love letters: the graffiti art of Philadelphia

Ivan Solotaroff writes in The Guardian: Philadelphia is a city of murals. More than 2,800 have been commissioned by the civic Mural Arts Program, which itself grew out of the city’s Anti-Graffiti Network. Typically, murals here celebrate ethnic traditions or Philly mainstays like jazz, or basketball legend Julius “Dr J” Erving; but these messages are far closer to graffiti, their boldness drawing attention to their huge words and whimsically postmodern cartoons and motifs. Unlike traditional graffiti, however, where the message is often simply the artist’s street-name, these are consistently positive and amusing, equally thought-provoking and eye-pleasing.

They are romantic, too: visible from the commuter train, as if one is riding through a billet-doux. A Love Letter for You is a collaboration between the Mural Arts Program and Stephen Powers, a 42-year-old artist who emerged on West Philly walls and rooftops 25 years ago, under the street-name ESPO. As a 17-year-old hoodlum then, Powers was inspired by Cornbread, the seminal graffiti writer who covered Philadelphia with his name to catch a girl’s attention. Cornbread spraypainted not only walls but police cars, the visiting Jackson 5’s private jet and an elephant in the city zoo. Love Letter reads like a series of notes left on a bedside table or refrigerator…

See the series here


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