Brain Pickings

Graffiti Love Letter: An Ode to the City


The world’s most beautiful urban commute, or what fifty buildings have to do with a creative homecoming.

Here’s a factoid: Back in the day, Brain Pickings took its first steps in West Philadelphia — a beautiful and sadly underappreciated city with a vibrant creative culture. Among Philly’s gems is its rich street art scene, from the iconic mosaic murals to its mysterious Toynbee tiles. Last year, I raved about another pinnacle of Philly’s street art genius — A Love Letter for You, the work of street artist Steve Powers, a.k.a. ESPO. It’s a beautiful ongoing graffiti love letter stretching across 50 building facades over 20 blocks along the Market-Frankfurt subway line in West Philly.

Powers first started painting on these rooftops as a teenager in 1984. Exactly 25 years later, he returned to Philadelphia to write a love letter across them, meant for one but relevant and inspiring to all. With its candid poeticism and superb typographic design, the letter reads as much like an intimate confession as it does like an ode to the city.

Listening to Powers speak about the project makes its mission come to life even more powerfully, as a piece of postmodern poetry that both feeds off of and replenishes the city’s urban romanticism.

It’s meant to be a reflection of the community. It’s meant to be a reflection of one person’s love for another person in the community, but at the same time it’s meant to live beyond these distinctions and just be something for everyone, no matter where they’re at. You don’t need to know where Farson Street is, or where Conestoga Street is in relation to Market Street. What you need to know is love exists here, love exists in yourself. The city is a giving, nurturing place if you let it give to you and nurture you.

The eponymous book about the project comes out on April 30, but it’s available for pre-order today.

Powers appears in the street art documentary Beautiful Losers, featured here last year.

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