A Love Letter for Philadelphia

Steve Powers’ imprint
is all over Philadelphia—20 blocks of the
city, in fact. That’s where Powers, along with a team of 25 artists,
conceived and developed his latest public art project, A Love Letter
for You
, spanning more than 50 city rooftops.   

5221-25 Market Street

Powers, who grew up in Philly
but now lives in New York, says he’s been thinking about doing the
project for more than ten years, ever since he gave up street graffiti
writing (under the name ESPO) for a more formal painting and lettering

6100 Market Street
He conceived of the Love
project in the spirit of Cornbread, an early graffiti hero.
Cornbread, he explains, wrote tags in order to attract the affections
of his boyhood crush, a classmate named Cynthia. “He wrote all
over the neighborhood. He wrote on every bus. He wrote over her locker,”
explains Powers, and it’s a creative expression he stands by today.
“Just spray painting ‘I love Mary’ connects with more people than
a beautifully articulated ‘wild style’ train.” 

5027 Market Street
The Love
project, he says, aims to “strip out the negativity and
ego” associated with graffiti and “replace it with emotional content.
All that graffiti is a longing just to be heard. Looking back, that
was a simple thing to do … to connect it to love.” 

5601 Market Street

The project’s messages of
love are as diverse and beautifully complex as the lettering
style in which they’re conveyed. Conceived by both Powers and his
team, and submitted by city residents, the rooftops bear slogans like “forever
begins when you say yes,” “if you were here I’d be home by now,”
and, in one particularly Philly-esque sentiment, “prepay is on, let’s
talk till my minutes are gone.” The murals’ messages are sweet,
funny, sentimental and heartbreaking, all at once—their phrases
serving as the city’s emotional exoskeleton. Where they could, Powers
and his team incorporated existing signage and reworked traditional
5101 Market Street
This isn’t Powers’ first
sign painting project. In 2003 he and project partner Nason Smith
took on Coney Island armed with a team of artists, rehabbing and reworking
the boardwalk’s faded and stripped signs. And much like the Coney Island
project, the Love Letter
murals will stick around for a while, but eventually they’ll fade over time. “It’s
important that this project fades,” says Powers. “This is fine art, and it fades and
goes away.” It’s all part of the charm. “Maybe the
next time you see a piece of graffiti that aggravates you,” he continues,“you’ll
let it go.”