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Stephen Powers Makes City Streets Less Dull With His Colorful, Hand-Painted Signs

The renowned street artist pairs with NY’s Department of Transportation to bring lively messages to residents throughout the city.

Stephen Powers is known for creating colorful, playful and often poignant typographic murals that live somewhere between street art and community activism. For over a decade, Powers has been working with local communities to paint walls and rooftops all over the world, from Brooklyn and Syracuse to Dublin, Sao Paulo and his native Philadelphia.

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This summer the Manhattan-based artist revisits the streets of New York for a temporary signage project commissioned by the Department of Transportation. As a part of the city’s Summer Streets campaign, an effort to promote sustainable transportation options, Powers hand-painted 30 different signs and affixed them to posts along nearly seven miles of Park Avenue, from Central Park at 72nd Street to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Powers’ signs don’t instruct or prohibit, they just display bright, graphic images and funny or thoughtful phrases that offer a reprieve from the hot, busy, sometimes impersonal slog of summer the city. Some are sweet, like the one with the a darkened building with one lit window that reads “I’m up waiting for you.” Others, like a pigeon with a sign that says “Holler Back,” are subtly amusing. One with the most basic design is probably the quickest to resonate with commuting urbanites: against a teal background, a red pillow reads simply “Home at last.” All of the signs were produced at the DOT’s Sign Shop in Maspeth, Queens and installed by Powers and DOT Borough Engineers.

In the forward for the recent monograph about Powers, A Love Letter To The City , Peter Eleey, curator of MoMA’s PS1, writes that Powers’ murals “humanize the anonymity of urban landscape.” For each of his murals and painted signs, Powers works closely with community members and organizations so that his work reflects the style and attitude of the surrounding community. Some of the signs feel familiar to Powers’ iconic murals–the sign with the four different colored hands, for example, is reminiscent of his Philadelphia mural “Hold Tight”. But most (see: the sign with the wave that says “wanted: a place to crash”) feel distinctly New York.

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About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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