The Four Corners Behavioral Health facility has a new mural depicting a bighorn sheep in front of an arch, done in a stained-glass style unique to Utah artist Wes Abarca. Abarca spent almost a week in Moab painting the mural. He picked a bighorn sheep as the subject because he loves their story: the animals represent restoration, Abarca said, because of their endangered status and revival efforts.
“These clients are coming in to be restored, just like the bighorn sheep,” he said. In his artist statement about the mural, Abarca wrote, “I desire that my mural will instill a sense of hope for the same thing in the lives of the clientele who see it, and also a sense of pride in the lives of those who carry on the good work there.”
Abarca and his family currently live in Vernal—they moved last October from California, where Abarca was working as an airline mechanic. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Abarca lost his job with the airline and started running a teen center. The teen center’s handball court was where Abarca started experimenting with murals: together with the teens attending the center, Abarca designed and painted his first official mural. His mural painting picked up quickly after that, and he found himself painting murals for schools, AirBnbs, and mural festivals. Now, he owns a business: Genesis Mural Co.
Abarca uses spray paint to create his art, a homage to his younger, more trouble-making years, he said. His style—bright and detailed, recalling stained-glass—was developed over the course of a year as an almost compromise. He was painting a mural for a festival event and decided to use a graffiti style, to the dismay of the older generation, but the adoration of the younger. As he wondered how to appease both audiences, he remembered a trip he took to the Netherlands with his wife—both were entranced by the stained glass windows they saw in old churches.
He thought stained glass could be the answer to staying true to his medium, spray paint, while also creating artwork that everyone could appreciate. At the following year’s event, he created a lighthouse, done in his now classic style.
“The older generation was loving it,” he said. “And the younger generation didn’t so much love the imagery, but they just loved the spray paint.”
Since then, Abarca’s mural painting has taken him all over the country. He loves pursuing murals that he can create in his style, like the one he did for the Four Corners Behavioral Health facility, but he also picks up jobs painting large logos or signs for schools and businesses. This summer, he’s planning trips to Indiana, California, and Arizona.
What’s so important about murals is that they’re “in your face,” Abarca said.
“You can’t ignore them,” he said. Artwork that’s in galleries might only be seen by people already interested in art—murals expose art to everyone, he said. Plus, his work puts him in the public eye too: murals, especially those done in large public spaces, allow people to see the entire process of creating.
“Even if people don’t stop by, they’re just driving by on their way to work or wherever, they’re constantly seeing the process,” Abarca said. “That’s just something special.”
Abarca’s goal for the near future is to do more murals in Utah—he wants to give something back to the state he now calls home, he said.