On a recent Saturday morning, I boarded Philadelphia’s Market-Frankford line to check out “A Love Letter for You,” a series of 50 murals created by hometown artist-made-good Steve Powers.
I wasn’t taking transit for the convenience or even out of concern for the environment, but for optimal viewing. The elevated train offers the best vantage point to appreciate Powers’ wall “canvases,” which run from 46th to 63rd streets, on buildings adjacent to the elevated line.
The murals, which strut across the tops of businesses, churches and typical Philly-style brick rowhouses, offer a witty and often touching narrative of a guy’s pursuit of a girl.
For the series, Powers used a style resembling old-school painted signs. The murals offer slogan-like messages ranging from the lighthearted — “We share defeats, we share receipts and we share the sheets” — to the poignant: “Miss you too much not to love you.”
“A Love Letter” marks a homecoming –– and a kind of Valentine to his hometown –– for New York City-based Powers, who grew up in Philadelphia and first expressed his ambitions as a graffiti artist with the tag “Espo.” Having channeled his talent into a successful career that has encompassed a Fulbright scholarship and gallery shows in New York, Powers wanted to give something back to where his career began.
The project is a collaboration with the city’s Mural Arts Program, which began as an anti-graffitti initiative in 1984 and has since led to the creation of more than 2,800 murals.
Although you can see the works by downloading a map, buying a subway token and boarding the El in Center City, I think they’re best experienced via a weekly tour given on Saturday by the Mural Arts Program. My guide, Jean, provided our group of 10 with details about the project and shouted out commands to look right, left, up and down, as the train clattered along its route through West Philly.
If you go on your own, stop at 52nd Street on the westbound train to see a half-dozen murals from the platform, and eastbound at 60th and 56th for more good vantage points. Be careful if you exit the stations west of 46th Street, where the neighborhood becomes more hardscrabble.
Whether or not you’re a dedicated follower of art –– contemporary or otherwise –– these works are sure to move you as they did me.
A good read: More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell