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Stephen Powers (artist)

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Stephen Powers, ESPO
Steve Powers at Moniker.jpg
Powers, in 2010
Born (1968-05-25) May 25, 1968 (age 51)
Alma materThe Art Institute of Philadelphia, University of the Arts
Notable work
Waterboarding Thrill Ride, Love Letters
AwardsFulbright scholar 2007, Pew Center for Arts 2009

Stephen J. Powers (born May 25, 1968) is a contemporary artist and muralist currently living and working in New York City. He is also known by the name ESPO ("Exterior Surface Painting Outreach").[1]

Early life and education

Powers is from Philadelphia and took classes at The Art Institute of Philadelphia and the University of the Arts.[2]


In 1994, he moved to New York to expand his On the Go magazine.[3]


An ESPO piece

Working under the name 'Espo', he became nationally known during the late 1990s for his thematic graffiti 'pieces', as the editor and publisher of On the Go magazine, and for his 1999 book The Art of Getting Over, which placed stories told by other graffiti writers alongside photos of their work.[4] ESPO's work often blurred the lines between illegal and legal, for example by creating pieces that appeared to be legitimate advertisements or by painting abandoned shop fronts in daylight; he told the New York Times in 1999 that when passersby asked what he was doing he would tell them, "I'm with Exterior Surface Painting Outreach, and I'm cleaning up this gate".[3]


In December 1999 Powers was charged with six counts of criminal mischief. Powers contends that the arrest was politically motivated.[5] The arrest in his home took place after he had participated in a protest, conceived by artist Joey Skaggs, against New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's attempt to shut down a controversial art show Sensation at the Brooklyn Museum.

A New York Times editorial criticized the Giuliani administration for its secrecy in the case, but dismissed Powers as "a noodge and self-promoter, one of those deliberately annoying characters whom most of us could do without."[6] However, the Village Voice sympathized: "it's truly scary to think that if you invite people to throw artificial dung at a portrait of the mayor ... the police will raid your apartment." However, the author was also critical of Power's graffiti status, describing him as an egotistical, careerist "celebrity offender"; the author writes, "in the graffiti world...many consider Powers a media-fed simulation of the Real Thing."[7]

Ultimately, Powers only performed five days of community service.[8]

Studio art

Stephen Powers painted the walls of ALICE gallery for his solo show 'Visual Blues'

In 2000 Powers gave up graffiti to become a full-time studio artist. His work has been shown at the Venice and Liverpool biennials, as well as numerous shows at New York City's Deitch Gallery.

Powers was a Fulbright scholar in 2007.[9] He used the grant to create murals in Dublin, Ireland and in Belfast's Shankhill area, with the assistance of local teenagers.[10] His work in Belfast was inspired by the area's political murals.

In 2005 he curated The Dreamland Artists Club, a project in which professional artists helped Coney Island merchants by repainting their signs. Powers first solo museum exhibition was in the fall of 2007, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts which showed the work from his Coney Island sign shop.[8]

Waterboarding Thrill Ride, a waterboarding themed installation at Coney Island.

Powers produced a series of murals in Philadelphia about the complexities of personal relationships, titled A Love Letter for You (2009). He painted 50 murals along the elevated train in West Philadelphia. The project was sponsored by a $260,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and was produced by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.[11] The 'Love Letters' series continued in Syracuse on railroad overpasses (2010); A Love Letter to Brooklyn (2011), which consisted of painting an old Macy's building occupying an entire city block in Downtown Brooklyn;[12] A Love Letter to Baltimore (2014);[13]

In November 2015 Powers exhibited "Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull)" at The Brooklyn Museum.[14]


  • Powers, Stephen, The Art of Getting Over (1999), St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9780312206307
  • Kawachi, Taka, Street Market: Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, Todd James (2000), Little More, ISBN 978-4898150399
  • Powers, Stephen, First & Fifteenth: Pop Art Short Stories (2005), Villard , ISBN 9780345475596
  • Snyder, Gregory, Graffiti Lives (2011), New York University Press, ISBN 9780814740460
  • Powers, Stephen, A Love Letter to the City (2014), Princeton Architectural Press, ISBN 9781616892081


  1. ^ Gregory J. Snyder, Graffiti Lives: Going Beyond the Tag in New York's Urban Underground, NYU Press, 2009
  2. ^ Hill, Miriam (2004-08-25). "Armed with paint, Overbook native returns local color to Coney Island; Phila. native works his colorful magic on Coney Island". The Philadelphia Inquirer. pp. D01.
  3. ^ a b Siegal, Nina (1999-08-22). "From the Subways to the Streets". The New York Times. p. 3. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  4. ^ Gregory J. Snyder, "Graffiti Media and the Perpetuation of an Illegal Subculture", Journal of Crime Media and Culture vol. 2, April, 2006
  5. ^ Siegal, Nina (1999-12-04). "Giuliani Protester Is Arrested in Vandalism Inquiry". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  6. ^ Purnick, Joyce (1999-12-06). "Curious Case Shows Pitfalls Of Secrecy". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  7. ^ Comments (0) By Richard Goldstein Tuesday, Dec 14 1999 (1999-12-14). "Rudy's Most Wanted". Retrieved 2010-03-22.
  8. ^ a b Kaminer, Ariel (5 August 2008). "Coney Island Sideshow Has Guantánamo Waterboarding as Its Theme". Retrieved 5 May 2017 – via
  9. ^ Toal, Drew (2005-10-30). "Club chair". Time Out New York. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-08-01.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Koppel, Niko (29 May 2008). "Graffiti Artist Still Painting on Walls but No Longer an Outlaw". Retrieved 5 May 2017 – via
  11. ^ "Brick Valentines on the Philly Skyline". Mural Arts Philadelphia. Mural Arts Philadelphia. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  12. ^ Fentress Swanson, Abbie. "ESPO Paints 'Love Letter to Brooklyn' on Vintage Macy's Garage".
  13. ^ "How to Paint a 'Love Letter' to a City". Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  14. ^ "Brooklyn Museum: Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull)". Retrieved 5 May 2017.

External links