2013 was a year that took me far and wide, with trips to Chicago, New Orleans, Paris, Basel and Philadelphia. A very special thank you to those who took the time to show me around your cities! As in years past, this roundup is a selection of both favorite artworks and favorite photographs as well as a reflection on people, pieces and places that are no more.
Aside from visiting the Stikman show on view in the Mural Arts offices, I also stopped by this newly restored Keith Haring mural in South Philadelphia. We The Youth was originally painted in 1987 and was a collaboration between the artist, kids from New York and Philadelphia, CityKids Foundation (New York) and Brandywine Workshop (Philadelphia). Mural Arts spearheaded the restoration with the generous support of the Haring Foundation. Scroll down for a great video from Brandywine Workshop with footage of the original mural being painted.
I don’t get down to my former hometown of Philadelphia nearly often enough, so I jumped at the opportunity to take in Stikman’s … in the house solo show, organized by Vandalog’s RJ Rushmore and hosted by the city’s Mural Arts Program. The show of diverse works, hung in the eclectic style the Barnes Foundation, is a perfect fit for the Mural Art’s colorful offices in the historic Thomas Eakins House. The show has been extended til November 16th and is viewable at 1727-29 Mt. Vernon Street during regular weekday office hours (or by appointment). Stikman is graciously donating the proceeds of all sales to Mural Arts.
If you can’t make it to Mural Arts by the end of this week, you can always head out and look for Stikmen in the wild … no appointments necessary.
This Friday is a very important day for our friends and partners over at Robots Will Kill, with the opening of their show Never Say Die at the Vincent Michael Gallery in Philadelphia. Not only with this be the first time that every member has shown their work together, but it is also celebrating the 10th anniversary of Robots Will Kill. Over the weekend I took the ferry out to their hometown of Staten Island to get a preview of the work for the show and to ask Chris & Veng a few questions.
On Friday, April 1st, you will be having a show at the Vincent Michael Gallery celebrating the 10th anniversary of Robots Will Kill. Can you tell us about how RWK got started and it has changed over the years?
Chris: In 2000 I had become friends with Kevin and we would speak about graffiti, art and other common interests. I had told him that I was tired of galleries not taking things like graffiti and street art serious. I also at the time wanted to launch a website showcasing my artwork. One night while we were talking we agreed that it would be great to give others the opportunity to show their work also. So we started to lay out the site. We had the graffiti/street art section the mini gallery section, merch section and some others. I always thought it was great that some kid in Australia could see someones work from New York and vice versa. So in March of 2001 we launched the site. It was slow in the beginning but def started to pick up speed quick. The images started to really pour in. We couldn’t keep up with doing the uploading ourselves so Kevin developed a great anonymous self upload feature. So over the years there’s def been improvements but the main ideal is still there.
We always looked towards different outlets for exposure. One being stickers. I’m a huge fan of stickers. So it kind of went hand in hand. Another was the murals. Murals always grab peoples attention. It was a great way to mix the two things, doing artwork and helping get the name out there. I didn’t want anyone just hooking it up on walls. I wanted it to be kept to a core group of artists.
Chris, as a founding member of RWK, what does making it to the ten year mark and having this show mean to you?
Chris: The ten year mark was a dream when we first started. I remember when me and Kevin launched we were so excited to see 13 visitors to the site. Before we knew it the visitor numbers kept rising and more and more graff images came in and more artists wanted to have mini galleries on the site. We were so excited when we hit the 5 year mark but didn’t really plan anything for it. With the 10 year mark we had to do some special plans. The Vincent Michael show is the start. Its definitely a great one too. Its the first time all 7 of us will be showing together. In July we will all be showing again but this time in the Ayden Gallery in Vancouver, Canada. There will also be some limited edition shirts, stickers and other goodies.
One of the best things about doing a show to celebrate the anniversary is when the site started it was about giving artists a place to show their work. Especially artists that were overlooked by the mainstream world.
Veng, how did you become involved with RWK and how long have you been a member?
Veng: Since we all started on Staten Island, we ended up knowing and painting with the same people. After painting with other RWK members and already knowing them as friends it was around 2004 I was asked to write RWK.
Most people who are familiar with RWK probably know the two of you, but may be surprised to learn that there are several other members: Kevin, ECB, Peeta, Flying Fortress, and JesseRobot. Can you share a little information about the rest of the crew?
Veng: I had known of both ECB and Peeta’s work for some time, but we didn’t meet until 2006 at a graffiti event I helped organize called Meeting Of Styles. We all painted a wall together and found that our styles, methods, and personalities really meshed well together. It felt like we had already painted thousands of walls, even though this was our first. It was then that I thought it would be great to have them join RWK. Both ECB and Peeta are very proficient in what they paint, ECB with strong character paintings and also extreme talent with type (a squared font he uses to sign walls) which he paints freehand and I still love to watch after all these years. Peetas talent with seamless blending of light and shadow to make you feel as if his letters are jumping off the wall, leaving me amazed still. Both guys have become great friends and people in my life who I feel very fortunate to know.
Chris: Kevin was there from the start. He helped me get everything together and moving. He came from a graffiti background and we had so many things in common. When we spoke about the idea of the site he sounded just as excited as I was so I knew it would work. In the past few years he broke out his paint brushes and cans. He does primarily stencil work with free painting mixed in.
JesseRobot reached out to me around 2002 saying how much he loved the site and would love to have a mini gallery and do a link exchange. I loved his robots and his style so I asked him if he would wanna trade some artwork and do some collab pieces. We would mail each other cardboard since it was cheap and held up better then paper. We also traded and collabed on a ton of stickers. He would put them up all over Belgium. He really helped get them name out to an area of the world that I would never go to. A few years later when RWK took on more of an art collective identity I asked JesseRobot if he would be intrested in pushing RWK.
Around 2003 I had traded some stickers with Flying Fortress and that started a steady relationship with him. We swaped tshirts and some small collab cardboard pieces. I loved his work from the first time I saw it. The teddy troops are such a great iconographic image. His name also created a great visual in your head. A few years later I received an email from him saying he was coming to New York and asked if I had a spot for him to paint. After that every time he came to NY we made sure he had a spot to paint. During a visit in 2009 I asked Fortress if he would like to push RWK.
Do you have any final words that you would like to share with the fans and patrons that have supported you over the years?
Veng: I am very happy this has become what it is, a vehicle for me to promote art and create art with my best friends. Most importantly my deepest thanks to all who have supported RWK over the years.
Chris: I still believe in what I said when we started this 10 years ago, “you wouldn’t give us a space… so we built one”. Sure there’s other sites and galleries out there, but you’ve stuck by us and for that I say thank you.
Having grown up outside of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love will always hold a special place in my heart. Although I’ve lived in New York for many years now, I make a point of going back to Philly as often as possible. When I heard that the organizers of the Love Letter for You mural project were running a special “Love Train” on Valentine’s Day, I jumped at the chance to join in on the love fest.
Waiting for the “Love Train” to depart from Center City, the excitement on the platform was palpable and infectious. To the sounds of the O’Jay’s “Love Train” blasting from a boombox, the enthusiastic “Love Train” staffers got everyone on board a specially decorated Market-Frankford El bound for West Philadelphia. Once the train emerged above ground at 44th Street, Steve Powers took to the PA for a tongue-in-cheek guided tour of the mural project. As if the cheers and claps of appreciation weren’t enough, the smiles on passengers’ faces spoke volumes about how this project has been received in Philadelphia.
Having lived in West Philly in the mid 90s, I know all too well how much this neighborhood is in need of revitalization. Empty lots, burnt out row houses and boarded up businesses are a fact of life in West Philly. When I walked along Market Street under the El last November to see the love letters in person for the first time, everyone who saw me photographing them spoke warmly and proudly of the murals. After yesterday’s train ride, I know without a doubt that this project has already touched many people and understand why it has so wholeheartedly been embraced by the community.
I could go on and on about the importance and impact of public arts programs, but I’ll spare you that and simply encourage you all to hop the train to West Philly and show the neighborhood some love.
Brooklyn’s sweetheart of street art, Swoon, has made her way to the streets of North Philadelphia to participate in Philagrafika 2010, a citywide festival celebrating the role of print in contemporary artistic practice. Involving more than 300 artists at more than 80 venues throughout the city, Philagrafika includes etchings and woodcuts, vinyl graphics, comic books, videos and complicated, conceptually driven projects intended to raise social consciousness.
Swoon’s colorful woodcuts on brown paper can be found scattered amongst businesses with names such as “Don’s Doo Shop”, burnt out buildings, art parks, and a long-abandoned gas station. They are, as Swoon says, “a moment of recognition, a wink from another human presence which is there and not there.”
(Big thanks to my brother Daniel for once again indulging my photographic interests, even in the aftermath of a huge snow storm…and for helping to dig out the cars of anyone parked near one of the Swoon pieces.)
This weekend took me back to West Philly to check up on the progress of the Steve Powers mural series “Love Letters“. While the rainy, gray day kept me from taking as many pictures as I would have liked, it was really thrilling to see how far this project has come since the first can of paint was cracked just a few short months ago.
If you find yourself in the Philadelphia area any time soon and would like to see the murals for yourself, you can download a map of mural locations.
While visiting the project headquarters, I had the pleasure of meeting James, a Philly based artist & designer working on everything from the administrative to the community relations aspects of Love Letter. The amount of thought that has been put into the project is clear, but James was able to provide me with a much greater understanding of exactly how deep the community involvement in this project runs. Even beyond the community meetings & the recruitment of local artists, Steve Powers and his collaborators remain engaged in an ongoing dialogue with local business owners and residents to ensure that the art around them has meaning and purpose to the people who will see it every day. Apparently they have been quite successful in this mission, as I hear that there is already talk of keeping the murals in place well beyond their originally planned expiration date.
While the murals are receiving much of the public attention, there is also a free sign school that is being offered by the project. It’s purpose is to teach the basics of sign making to a new generation of West Philadelphia artists while creating new, free signage for businesses along the Market Street corridor.
For a much funnier and more insightful look into the Love Letter public art project, check out the official blog, written by Steve Powers.
Oh, and if you have a new or well functioning Mac computer that you are no longer in need of & would like to donate, don’t be shy!
This past weekend I was visiting my brother in Philadelphia, where I was lucky enough to catch a preview of a new mural project underway in the city. Steve Powers (aka Espo), proves that home really is where the heart is, with this ambitious Mural Arts Program collaboration in his native city of Philadelphia. “Love Letters” is a love story both to and from a community, spanning 30-50 walls, rooftops, and billboards along the Market Street El. The narrative unfolds in the style of old Burma Shave ads as riders travel between 46th and 63rd Streets.
Through countless hours of community outreach, meetings, and even a Facebook page, Powers has brought together hundreds of West Philly residents to shape this project by sharing not only their artistic skills, but their insights on love and what the neighborhood means to them.
Stay tuned for updates and information on the opening in September, which I will definitley not be missing.