Photo by Matthew Kuborn, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press
This week, street artist Steve Powers confirmed that his iconic Love Letter Brooklyn mural will be demolished. To commemorate the work, here is an excerpt from 'A Love Letter to the City' by the artist, published by Princeton Architectural Press. On the subject, Powers has said, "No mark is permanent, except for love, God's mark on creation."
A year after I was first contacted, Macy’s held a press conference announcing Love Letter Brooklyn on the Fulton Mall. Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, made a speech and handed out “Brooklyn” lapel pins. I said a few words and introduced the one-man community who supplied the words for LLBK, Dave Villorente.
Dave Villorente, the Brooklyn Story Repository, is a native of the borough and a towering figure in New York graffiti. I profiled him in my book The Art of Getting Over, where he provided two crucial elements. The first, his amazing snapshots of other writers, deftly illustrated that the writers had as much style as their painted trains. He also came through with a vivid first-person account of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1980s and ’90s. While most other graffiti writers’ memories were malleable, Dave’s were diamonds, tough and polished to high clarity. After talking to hundreds of people in Philadelphia and Syracuse, I trusted a single person to speak for the many thousands of people who now call Downtown Brooklyn home. Dave Villorente delivered like I’d left the basket unguarded.
I had at various times thought about using a variety of colors and fonts on the wall, but in the end decided I wanted it to look like a newspaper, with a headline font and a copy font. The headline font I found on the inside of the building, on a lit-up directional sign. Justin Green, a signwriter with 35 years in the game, told me it is called Gaspipe and is prized by beginning signwriters because you don’t need a trained eye, just a ruler, to get it right. When we scaled it up from eight inches to 16', it looked like something painted on a gantry on the Brooklyn waterfront, so it settled into the landscape perfectly. The copy font was Gotham, designed by Tobias Frere-Jones in 2000 and based on a style of lettering that American signwriters have used since the 1930s. Whenever I could, I choked up on the E’s, F’s, R’s, and P’s that Gotham stretched out, to make it look more like signwriters’ Gothic lettering.
With two colors and two fonts, I had everything I needed to tell Dave’s story. But beyond Dave’s story, I wanted to write some romantic pickup lines for Brooklyn to have and to hold. And I needed to have a Brooklyn couple to wrap those lines around. Fortunately, Livingroom Johnson, his wife Katiya, and their beautiful baby crossed my path on Schermerhorn one day. Livingroom is an interesting guy, an author and a raconteur who is a little myth and a lot of shoe game. Where fact and fiction begin and end with him is hard to figure and, since he’s a writer, totally beside the point. So I cast him and his wife as Mr. and Ms. Brooklyn, an unlikely pair that Brooklyn has made inevitable. They walk toward each other from opposite ends of the garage on Livingston and meet in the middle, where a stroller has appeared in front of Livingroom. (That’s how it happens in real life, too!) Above them unfurl the words “Meet me downtown for a few,” and below them is a block-long poem featuring the words “ninety-nine” over and over again, in tribute to the three 99-cent stores that run the length of the block. I rendered the figures in black and white Rust-Oleum spray paint with stock caps, consistent to my work going back to the 1980s. Black and white also represent night and day; the black and white cookie; film noir; and, of course, the newspaper. They not only hold gravitas, they are the color palette of speed and illegal deeds. Five months after we painted the garage, black and white were chosen as the colors of the Brooklyn Nets, which is only right, since people think the “ninety-nine” poem is about Mr. “99 Problems” himself, Jay Z. It’s not, but the thought has crossed my mind about ninety-nine times.
Photo by Matthew Kuborn
In its entirety, the building reads:
YOU TAKE ANY TRAIN
MEET ME DOWNTOWN FOR A FEW
EVERY STREET CARRIES US HOME
BORN BUSY AS A BROOKLYN BOUND B
I AM MADE TO LEAVE
I AM MADE TO RETURN HOME
I WAS NURTURED HERE
I COP FUTURES HERE
LIFE IS A FIGHT FOR LIFE
AIDAN SEEGER IS HERE
FROM NINETY-NINE TO NINETY-NINE AND FROM NINE TO NINE WE COULD SHARE NINETY-NINE STARES ENDURE NINETY-NINE CARES
SAY NINETY-NINE SWEARS AND BE FINE NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF THE TIME
I AM NINETY-NINE PERCENT SURE
THIS LOVE WE SHARE IS 99.9999999999999999999999999999999 9999999999999999999999999% PURE
[Punctuating the ninety-nine poem are the hands of Brooklyn legends Mel Brooks, Jackie Robinson, Eric B., Big Daddy Kane, and Biz Markie.]
I GREW UP IN YOUR ARMS, RAISED TO TAKE FLIGHTS OWNING THE GROUND I HELD STEEPED IN YOUR STORIES
I AM UP WAITING FOR YOU
[Painted above is a tower block with one window lit.]
DOLLAR HERE DOLLAR THERE
[Two dollar vans are painted here going back and forth, in tribute to the dollar vans that drive up and down Livingston all day and night.]
HUNDRED HUSTLERS HUSTLE FOR HUNDREDS SLEEPLESS ENTREPRENEUR TURNS A BUCK INTO FOUR
BARKERS CALL ME TO SHOP AT STORES SOME ARE SELLING ROCKETS SOME ARE CHECKING POCKETS SOME ARE ON THE DOCKET
I WALK UP THE BLOCK, MONEY IN SOCK PAST PITFALLS THAT FACE ME TO BUY CLOTHES AT MACY’S Dave At The End Of Sixth Grade c. 1980
And, finally, on the skyways:
TURN TO ME I SEE ETERNITY
EUPHORIA IS YOU FOR ME
Photo by Sam Meyerson