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Mural Deemed ‘Garish’ Under Wraps in Historic Charleston, S.C.

March 22, 1995

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ In a city so protective of its historic district that it regulates the color of doors, garish is not good.

But Robert Burke contends his mural _ a cartoonlike tableau of brightly colored skies, smiling mountains and fantastic creatures _ is whimsical, not garish, and the city violated his free-speech rights in ordering him to put it under wraps.

On Wednesday, the first day of his nonjury trial, Burke told U.S. District Judge Cam Currie that the make-believe world depicted in the mural is partly a reaction to prim and proper Charleston.

``I have a lot of problems with the way this city is segregated,″ he said. ``It seems a shame most of the nice places are where the white people live downtown.″

Two years ago, Burke was paid $500 to paint the mural outside a restaurant near the College of Charleston in the city’s tightly regulated historic district, where horse-drawn carriages meander past pre-Revolutionary War buildings and permission must be obtained to change the color of a door.

Burke didn’t have a permit to paint the mural, and the Board of Architectural Review told him to cover his work up while it reviewed the matter.

After hearing testimony from the artist and art experts, the board denied the permit. City officials called the mural ``garish″ and ``not in concert with the surroundings.″

Burke went to court seeking to recover his legal expenses and the right to exhibit the mural. He contends his reputation as an artist has suffered because of the city’s action and he is losing a valuable showcase for his work.

His lawyers also say the rules by which the city reviews such works are ``impermissibly vague.″

Testimony is expected to last three days.

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