Stephen Powers

“Erika and Louise”

Stephen Powers (b. May 25, 1968 in Philadelphia, PA) started writing the name ESPO (Exterior Surface Painting Outreach) around his neighborhood and eventually around the world. His text-based conceptual works have been shown at the Venice and Liverpool Biennials, as well as numerous shows at Deitch Projects and international galleries. Powers was a Fulbright scholar in 2007. He used the grant to paint in the streets of Dublin and Belfast. His work in Belfast’s Lower Shankill area was inspired by the area’s political murals; Powers told the New York Times that he was “taking the form of the 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.”

Building on the first Love Letter project started in Ireland, Powers executed a mural project about the complexities and rewards of relationships titled A Love Letter for You. In Philadelphia, Stephen (call him ESPO) and his crew (call them ICY) painted more than 50 walls along the elevated train on Market Street in West Philly. The project, sponsored by a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, and produced with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, has generated positive reviews from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Art in America. The Love Letter project has now grown to more than ten cities spanning the globe from São Paulo to South Africa. He has published 5 books including his newest publication compiling the last 6 years of global public art projects, A Love Letter to the City.

Powers body of work focuses on the language of signs, typography, and the visual clutter of our everyday. His work riffs off our emoticon-driven culture, and his lyrical witticisms capture our collective unease with the rapidity—and often vapidity—of instantaneous communication. Powers reminds us of the importance of human connection, the inevitability of time, and the way we craft and re-craft our own personal narratives.

He lives and works in New York City where he makes and sells art at his store, ESPO’s Art World in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill.

“It’s really interesting for me to take a small conversation, a little bit of small talk on the corner, and then blow it up to this huge immense sign that raises it to this huge voice from on high.”

— Stephen ”ESPO“ Powers

“I think myself, and a lot of other people, use graffiti in a really constructive way.”

— Stephen ”ESPO“ Powers