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Steve Powers is a man with two distinct careers. One as a subversive graffiti artist working under the name ESPO, and the other as a celebrated studio artist and muralist who was recently invited by Macy’s to cover their dull parking structure in Brooklyn with vibrant shadowed block lettering and illustrations.
Powers was born and raised in Philadelphia’s Overbrook neighborhood. He attended The Art Institute of Philadelphia and the University of the Arts, and moved to New York in the mid-90s. At the time Powers was editor and publisher of On the Go Magazine, and the move to NYC helped expand the reach of the magazine. It also placed Powers in the epicenter of the global street art scene. Under the name ESPO, Exterior Surface Painting Outreach, he quickly became a mainstay of the community and was well know for his conceptual pieces that blurred the line between illegal and legal street art.
In 1999, Powers career as a celebrity graffiti artist came to an end… with an arrest. Powers involvement with the controversial art show “Sensation” at the Brooklyn Museum drew the attention of the Giuliani administration. His apartment was raided, brass knuckles were found, and Powers was charged with six counts of criminal mischief. Powers decided the following year to give up graffiti to become a full-time studio artist.
As a legal street artist/muralist, Powers has been invited to work in Venice, Liverpool, Dublin, Belfast, Philadelphia, Syracuse, and New York City. Powers work often adopts the vernacular of historic signage in the communities he visits. Faded, painted adverts on the sides of buildings are revitalized in vibrant colors proclaiming modern, positive sentiments. Powers told the New York Times that his latest work was “taking the form of the [graffiti] murals, which are powerful for all the wrong reasons, and trying to retain some of the power and use it in a really good way.”
Powers personal graffiti history is recounted in, The Art of Getting Over, and also in the graphic novel, First and Fifteenth: Pop Art Short Stories. You can view more work from Powers and his crew on First and Fifteenth.