BY Veronica Hoglund
With seven years having passed since his last solo art exhibit in New York City, the multifaceted artist Stephen Powers has returned with his latest exhibition “A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures” – having just opened this past Thursday, September 6th at Joshua Liner Gallery in Chelsea. Using the allure of contemporary advertisement as the core of his aesthetics, Powers blends his own personal experiences provoked by a particular site or space, with that of the experiences of the larger collective, to create works, which at first glance could easily be mistaken for corporate and regulatory means of marketing. His new series of enamel on aluminum paintings are an accessible visual outlet of communication that incorporate clean typography, bright vibrant colors and canny – and at times contemplative – maxims, which offer a light-hearted social commentary. In essence, a body of work that is both collaborative and personal, one that he says “draws from life and distills the trials, tribulations and complications into a painted celebration of living.”
Powers – now 44 – had his start as a graffiti writer in Philadelphia. Under the graffiti moniker, ESPO – a title that perhaps still holds better means for recognition than his actual name, Powers spent his teenage years active within the local graffiti scene. “Graffiti is great,” he says “because it doesn’t have any aspirations beyond itself,” a pertinent statement that could best be attributed to the nature of his methods. Moving to New York in 1994, a time when the freedoms of graffiti had become aggressively challenged due to anti-graffiti policy, Powers’ unique but nevertheless unauthorized pieces were often overlooked by removal teams and left untouched, masked behind the facade of what appeared to be legitimate advertisement. This timely circumstance gave Powers an affluence of prestige within the graffiti community and further, the credibility necessary to commence new artistic endeavors apart from his familiar activities.
With the sentiment of having outgrown the world of graffiti, Powers diverged from his mastered arena and established ICY Signs, a sign painting company named in tribute to his former Philadelphia graffiti crew and located in downtown Brooklyn. “Signs give direction,” Powers explained. “I felt I was immediately doing something useful.” In recent years, ICY Signs have become the headquarters for a vary of exciting projects – including signs featured at this past spring’s food festival, The Great Googa Mooga, the cars of the renowned New York roller coaster The Cyclone, located at Coney Island and the well publicized and on-going public art project, A Love Letter For You, which began in Powers’ hometown of Philadelphia and soon followed with similar projects in Brooklyn, Syracuse, New York, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Vardo, Norway. An inventive playful moral dominates the substance of his public work, one that he says “speak[s] to the community in a voice that is their own.” “If I do it right,” he continues, “the community takes ownership of the work and it becomes a living source of power.”
Though it is inevitable that an artist’s work will have its roots within their own ideologies, Steve Powers motivations appear far from the selfish intentions that such a comment might propose. The night of his opening, Powers is dressed in a black collared shirt buttoned all the way to the top. His hair stands upright indicative of a flattop but with its own notable flair, while his face is marked with one of the more genuine smiles you could comes across in a city like New York. He says his hellos to his fans and spectators before retreating from the large and busy gallery space into the outer hallway where he and a group of friends enjoy the final moments of the opening. “People are open to what I do as an artist now because they can read it and take away meaning from it, where they can’t do that as much with graffiti,” he says, reflecting briefly on his ever-changing career. “I’m the same person I always was. The perspectives and the media change, but I’m always ready to mark surface.”
“A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures” is on view at Joshua Liner Gallery till September 29th.
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