Born and raised in Philadelphia’s Overbrook neighborhood, Stephen Powers (b. 1968, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.) moved to New York in 1994, where he gained attention as the publisher of On the Go magazine and the author of the graffiti history The Art of Getting Over (1999). In 1997, Powers undertook an ambitious and far-reaching graffiti campaign of his own, using the official-sounding acronym ESPO (Exterior Surface Painting Outreach) to deflect attention from the illegality of his activities. By 1999, he had covered dozens of storefront grates with giant silver block lettering.
Powers’ work typically fuses word and image in paintings and graphics that evoke the bright look of a handmade bodega and fairground signage while reflecting the artist’s playful sense of humor. In 2000, he collaborated with Barry McGee and Todd James to create the legendary Street Market installation at Deitch Projects, which was subsequently presented in an expanded version at the 2001 Venice Biennale and in 2011 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). He is dedicated to reviving the art of hand-painted signs and in 2005, he curated The Dreamland Artists Club, commissioning more than 45 artists to repaint signage in Coney Island. As a 2007 Fulbright Scholar, Powers teamed up with local teenagers to create public works in Dublin and Belfast; the latter inspired in part by the city’s tradition of political murals. In 2010, he collaborated on A Love Letter for You, in which he and a crew of 20 artists transformed a stretch of West Philadelphia into an open valentine with a series of romantic messages. In 2015, Brooklyn Museum, New York, presented his solo exhibition, Coney Island is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull).
Coney Art Walls, Coney Island, NYC, 2016. Photo © Martha Cooper.