Well known for public artworks that fuse sign painting, graffiti, word, and image, Stephen Powers creates a new form of public art that is collaborative and personal. Bold typography and bright colors feel almost carnival on first glance, however further investigation reveals pithy statements on the vicissitudes of life, love, and work that are surprisingly intimate.
In anticipation of his upcoming show at Joshua Liner Gallery, 'A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures', we had a chat with the New York based artist. Here Stephen talks about his wisecracking mom, Chris Johanson, and a memorable moment while painting a wall in West Philly.
As a self-described ‘Word Man’, the heart of all your work stems from your love for puns and phonetic mix-ups. Has your fascination with language always been there since a young age?
Yes. I get it from my mom, she's the wisecracking mother type that has always existed in Philly. WC Fields mom and mine sound very similar. Just sitting on the stoop and commenting on any and all passerby
Included in this exhibition is ‘the Adores’ - over 300 rectangular panels, each painted with the word ‘Adore’. What’s the significance of this word for you and how did the piece come about?
Adore is the base element of every great painting, and I like the definition that means "to pray". Work is prayer for me, and the ritual of painting the word adore has led to these beautiful built out paintings. So it was a self-fulfilling prophecy
You’ve mentioned in interviews your love for conversing with a community and have even made this part of your creative process before conceiving the text for any given neighborhood mural. Tell us a little bit about the most memorable conversation you’ve had and why it left a lasting impression.
We were painting an oversized post-it note on a wall in west phila, and I had written "Remember" and a passing lady asked what the rest was going to say and I told her "the good" She said it was terrible. So I got down off the lift and had a curbside conference about what the wall should say. She thought it should say 'remember you can always get divorced" I said "how is that an improvement?" She said "well ask one of these kids around here" At that moment a 13 year old named Nassir rode his bike by, and I flagged him down and asked him what we should remember. After two seconds, he said "sometimes it hurts sometimes it doesn't". Perfect. We painted that.
If you could hang only one artwork from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
I have only one artwork from art history hanging in my house. Its a Chris Johanson painting of skaters on a backyard ramp and a neighbor having an angry monologue about them behind the curtains of the house next door. Its true to life and funny, good things for a painting to be.
Tell us something about yourself we wouldn’t necessarily know.
I love pop music. The poppier the better.
If I were to spend the day with Steve what could I expect?
A good lunch. A lot of music and conversation. Some jokes
Thanks Stephen! 'A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures' opens September 6th at Joshua Liner Gallery.