A Love Letter for Philadelphia

Posted inPrint Design Articles

By: Julie Gerstein | March 17, 2010

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

5221-25 Market Street

Powers, who grew up in Phillybut now lives in New York, says he’s been thinking about doing theproject for more than ten years, ever since he gave up street graffitiwriting (under the name ESPO) for a more formal painting and letteringpractice.

6100 Market Street

He conceived of the LoveLetter project in the spirit of Cornbread, an early graffiti hero.Cornbread, he explains, wrote tags in order to attract the affectionsof his boyhood crush, a classmate named Cynthia. “He wrote allover 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 thana beautifully articulated ‘wild style’ train.”

5027 Market Street

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

5601 Market Street

The project’s messages oflove are as diverse and beautifully complex as the letteringstyle in which they’re conveyed. Conceived by both Powers and histeam, and submitted by city residents, the rooftops bear slogans like “foreverbegins 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’stalk till my minutes are gone.” The murals’ messages are sweet,funny, sentimental and heartbreaking, all at once—their phrasesserving as the city’s emotional exoskeleton. Where they could, Powersand his team incorporated existing signage and reworked traditionalsigns.

5101 Market Street

This isn’t Powers’ firstsign painting project. In 2003 he and project partner Nason Smithtook on Coney Island armed with a team of artists, rehabbing and reworkingthe boardwalk’s faded and stripped signs. And much like the Coney Islandproject, the Love Letter murals will stick around for a while, but eventually they’ll fade over time. “It’simportant that this project fades,” says Powers. “This is fine art, and it fades andgoes away.” It’s all part of the charm. “Maybe thenext time you see a piece of graffiti that aggravates you,” he continues,“you’lllet it go.”