The evolution of Philadelphia’s Northeast Rail Corridor

psychylustro by Katharina Grosse. Photo by Steve Weinik.
psychylustro by Katharina Grosse. Photo by Steve Weinik.

In the spring of 2014, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program installed psychylustro, a multi-site artwork by Katharina Grosse, across sections of the Northeast Rail Corridor in Philadelphia. Grosse treated walls, warehouses, and even trees as her canvas. psychylustro‘s bold colors and brush strokes certainly changed the scenery for Amtrak commuters, and Hyperallergic described the work as “a mysterious, puzzling, and surprising presence.” But psychylustro was also an intervention at a site usually controlled by graffiti writers.

There was graffiti along the rail corridor before Mural Arts and Grosse got to work, and it’s no secret that psychylustro was tagged and bombed. For six months, Mural Arts regularly revisited the walls to apply fresh coats of neon paint. And then… they stopped, leaving psychylustro to the elements, the writers, and the buff.

The installation of Katharina Grosse's psychylustro. Photo by Steve Weinik.
The installation of Katharina Grosse’s psychylustro. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Although psychylustro did cover notable graffiti (including works by Retna, Nekst, Skrew, Curve, and Ntel), it also presented an opportunity: Before installation began, Mural Arts invited Martha Cooper to document the graffiti at the sites where psychylustro was going to be. And recently, a little over a year after Mural Arts stopped maintaining psychylustro, they sent photographer Steve Weinik to revisit the installation. The result is a likely unparalleled documentation of graffiti along the Philadelphia section of the Northeast Rail Corridor in 2014 and 2015.

One nice perk of working at Mural Arts is that I have access to those photos. Since I’m about to leave Mural Arts for New York City, it seems like the perfect time to show the evolution of the psychylustro walls, from the graffiti captured by Martha through to how they look today. The photo captions are incomplete, but hopefully useful nonetheless (thanks to NTEL and Air Rat for help with captions). Enjoy!

Sever, Skrew, Cense, Retna, and more. April 2014. Photo by Martha Cooper.
Sever, Skrew, Cense, Retna, and more. April 2014. Photo by Martha Cooper.

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Graffiti and street art in Puerto Rico: La Pandilla, Ske & Rek, Bad and more

HD Crew, photo by Lenny Collado

The exterior surfaces of many of San Juan’s decayed and abandoned buildings – along with the concrete walls found largely in its public housing projects – have become canvases for some of the most vibrant graffiti and alluring street art that I’ve seen anywhere. Here is a sampling of what we saw on our recent visit:

Pun 18, photo by Dani Mozeson
La Pandilla and Don Rimx, close-up, photo by Lenny Collado
Ske and Rek, photo by Lois Stavsky
La Pandilla and Celso Gonzalez, photo by Dani Mozeson
ADM, photo by Lois Stavsky

Bad, a member of the HD crew, escorted us to walls we never would have found on our own, while delivering cans of spray paint to just about every artist getting up in town. Curious about it all, we had the chance to ask him some questions on a brief coffee break:

Tell us about all these cans of spray paint that travel with you. What exactly is your role here?

I represent Montana Colors in the Caribbean. I am its sole distributor.

How did that come to be?

I saw that there was a need here for quality spray paints. Too many graff artists were using cheap paints. When I began getting up in 2002, I used to have to get mine from the States. And this way I am doing a service for the artists, and I am also making money.

How has this job affected your life?

It is my life. I know at least one graff writer in every country. I have a home anywhere I travel. It’s the best life!

How does the graff here in Puerto Rico differ from what you’ve seen elsewhere?

Our styles are more distinct and more varied than most of what I see elsewhere.

Certainly more so than we see back in NYC. How has the graff scene in Puerto Rico changed since you began getting up over 10 years ago?

Back then, most of the writers came from the lower class. That’s not the case anymore. The scene has also been going in cycles. It was huge at the beginning of the century. We hit a low in 2005, and in 2010 it began, once again, to boom.

Bad, photo by Dani Mozeson

Any favorite artists?

There are many. Among them: Os Gemeos, the Mac from Germany, Celso here in Puerto Rico…

How do you feel about graff artists exhibiting their work in galleries?

I respect both the artists who promote themselves and the galleries who support them.

How do you feel about the role of the internet in all of this?

It’s definitely been a positive force. I remember when all we had were magazines and photos of our pieces that we mailed back and forth. The internet is a much easier and speedier way for us to share our work.

What do you see as the future of graffiti and street art here in the Caribbean?

You’re here for our first international street art festival that has brought some of the world’s most renowned street artists — including Roa, Ever, Sego and Jaz — to Puerto Rico. This is just the beginning. And in a few weeks, we have a major graffiti jam happening in the Dominican Republic. It just keeps on getting bigger — both here and across the globe.

Photos by Lenny Collado, Dani Mozeson & Lois Stavsky