Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull) Everyone has an emotional investment in Coney, and we value that by making work as fried, greasy, sweet, cheap, fun, and flashy as any other experience you can have there.
Stephen Powers recalls the visual vernacular of Coney Island in this site-specific installation of signs and paintings. Here he presents ICY SIGNS—a traveling sign shop and an ongoing collaboration between himself and other artists. At a time when computers dominate the industry of sign painting, the project revives the art of colorful hand-painted signs. The signs look commercial, but the combination of everyday images and pithy phrases delivers an emotional punch.
ICY SIGNS was initially conceived in 2003 with the advent of the Dreamland Artist Club—a public art project in which Powers and more than 40 other artists created custom signs for the games and rides of Coney Island, making sign painting a viable trade again. Powers’s interest in hand-painted signs grew out of his early work as a graffiti artist (under the pseudonym ESPO) and was furthered by inspiration gleaned from the seaside community. This is the latest of nine iterations of ICY SIGNS, which has been exhibited in numerous storefronts, museums, and galleries in both the United States and abroad. You can visit permanent locations of ICY SIGNS in Brooklyn and in Powers’s hometown, Philadelphia.
Enamored with the unique style of painting that was born in and defines Coney Island, Powers uses the style to depict his own life and times. These paintings capture what he calls “the eternal now of New York City.” In addition to new pieces by Powers, the installation includes works by Justin Green, Matt Wright, Mike Levy, Dan Murphy, Mike Lee, Mimi Gross, Alexis Ross, Sean Barton, Eric Davis, and Tim Curtis.
This installation is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland,1861–2008, on view in the adjacent galleries.
During the exhibition, ICY SIGNS artists will work periodically in the gallery painting new signs. Please come back to see them on the following dates:
October 1, 2015
Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull) on view from November 20, 2015, to March 13, 2016
Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull), a site-specific installation by artist Stephen Powers, will transform the Brooklyn Museum’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery into a dynamic environment filled with paintings and signs that are created in the visual vernacular of the iconic seaside community. On view from November 20, 2015, to March 13, 2016, this is the newest and ninth iteration of the artist’s iconic ICY SIGNS, a traveling sign shop first conceived by Powers in Coney Island in 2003.
The Brooklyn Museum installation recounts the birth of new public art in Coney Island, and the emergence of a uniquely American and wholly "Coney Island" style of painting. As a longtime admirer of the fading craft of sign painting, Stephen Powers has revitalized the tradition of colorful, hand-painted signage and advertisements in an age of digitization. The installation will also include works by Justin Green, Matt Wright, Mike Levy, Dan Murphy, Mike Lee, Mimi Gross, Alexis Ross, Sean Barton, Eric Davis, and Tim Curtis. Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull) is being presented in tandem with Coney Island: Visions of An American Dreamland, 1861–2008 and Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection.
Stephen Powers was born and raised in Philadelphia. Known by his graffiti name ESPO, he moved to New York City in 1994, working as a magazine publisher and graffiti writer before opening his studio in 1999. ICY SIGNS was initially conceived in 2003, with the advent of The Dreamland Artist Club—a public art project presented in partnership with Creative Time—where Stephen Powers and more than 40 artists created custom signs for the games and rides of Coney Island. The next year, Powers opened a location at 1206 Surf Avenue in Coney Island where he and numerous sign writers made sign painting a viable trade again. Since then, ICY SIGNS has operated in numerous storefront, museum, and gallery settings around the world, including Milan, Brussels, Copenhagen, St. Louis, and Los Angeles as well as two permanent locations—one in Philadelphia and one in Brooklyn. Most recently, Stephen Powers and ICY SIGNS worked with the New York City Department of Transportation to create 30 signs serving as an "emotional wayfinding system."
Stephen Powers' body of work includes The Waterboard Thrill Ride (2008), a project based in Coney Island presented in collaboration with Creative Time, and Love Letter to Brooklyn (2011), created in partnership with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. The artist lives and works in Manhattan and has shown at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, The 49th Venice Biennale, and The Luggage Store in San Francisco. He had his first museum solo show at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in 2007.
Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull) is organized by Sharon Matt Atkins, Vice Director for Exhibitions and Collections Management, Brooklyn Museum.
Generous support for this exhibition is provided by VH1 and RVCA.