How Philly street art gets made:

A wheatpaste journey from Bok to the sidewalk

Written and photographed for Billy Penn in Summer 2018.

Artists Fresh Off the Desk (left) and Yuengling Bling Bling pose for a portrait in front of their work in North Philadelphia.

If you’ve walked around Philadelphia recently, you’ve seen it. Over the past decade, it has become inescapable — in the most alluring way.

Philly’s ever-changing collection of street art is pasted on walls, trash cans, lamp posts and fire hydrants. Mailboxes, fences, sidewalks and stop signs. A grassroots supplement to the robust, government-sanctioned Mural Arts imagery that helps set the artistic tone, the city’s independent art turns public surfaces into a not-necessarily-legal collection of rotating galleries, always presenting something new to gawk at and ponder.

 

So how’s it done? you might wonder. How do these artists execute?

A day with Philly-based artists Yuengling Bling Bling (YBB) and Fresh Off the Desk (FOD) provides a look inside the process. The duo has been working on a new wheatpaste project called SCRAPS collection.

After meeting six months ago, the two 20-somethings (who asked that their full names be withheld) decided to combine their expertise. YBB had been collaging and wheatpasting in Philadelphia for two-plus years already, and FOD had been collaging but wanted to make the jump to street art.

Their workspace is at FOD’s day job, an architecture office in South Philly’s Bok Building.

A series of five prints is pasted on a wall near Hancock Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

Creating the collaborative collages consists of the duo flipping through books of old LIFE magazines, plus any other materials they can get their hands on for free or cheap.

Is there a unifying theme in their work? YBB describes it as “visual nonsense.”

The duo will flip through the mags separately and cut out people, objects and words that catch their eyes, paste a few things together, and then trade back and forth, each gluing on new additions — though not without first asking what the other thinks.

Selecting images for collages-in-progress.

“We’re friends that both offer different things to this creative relationship,” YBB said.

Materials feature photos of life from the past, so the artists’ work has a vintage feel — with a heavy influence of outer space.

FOD installs "Shade Queen" in the bathroom at Tattooed Mom.

After cutting, rearranging and pasting all the pieces together, the women behind SCRAPS will scan the work into the computer and use Photoshop to touch them up. They then print both postcards and larger posters on 9” x 12” paper, the latter of which is then pasted up.

YBB has had a lot of experience in picking out where to install the works, and in the two years since she began pasting, she has not yet run into problems.

FOD runs her finger along a slit in a collage. The work will be touched up in photoshop before prints are made.

Good places to post are usually where other people have already been, she said, and that art hasn’t been torn down or painted over — called getting “buffed” in the street art world.

“I make a point to try not to disrespect anyone’s property… Usually my go-to is to put stuff up where there already is something,” YBB explained. “We’re just trying to make the city look nice.”

Wheatpaste drips down "The Look."

To put the work on walls, the pair makes wheatpaste out of boiled water and flour, and uses a stiff-bristled brush to apply it first to the wall, then again over the poster on the wall to “seal” it.

Putting the work out into the world is the final step, and one of the most important.

Madouh Moheb, 58, looks at a newly-installed piece from the SCRAPS collection. He said did not understand the work.

“When you turn a corner and see an art piece on a wall, it kind of feels like you like discovered a little hidden thing,” FOD said. “I like contributing to that, and seeing people’s reactions.”

It’s an important to both artists to make art that is accessible to the public outside of museums and galleries.

 

Like other Philly street art, their work also enjoys a “home” of sorts at South Street’s Tattooed Mom. Said proprietor Robert Perry, the bar’s owner of 21 years, “You don’t have to look over your shoulder here.”

When it comes to advice on how to interpret their work if you happen to come across it, FOD and YBB offer a simple missive: Just appreciate what you see, and “don’t think too hard.”

© 2019 by Maggie Loesch

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