?
A lot of bigger artists who are doing big walls and murals have assistants. And people have offered to volunteer their time to help me, but then it would be them creating the art.
It’s hard because when I’m painting, it’s exactly how I know how to paint. So I want the help sometimes, but I also don’t know how they could help me besides filling some block paint. Until I get a 300- or 500-foot wall that I’ll need help with, it will just be my ideas and my renderings.
I’ve started to reach out to friends for help with renderings and concepts. And we share ideas and brainstorm on different projects now. So there’s a lot more of that community feel. We’re helping each other secure different jobs and promotions, as well.
How important has your community, mentors and support system been to your process and your growth?
My mentors haven’t been artists, just people in the community who advocate and promote me.
One of them was Bob Evans, he owned Rimini Coffee here. He passed away, but he would always promote me. He would tell his friends about me, he paid me to paint my first mural, he paid me to help restore the downtown roaster. When I was not working full time, he hired me to do things and design for him. He allowed me to create art and kept me going.
Another one, George Starks, he hired me as the designer, promoter and photographer for a lot of his projects and art as well.
So anyone in the community who has helped me, primarily these two, were just allowing me to be creative and helping me get over the next hurdle and go to the next thing.
What are some struggles or things that keep you up at night?
That’s a good question. I was thinking about that, now doing art full-time. I think you feel removed from society in a certain way. When you’re working full time you have co-workers, you have a job, you have a purpose. Nine to five you’re going to be there, going to have lunch. You start creating relationships with co-workers, go to Christmas parties, make friends. When you’re an artist you’re by yourself all the time. So I think the hardest thing now is just finding that sense of community. You still have your friends, your family, community, but you’re moving from place to place.
I’d love to travel and do murals, and I think that’s the next goal. To be a national or international artist and to get some work outside of Utah. So keeping me up at night would just be, What am I doing and where is this going? That’s the exciting part that’s also very terrifying.
What are the steps to get to that next level and pursue those dreams of being a more national and international artist?
Especially for murals right now, or art in general, every federal building has to spend 1% in the construction of the project for art. For instance, a new federal building that is $10 million, 1% of that has to be spent on art.
Either inside or outside the building, just something to do with art?
Just something to do with art. A lot of sculptors get their money this way. And a lot of big artists will actually seek out these RFPs [Request for Proposals], they’re called, for putting art into federal buildings across the nation. Then they’ll write this huge proposal, have concepts and renderings. And sometimes have assistants seeking out these grants so they can continue to be an artist. Right now, one day every month or every two weeks I’ll sit at the computer and seek out grants.
Where do you find these?
All cities have an art department and there’s usually a call for artists on all their web pages. You just got to make the deadline. I’ve missed deadlines before.
I think most cities now have seen the potential of murals. Sculptors, I feel, have always gotten 90% of the accolades. Muralists are just now gaining recognition – the visibility of the murals, the sense of community, how it changes the environment. I think cities are picking up on that and seeking out muralists in addition to the traditional art that has always been funded.
Grant money and government money is going to primarily pay better than private businesses. Private businesses don’t usually have thousands of dollars lying around. But grants and opportunities do exist for artists, there are calls for entries. Even museums will have calls for entries. So you can be a panel artist or a regular artist and try to submit for museums. But that’s just one way of finding work or doing this career. But you have to go look for work.
Why do you do murals?
Secondarily, it would be monetary. I can afford to do them and be an artist full time.
But primarily, because I get to create something that is seen by so many people. When I was painting in my studio I showed my work to maybe 100 to 300 people for any given show, because that’s how many people are going to be at the gallery. Then it’s going to be on someone’s wall in their house. That’s great if it’s there, but then only people in their house get to see it.
A mural anyone can see and I think that’s the benefit. For example, a really expensive $10,000 piece of art – there’s no way I could own that. I could go to a museum and see it, but I could never own it. And I think with murals you can create something very beautiful on the outside of a building that everyone from every class of society can enjoy for free. It’s not just high society. I’ve had homeless people stop and talk to me about art and it’s incredibly fascinating to hear. And that, I think, is the appeal to it.
Which of your skills do you think have been most beneficial to your career?
Acting like you know what you’re doing. [Laughs.] Because I’m not a traditionally-trained artist, I’m not a traditionally-trained photographer. I learned by failure and repeating the process over and over again.
I think for myself, I just figured out how to be a painter. I figured out how to work a camera so I’m a photographer. I figured out how to work computer programs so I can be a graphic designer. And maybe traditionally, if I had gone through the whole [art school] process, I might be more proficient at one thing. I could graduate and be a fine art painter. I could really paint, but maybe I wouldn’t be very good at other skills and assets. But for me, I found failure and trying to figure out how something is done has been the only way I’ve actually been successful.
Failure is a very good thing for people. Unless you’re failing a lot, you’re not learning how to solve the problem. And that’s what I’ve done up to this point: fail a lot and figure out how to do the next thing. Or how to do it better or faster.
Any essential tools and resources that you use?
Music. My iPod.
You have that on all the time when you’re working?
Yeah, yeah. I can’t work in silence. In my art studio I have music playing. I always have music playing when I’m creating. It can be stuff I know, stuff I don’t know. I couldn’t listen to podcasts or anything like that, but music is essential. And just a beer at the end of the day.
Do you have any unique viewpoints or ways you think differently about life or work?
This is what I’ve learned in four years of not knowing what I’m doing: Be kind, be brave. That’s my mantra. It’s the thing that helped me the last four years in my life. It’s something I was raised with. My mom was a saint and she’s always been kind to people and helped people.
The thing I think helps me so I can go and create, is being kind to strangers. They’re just people who haven’t become your friends yet. And when life is hard, because it will certainly be hard, you have to be brave. It’s an easy mantra and there’s a lot to unpack in it. Be brave when you’re terrified, take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.
I wouldn’t be able to do art if I didn’t have a community to help me, and I wouldn’t be able to help my community if I didn’t have one. So we pull a lot of resources from each other and I think that’s really important. Be part of your community in any way you can. Photographers, athletes, designers, artists, musicians – we wouldn’t be who we are without an audience and that’s our community. So connect with the community and make sure everyone gets to the finish line together.
How do you nurture and connect with your community?
Trying to help where I can and use the things I’ve learned over time to benefit my community as a whole.
I used to worry a lot about the world. Then I worried about the nation, then I worried about my state. But I was doing it in reverse. Worry about yourself first and the people closest to you. Then worry about your community – which is where you eat, shop, hang out, socialize. Then worry about the state. Contact your legislators, tell them what you like and what you disapprove of. Then you won’t have time for the nation. There are already good people in high places helping the nation and there are already people helping the world. You can’t focus on the bigger things without seeing what’s right in front of your house. That is where I think change happens, locally first and then globally. The ripple effect.
Do you have any final things you want to add?
For new artists, determination. I hate when people say, The only thing I can do is stick figures. Fuck that. Of course you can draw more than stick figures, you just haven’t for 25 years because you have self-doubt. If you give any kid crayons, they will happily draw whatever comes to mind. But as adults, we get in this mindset like, I can’t do that. Why not? I don’t know, I just can’t do that. Well, have you tried drawing more than a stick figure?
The first marathon I did I thought, All you gotta do is run for four hours. That’s literally all you have to do. But a lot of people were like, I can’t do it. I’m like, Seriously? Have you tried? I know anyone, if it was life or death, could do it. It’s just the fear. But why? I asked myself that a lot in the past and now I’m just not afraid of those things. I’ve failed, but I just keep doing it over and over again. That’s how we learn and evolve.
That’s my advice, keep doing it. I didn’t know when I started painting ten years ago I would be a full-time painter right now. It’s shocking the amount of struggle I had for ten years. I wouldn’t wish that time period on any living soul. But the reward at the end justified the means of creating and starting.
That experience, you can’t put a bow on it and give it to someone. You can give them inspirational videos on YouTube. People want to be inspired. But what they don’t see is the amount of time that’s put in, that in-between time, that void, that experience. There are a lot of moments in that space where you’re broken down and don’t want to do anything creative ever again in your life. And then that passes and you start creating again.
So you don’t know where you’re going to start and end up, but if you keep doing something you’re passionate about, the roads will be found. And the avenues to continue to do what you’re passionate about will materialize. But you will have years and years and years of experience to get to that point. That’s life.
Because there’s no blueprint anyway.
No, there really isn’t. We all think there is, and we’re told there is. But ultimately, you figure out everyone doesn’t know what the hell is going on anyways. At any given moment, we’re all freaking out. [Laughs.] The more you know that, the better. Because then you’re like, Yes, I have no idea what I’m doing. And I can say that honestly. I’m freaking out, too. But man, those summer nights drinking beers in the backyard are so good. It’s those little things that make you very happy to be alive. That’s part of that creative process. You stand in front of something and say, I made that. That’s very fulfilling.
Interview edited for length + clarity.
Josh Scheuerman’s Gallery
All text + images courtesy of the artist unless otherwise noted.
Indigenous people all over the world are being dishonored by oppressive people. The Constitution of the United States was written with quill feathers and the reverse ink signifies the neglect to honor signed treaties or documents and the lack of tolerance towards people who have already tolerated so much.
Greek Altar Mural, acrylic/aerosol. 1075 S. 200 W. Approx. 20’ x 8’. At C9 Flats, I created four different murals featuring Greek sculptures. This mural was my first using both acrylic and aerosol paint to create an ‘electric’ redesign which broke up the modern design by using classic renaissance art. It’s located in a common room of the apartment building, creates flow and function. Video