A Convo With Artist Stephen Powers on Street Art, Brooklyn and His ‘Love Letter’ to Downtown

Photo via steveespopwers

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Stephen Powers, who also goes by the street tag ESPO, is a Brooklyn-based artist who uses the urban setting of the borough as the canvas for his works. One of his best-known pieces, ‘Love Letter to Brooklyn,’ was painted on the walkways and sides of the Macy’s parking garage in Downtown Brooklyn.

The work is a mural that notably read, among other phrases, “Euphoria is you for me.” The short, evocative phrases were based on a conversation with a longtime Downtown Brooklyn resident about his experiences and feelings about the area. They were written in a font Powers found inside the parking garage, as he explained in a 2013 talk.

The mural went up in 2011 and was dismantled earlier this year to make way for a redevelopment of Macy’s.

It was one of Powers’ largest works in scale and size. The mural, which when read in full creates a sort of poem about a local’s experience in Downtown Brooklyn, can be seen as a symbol of an artistic Brooklyn giving way to a changing, developing borough.

And he’s done other public art in the area, often commenting on our society. Powers’ work appears across the borough from Downtown Brooklyn to Coney Island, and last year he was part of a group show called ‘Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull)’ at the Brooklyn Museum.

Powers work isn’t exclusive to Brooklyn. His first two ‘Love Letters’ were in other East Coast locales: The first was created in his native Philadelphia in 2009, and the second was made in Syracuse in 2010.

Inspired by sign painting, Powers also works on canvas and paper, among other mediums, in his studio on 4th Avenue in Gowanus.

Recently, we spoke with Powers about his origins, his inspiration, the fate of his famous ‘Love Letter’ and what’s next for the artist.

stephen powers artist street art brooklyn

‘All I Need Is You’ in Downtown Brooklyn, 2016. Photo by Susan De Vries

Brownstoner: What made you get into street art in the first place?

Powers: Graffiti for me was figuring out who I wanted to be and then being that person. I wanted to be creative and productive, with some good stories to tell. The name I chose was ESPO, which, like the guy I wanted to be, was a streamlined and more vivid version of myself. I would go out and write Friday and Saturday night. Sunday to Thursday was about getting supplies and telling my stories in school.

back in the days when i was a twenty-ager, i had a little status and a marking apparatus. this is circa 1998. I was charged with, pled guilty to, and served 5 days community for this Exterior Surface Painting Outreach. Its still up and so am I, and hopefully you are too. The story continues @esposartworld open every day 12-6pm.

You say graffiti and street art are not the same thing. Could you elaborate?

Graffiti has no aspirations beyond itself; just get up and get home safe. Street art is careering; the fact that they are making museums of street art shows it never belonged on the street. Street art is a cute puppy begging to be taken some place clean and quiet, preferably with a juice bar.

stephen powers artist street art brooklyn

‘Love Letter Brooklyn’ in August 2016. Photo by Susan De Vries

How did ‘Love Letter to Brooklyn’ come about? What does “Euphoria is you for me” mean?

I was originally brought by Joe Chan and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership to make art and make Fulton Mall a destination for people from all over the borough. I took the opportunity to work with Dave Vilorente to paint his memories and impressions of growing up in the neighborhood, and that became ‘Love Letter to Brooklyn’. Dave’s words were the voice of a recent past remaining in the face of all the changes. “Euphoria is you for me” was me putting a good line in a good place for the Brooklyn charmers.

You once said in an interview with Vice that Brooklyn is the epicenter of the universe. What makes you say that?

Everybody is here, every food, every religion, every language. I can get African fabrics and Jewish sheitels on the same block. It feels like home, in the way that home is cramped and crowded.

stephen powers artist street art brooklyn

‘Love Letter Brooklyn’ in March 2017. Photo by Susan De Vries

Can you give us an update on the fate of ‘Love Letter to Brooklyn’?

It’s in storage, waiting for the right time to reemerge, maybe on skyways at Bush Terminal, maybe somewhere in Downtown Brooklyn.

stephen powers artist street art brooklyn

The site of ‘Love Letter Brooklyn’ in March 2017. Photo by Susan De Vries

What projects are you working on now? Anything in Brooklyn?

I’m talking about a few different projects in Brooklyn. Everything is possible, everything takes a long long time, and I can’t talk about anything because I will talk myself out of the work.

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