The outdoor murals titled “Love Letter” are works of public art painted on 50 walls that stretch along the Market-Frankford elevated train line in West Philadelphia, from 45th to 63rd streets. Offering words of inspiration and whimsical visuals, the project was created by artist and West Philly native Stephen Powers in collaboration with a team of other muralists, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.
GO WEST: Purposefully painted on the upper stories and rooftops of buildings and row houses along the El route, one “Love Letter” message is meant to be seen from the seats of the westbound SEPTA train. A different message is communicated to eastbound riders.
DEAR PHILLY: The mural images range from a pop version of a vintage advertisement at 5201 Market St. that shows groceries and declares, “I got the Butter. I got the Bread. I got the Milk. I got the Blame,” to a giant yellow Post-it note at 4915 Market St. reading, “Remember sometimes it hurts, sometimes it doesn’t,” and a painting of two cell phones at 5601 Market St. that broadcasts, “Prepay is on. Let’s talk. Till my minutes are gone.”
SEALED WITH A KISS: Powers says the story of “Love Letter” is about a boy writing to a girl from another neighborhood, knowing she rides the El train. “If you were here, I’d be home now,” reads the mural at 5101 Market St. “Miss you too often not to love you,” reads the painting at 5521 Market St. And three small murals next to one another on the 5500 block of Market Street read in succession: “We share defeats. We share sheets. We share receipts.”
BOY TO MAN: Powers started out as a West Philly teenage graffiti tagger known as Espo, who was reluctant to ply his artistic talent legally and refused to join the Mural Arts Program back in the day. Now, at 42, Powers is an established artist living in New York and showing his work at the Institute of Contemporary Art and New York City’s Deitch Gallery.
MURAL CITY, USA: Philadelphia is home to 3,000 murals—more than any other city in America—created through the Mural Arts Program, which got its start in 1984 as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network. Today, the Mural Arts Program works with community leaders, public schools, city agencies and detention centers.
TAKE THE TOUR: Guided tours of the “Love Letter” murals are available Saturdays at 10 a.m., leaving from the Visitor’s Center in Love Park, 1600 JFK Blvd. General admission costs $17. Train fare is included. For details, visit www.muralarts.org. Or, buy a token, board the El and see it on your own.
Originally published on June 10, 2010