Travel Chronicles is an editorial feature for wejetset’s online magazine. Through an open and casual conversation it highlights how travel has shaped the talents, perspectives and experiences of creative and business professionals worldwide. This edition features Steve Powers.
Steve aka ESPO is a Philadelphia native now living in New York City. Known for his thought provoking imagery, his art has taken him to all corners of the globe. As the NY Times once noted, “A love of grafitti has gained Steve Powers notoriety on the streets, fame in the art world and a long arrest sheet. It has also earned him a Fulbright Scholarship.” His resume of adventurous and varying experiences have contributed significantly to the richness of his work. We recently caught up with Steve in his studio to discuss art’s universal language and how traveling over 120,000 miles last year shaped his perspective. Watch the video above and click Read More for the rest of the interview.
I think I flew 120,000 miles last year and I think that’s probably in the upper echelon of business travelers. I know personally of people that travel cross-country or over the Atlantic like every two weeks or every week for all 52 weeks of the year, so by no means is my experience unique. And I think we’re at a very interesting point right now, where a lot more artists are flying places and there’s a circuit of galleries that are opening up worldwide that a lot of my contemporaries are traveling to more frequently. People come out to these galleries and I’ll get to interact with them in a really great way, whereas as a tourist and even as a businessperson your experiences are much more limited. And although I love the open-endedness of just straight tourism—you get to really invent the city any way you want- typically, when I travel as an artist, people are really striving to put on the best face and show me something really unique about their city.
Traveling is about not necessarily going in and being the ugly American and just being as ignorant as you are back home but going to a place and really meeting them on their terms, and appreciating the city that you go to for what it is. And it’s great to just surrender— I think that’s the best thing about traveling, it’s surrendering to the experience of travel and just… going.
My work is complicated enough without the language barrier being involved, but I think when people don’t know the language, they have to rely on just the form and the beauty of it—if it’s beautiful— and the form of it, if it has an interesting form for them to engage with. And then, what’s kinda cool about that it definitely does set up a tension where they want to know, and its frustrating to them that they don’t fully understand what I’m getting at. But I think most people that understand English 100% don’t fully understand what I’m getting at anyway, so they’re not in a unique position.
Dublin, but Ireland in general—is really known for its cultural exports much more than its known for its cultural imports. So to go there and be able to create for example, was great because this is a community, this is a civilization of people that understand poetry, that understand art in a more instinctive way than any other place I’ve been to. But what struck me about Ireland was that they have just an intuitive sense, they understood what I was doing… way more than when I’m talking to people in Philadelphia and New York… and in a lot of America. In the United States there’s a certain amount of insulation that people have from art in their everyday life, and I have to cut through that, I have to cut through their non-understanding of art and non-appreciation of art, and find some connection between what I do and the life they’re currently leading right now.
Because you’re in a new place and because it’s a brand new experience for you, all your senses are opened up and you’re open again in a way that when you’re home and you’re dealing with the things at home, you close yourself down because you’re just stressed out from your bills and everything else that you’ve got on your plate. But when you’re traveling, you’re creating in a new environment, all that stuff is suppressed for a week or ten days and you get to just purely be exactly the embodiment of what you want to be. A free liberator, you know, a creator that’s just making it happen. And then you drag your ass back home because none of your paintings sold because nobody’s buying art in this terrible economy!