Espo: 100 Stories Tall

Steve Powers got his start in graffiti. Back in the 1980s, before an unfortunate run in with the authorities in 1999, he was known by his tag “Espo,” making work through Philadelphia and New York, including on the then-abandoned High Line. And now, as an artist who has both a fine art practice and a commercial art practice, those beginnings still snake their way into his work.

“Graffiti for me is what’s possible,” Powers told The Standard in an interview while constructing his new installation at The Standard High Line. “It’s like a birdsong to me.” That birdsong has seen the artist “ramble with a spray can” across the The Standard and the High Line in a new work that combines cartoons with text—Powers is well known for his text and signage-based work; some of which he sells through Espo’s Art World.  “It’s mostly reflection about going away and coming home,” he said. “About the first hour of waking up and the last hour before going to bed."

Tired is the New High

Panels include clocks turned humanoid, walking sluggishly along the makeshift tarp walls as well as phrases like “Tired is the New High.” The words “can’t wait to see you again” float alongside what looks to be a cellphone while a stack of papers sport a skirt and running legs. The accompanying text says “I am 100 stories tall.”

“The Standard installed about 200 feet of construction mesh tarp, which lets light and wind through, but still provides enough surface to hold an image,” Powers said. The effort was nothing new for Powers as he’s routinely been commissioned to turn neighborhoods into his canvas in a series of public works. “[This allows] more information to come into view, and now the entire installation is teetering on a visual overload, like too many windows are open on your computer." The project is in part the opportunity to workshop through ideas he hopes to present at his Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco show in May.

While opportunities like MOMASF and showing at the Venice and Liverpool Biennials are certainly big gets, so is being archived in the halls of social media. “The screen is the window of the world now, and I make my work fit that view,” the artist said. “I like showing work in museums equally as the work getting meme’d; In 2019 it’s the same for me.” And it’s a good approach. Panels like one “laundry” themed set of paintings and another painting featuring the “BRB” over a pillow above the word “Pillowtalk” seem ripe for Instagram posts.

“I’m not here for glory, just to tell a story,” Powers said of the completed work. “I feel like I did a good job at the Standard when somebody stops and laughs at something I painted.”



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