Art City 23


Philly is known as the mural capital of the world with over 4,400 murals and counting. Its Mural Arts council commissions up to 100 art projects every year. It was recently (June 2023) named the Best City for Street Art by USA Today, the street art including an impressive varied collection of sculptures, installations and well, just random art. Art of course, is where you see it... and it's not a black and white distinction when it comes to sidewalk repairs, drain covers or even building details. 

I'm just going to include a few varied images that struck me, many simply because they were unexpected and in unassuming places as I wandered around the city. If you want to seriously tour the city, seeking artwork considered some of the finest, check out or 


This one struck me as reflecting more the lifestyle of the Italian family than an American family, as our mealtimes are generally brief episodes whereas theirs are simply the beginning of an evening around the table. Philly feels diverse, but with these current demographics, I don't know if it's THAT diverse. Black or African American: 41.36% White: 39.33% Asian 7.42% Other race: 7.27%. Still, each race includes those of different origins and traditions. Philly does not have a globally metro feel like Seoul, Tokyo or Singapore and definitely does not feel as safe as any of these, recently voted the three safest cities in the world. Philly has more of a simmering kettle with the lid lifting up-and-down feel to it. This mural captivated me because it nods to an effort to get along and relax, and incorporates the American past time of a summer picnic. Lads picking apples on high tree branches and carefree lasses swinging on the air are not realistic reflections of life here. The police greased the lampposts prior to the Super Bowl this year to prevent a repeat of college kids scaling them after the play-off games; I mean, I can see the parallel. As for carefree lasses swinging, well Philadelphia does boast a lot of beautiful parks and spaces along the river banks for idle moments and these public spaces are enjoyed by many. Many of the murals here are on buildings surrounding otherwise bleak parking lots and a colorful and rich mural like this one, revealing love and community is uplifting and some of the elements are accurate. The standing couples could be at any happy hour, an American tradition. And there is community here. In distinct neighborhoods like Fairmont, Brewerytown and Chinatown.

And there are community gardens throughout the city.


I hope that I don't offend the artist or those who commissioned the work by explaining what I think this is about and why it struck a chord with me. It looks like a kitchen worker wondering where, out the back door where he may also have some rosemary and thyme growing, to dump his grease. I actually like the old and doubtless noisy air conditioning unit, the trash can, the chain link fence and the utility wires obscuring his movement because that's the reality. We try to create our own beauty among the wreckage the industrial revolution has made of our lives.


This mosaic is actually very large, stretching across a building bordering a parking lot downtown and proved quite impossible for me to photograph without getting more cars than mural into it. 


One could study the details for hours. I'm a fan of scary tribal images, especially those of Central and South America because they have a depth that genuinely scares me. They often feel like they truly contain ghosts and magic. I think it's essential to acknowledge and honor our fears. The angst will manifest in some form, and to name it and characterize it removes it from our general level of anxiety, removes these deep-rooted nameless apprehensions from interfering with our being able to process our daily experiences in a healthy way. 

These painted walls were simply refreshing. Bleak parking lots take their toll on the psyche. I sometimes think Americans don't realize what we are missing with our emphasis on capitalism, saving money on everything from buildings to parking lots. We have rectangular box buildings to house our grocery stores and Vienna has castles. We don't bother with visual screening, as simple as planting hedges of the our ubiquitous glaringly ugly strip malls and fast food joints. We just drive past and live in obscenely ugly, mostly concrete spaces. Somewhere in this blog you can find an unobtrusive McDonald's in Vienna with an interior space of chandeliers and relaxing paintings, not just more advertisements. Just a splash of paint here and there can make one feel a lot better about her life. Or a little bit of money put into the storefront to show that you really care about your clientele.


This trippy one has images you can study and try to get to the bottom of, a fun digression.

I think I only like this one because as I was photographing it, a homeless man remarked jauntily about how beautiful the flowers were and pointed out some more he especially liked further down the block. I don't really resonate with any of the characters in this one either, but I'm sure some people do and will pause to consider its relevance and that's the point. And why it's cool that there are so many expressions in the city.

I'm a huge fan of Joan of Arc and was pretty stoked to come across a shiny gold image of her. Mark Twain's short story about her is definitely worth checking out. We need our heroes and I appreciate that Philadelphia is willing to celebrate them. I mean we expect all of the tributes to Ben Franklin and the statesman responsible for articulating our new government, and those who lived here and worked for social reform, but Philly reaches out further, acknowledging those who represent our deepest ideals. Personally, I hold her in high regard because she just wasn't going to take England's shit anymore and, although she was young, female and inexperienced in warfare, she listened to her higher conscience, and simply would not be held back from taking on the the oppressors and kicking them out of France. She was so inspiring that even her burned-out countrymen rose up to ride along her side to victory.


Honest Abe beloved because he respected others and tried to do what he felt was right to create a nation that did the same.


Silenus holding the infant Bacchus, the Roman god of agriculture and especially wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy, and fertility. He is our festival god celebrating the essence of fun.

This one is the contemporary psyche. New age mantras on the go, like Starbucks. Just in case you didn't have time this morning, you can pause and feed your head with positive affirmations.

I did a double take on this bit of un commissioned street art. A suitcase and a pair of pants left for the next person who might need them. Makes you wonder where the owner wandered off to.


"Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose." Me & Bobby McGee, written by Kris Kristofferson but sung in my head when I saw this by Janis Joplin. The Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial exhibit along the Schuylkill commemorating the Settling of America is a pretty impressive collection of statues and monuments, but comes off a bit as a whitewashed interpretation, raising a few questions. I looked but found no acknowledgment of the criminals sent from British prisons to settle Jamestown, a lot whose progeny I declare haunts the Appalachian mountains to this day. 

These three figures are William Penn, a Puritan and a Native American.

And here is what is inscribed next to William Penn, with no further comment or revision. Reading this, one might glean a very different idea about our history than the way things, shall we say, panned out? 

I mean this was erected sometime after 1930 and by then everyone was well aware that something went very awry with these expressed intentions.

In retrospect, it just seems insidious. Where is the monument to the ensuing genocide? 

Or would that be premature? We're almost done.

Three more lighthearted examples of the seamless integration of murals:

I especially like the next two because they highlight the grit of Philly.

And the next two because they reveal that some individuals are paying attention to the smallest details. Anything can be made beautiful, even a crack in a sidewalk or the place a where a brick has worked loose.

And this window artistry because it is a sunny nod to Pennsylvania, the keystone state.

And these two Claes Oldenburg sculptures because instead of drawing our attention away from our ugly utilitarian accoutrements, they just put it out there to celebrate them for what they are and if you want, to contemplate what they mean to us.

"I am what I am and that's all that I am." Popeye the Sailor Man.