Steve Powers wants to “revive the dying art of sign painting and … transform New York’s commercial streetscapes,” reports Rebecca Rothbaum in The Wall Street Journal (1/2/13). “There’s a lot of the classic storefront look of New York that’s just dissipated rapidly,” says Steve. “We’re trying to put our foot in before that door closes completely.” Steve’s enterprise, Icy Signs, also “has outposts in Philadelphia and Johannesburg, South Africa,” and is grounded in his “longtime preoccupation with the visual language of advertising,” sparked by his early career as a graffiti artist.
Steve sees graffiti as a brand of sorts, but one that “doesn’t advertise anything but itself.” Steve’s brand is ESPO, which stands for “Exterior Surface Painting Outreach.” In the 1990s, he tagged “whitewashed facades of out-of-business shops.” Last year, he created a “massive mural that wraps a Macy’s parking garage in downtown Brooklyn with such sentiments as ‘Euphoria is you for me.” As he explains: “I’m interested in stripping out the commercial, stripping in the emotional, providing something that looks like advertising but it’s conveying the business of human life.”
With Icy Signs, Steve hopes to bring some of the emotional to the commercial. “I could paint the most crass, commercial sign, but if I do it with a brush and I do it with a little bit of passion, it will transcend the crassness,” he says. “It does every time.” He has both paying and pro bono clients — including “free signs for businesses affected by superstorm Sandy.” One recent “beneficiary is City Reliquary, a non-profit museum.” The “red-and-yellow sign evokes its storefront home’s former life as a deli” and, says museum president Bill Scanga, “fits right in with the rest of the neighborhood.”