Stephen Powers (artist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Stephen Powers
Stephen J. Powers

(1968-05-25) May 25, 1968 (age 56)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Nationality (legal)American
Other namesESPO, Steve Powers
Alma materThe Art Institute of Philadelphia, University of the Arts
Notable workWaterboarding Thrill Ride, Love Letters
AwardsFulbright scholar (2007), Pew Center for Arts (2009)

Stephen J. Powers (born May 25, 1968) is an American contemporary artist and muralist. He is also known by the name ESPO ("Exterior Surface Painting Outreach"), and Steve Powers.[1][2] He lives in New York City.[3][4]


Powers is from Philadelphia and took classes at The Art Institute of Philadelphia, and the University of the Arts.[5]

In 1994, Powers moved to New York City to expand On the Go magazine, a hip hop magazine founded by Powers.[4][6][7] Working under the name 'Espo', he painted throughout the city becoming known during the late 1990s for his thematic graffiti 'pieces', for 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.[8][7][9] His graffiti 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.[4]

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.[3] He is now a mixed media artist, working in drawing, painting, printmaking, and installation art. Power's work has been shown in the Venice and Liverpool biennials, as well as shows at New York City's Deitch Gallery.[10]

In 2005, he organised The Dreamland Artists Club, a project in which professional artists helped Coney Island merchants by repainting their signs.[11] 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.[12]

In 2007, Powers was awarded a Fulbright scholarship.[13] He used the grant to create murals in Dublin, Ireland and in Belfast's Shankhill area, with the assistance of local teenagers.[3] His work in Belfast was inspired by the area's political murals.[3]

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

In 2009, Powers produced a series of murals in Philadelphia about the complexities of personal relationships, titled A Love Letter for You. 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.[14] 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;[15] A Love Letter to Baltimore (2014);[16]

In November 2015 Powers exhibited "Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull)" at The Brooklyn Museum.[17][6] In 2019, Powers created a site specific commission for SFMOMA's third-floor architecture and design gallery.[18]

Powers has exhibited internationally, including at Deitch Projects (New York, NY), the 49th Venice Biennale (with Barry McGee and Todd James) (Venice, Italy), Apex Art (New York),[19] Brazilian Cultural Pavilion (São Paulo, Brazil),[20] Art In The Streets curated by Jeffrey Deitch, MOCA (Los Angeles, CA),[21] and as part of Beautiful Losers, (Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati, OH; Yerba Buena Art Center, San Francisco, CA; Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; Triennale di Milano, Milan, Italy; Le Tri Postal, Lille, France)[22]

His work is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum Of Art.[23]

Solo exhibitions

Public art

  • 2004 – Dreamland Artist Club – Creative Time, New York, NY. EPSO co-curated and participated in a project at Coney Island.[26]
  • 2008 – Waterboard Thrill Ride – part of Creative Time's Democracy In America Exhibition, Coney Island, NY[27]
  • 2009 – A Love Letter For You – A The Mural Arts Program collection of murals in Philadelphia.[28]
  • 2010 – Love Letter For Syracuse – Paintings on train bridges in Syracuse, NY. Sponsored by Syracuse University[29]
  • 2010 – VOLTO JA (I'll Be Back) – Sponsored by SESC[30]
  • 2011 – Love Letter To Brooklyn – Mural project in Brooklyn[31]
  • 2014 – Love Letter to Baltimore – Mural project in conjunction with Baltimore Public Arts[31]
  • 2015 – Bisous Mchou Charleroi Belgium[32]
  • 2016 – Olde City – Philadelphia, PA[33]
  • 2017 – O'Miami Poetry Festival – Miami Beach, FL[34]
  • 2018 – Coney Island Art Walls – Coney Island NY[35]
  • 2018 – 18th and Sansom – Philadelphia, PA[36]
  • 2019 – Pier 40 – R.E.D. – New York, NY[37]
  • 2020 – During the COVID-19 pandemic, Powers painted a mural on the boarded up windows of a retail store in Soho, New York City.[38]


In December 1999 Powers was charged with six counts of criminal mischief.[39] Powers contends that the arrest was politically motivated.[40] 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.[41] During the protest, Powers and others threw fake elephant dung at a caricature of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Powers painted the caricature for the protest. Powers pled guilty to one charge because he was "ready to grow on.”[39]

A New York Times editorial criticized the Giuliani administration for its secrecy in the case, but also dismissed Powers as a self-promoter.[42] TheVillage Voice sympathized with Powers: "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." The article was also critical of Power's graffiti status, describing him as an egotistical, careerist "celebrity offender".[43] Powers ultimately performed five days of community service.[12]



  • 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. ^ Baker, Kenneth (2005-11-05). "What's in a word? Artists at Luggage Store have ideas". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  3. ^ a b c d Koppel, Niko (29 May 2008). "Graffiti Artist Still Painting on Walls but No Longer an Outlaw". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 May 2017 – via
  4. ^ a b c Siegal, Nina (1999-08-22). "From the Subways to the Streets". The New York Times. p. 3. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Schwartz, Mattathias (2015-11-24). "Street Art and Subversion from Stephen (Espo) Powers". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2020-01-18.
  7. ^ a b "On The Go Magazine". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  8. ^ Gregory J. Snyder, "Graffiti Media and the Perpetuation of an Illegal Subculture", Journal of Crime Media and Culture vol. 2, April, 2006
  9. ^ Powers, Stephen (October 1999). The Art of Getting Over: Graffiti at the Millennium. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-20630-7.
  10. ^ a b "My List of Demands". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  11. ^ Hodges, Andrew (2004-07-01). "The Dreamland Artist Club". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  12. ^ a b Kaminer, Ariel (5 August 2008). "Coney Island Sideshow Has Guantánamo Waterboarding as Its Theme". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 May 2017 – via
  13. ^ Toal, Drew (2005-10-30). "Club chair". Time Out New York. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-08-01.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Brick Valentines on the Philly Skyline". Mural Arts Philadelphia. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  15. ^ Fentress Swanson, Abbie. "ESPO Paints 'Love Letter to Brooklyn' on Vintage Macy's Garage".
  16. ^ "How to Paint a 'Love Letter' to a City". Bloomberg. 19 January 2015. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  17. ^ a b "Brooklyn Museum: Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull)". Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  18. ^ a b "Stephen ESPO Powers: Daymaker · SFMOMA". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  19. ^ "apexart :: Dave Eggers :: Lots of Things Like This". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  20. ^ a b c "Stephen Powers Biography – Stephen Powers on artnet". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  21. ^ "Art in the Streets". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  22. ^ "Beautiful Losers - Contemporary Arts Center". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  23. ^ "Philadelphia Museum of Art - Collections Object : Yes Yes Yes". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  24. ^ Leen, Catherine. "Art Choice". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  25. ^ Snyder, Gregory J. (2011-04-15). Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York's Urban Underground. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-4046-0.
  26. ^ "The Dreamland Artist Club". Creative Time. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  27. ^ Kaminer, Ariel (2008-08-05). "Coney Island Sideshow Has Guantánamo Theme". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  28. ^ "A Love Letter For You". Mural Arts Philadelphia. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  29. ^ "Steve Powers, Love Letter To Syracuse, Continued - unurth | street art". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  30. ^ "> Espo's Volto Já!". DANILO_OLIVEIRA_ (in Brazilian Portuguese). 2016-06-26. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  31. ^ a b Brooks, Chris (6 June 2014). "A Love Letter for us – BALTIMORE ARTS". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  32. ^ "Charleroi: "Bisous m'chou" pourrait disparaitre avec la rénovation des Expos". (in French). 7 June 2016. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  33. ^ "New Steve (ESPO) Powers Mural Currently Going Up in Old City". Streets Dept. 2016-01-06. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  34. ^ "Streets: Stephen "ESPO" Powers (Miami) « Arrested Motion". ArrestedMotion. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  35. ^ "Art Wall by Stephen Powers (ESPO) seen at Coney Island Art Walls, Brooklyn". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  36. ^ "Steve Powers Paints A Pair of New Murals That Reflect Philly History and Celebrate Immigrants". Streets Dept. 2018-12-23. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  37. ^ "Tribeca Citizen | Nosy Neighbor: What's this on the side of Pier 40?". Tribeca Citizen. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  38. ^ "Watch Graffiti Artist Steve "ESPO" Powers Paint Up Boarded Soho Windows". Untapped New York. 2020-05-01. Retrieved 2020-05-31.
  39. ^ a b Gottlieb, Benjamin (12 January 2012). "In the post-graffiti painting of Steve Powers, a canvas as big as everything in the city you wouldn't otherwise see". Politico PRO. Retrieved 2020-01-18.
  40. ^ Siegal, Nina (1999-12-04). "Giuliani Protester Is Arrested in Vandalism Inquiry". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  41. ^ Siegal, Nina (1999-12-04). "Giuliani Protester Is Arrested in Vandalism Inquiry". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-18.
  42. ^ Purnick, Joyce (1999-12-06). "Curious Case Shows Pitfalls Of Secrecy". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  43. ^ Goldstein, Richard (1999-12-14). "Rudy's Most Wanted". Retrieved 2010-03-22.

External links

Media related to Stephen Powers (artist) at Wikimedia Commons