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A Light-Up Mural Illuminates a Seedy Philadelphia Alley

David Guinn’s hidden street mural lights up a 'black sheep' of a street in Philly.

by Diana Shi
Sep 10 2016, 11:40am

Photo: Jennifer Fransesco. All images courtesy the artist

A dark curve in the Philadelphia streets rarely bustled with nighttime footsteps—that is, until a lighted wall artwork lit it up. The electrically-charged and playful mural is the work of David Guinn, a Philadelphia-based artist who originally studied architecture and transitioned into murals in the early 2000s, traveling the US and creating his striking displays. Guinn shares that his training in architecture “instilled within him the importance of the environment and how the environment [...] has an influence on how we see the piece, and vice versa.”

Every mural, Guinn tells The Creators Project, is site-specific, taking some of the energy of the city and the urban canvas to establish its style. “The success of the piece depends on how well it resonates with its environment, both physical and social," he explains. "For each project I take a lot at what this site needs, what will make sense here, and what exists at the site that we can amplify or leverage."

Photo: Jennifer Fransesco.

Photo: Conrad Benner

Photo: David Guinn

The South Philadelphia street art is another type of spatial ode, in the way the curving street is a black sheep inside a linear city plotted on a grid. Together with collaborator and lighting designer, Drew Billiau, the artist creates an stimulating miniature light inside an alleyway.

The artist speaks about the quandary but also the joy of creating an accessible work in public:

“In public space, there are a lot of challenges; from how do we make this durable enough that it will survive both the weather and human beings' natural desire to take things apart, to how do we get the neighbors on board? [...] Drew comes from a background where he knows the material and I have a background in community based public art, so it was a good fit. The dream now is to make more work combining LEDs with painted surfaces.”

Photo: David Guinn

Photo: David Guinn

When considering the community elation and engagement with the installation, Guinn is all excitement: “A hip-hop video was filmed in front of it. neighbors have set up tents and BBQ'd in front of it. It has become a selfie destination. I heard that there was some sort of church revival that took place in front of it.”

“A glowing and shifting mural is not what one would expect peeking out around a corner in South Philadelphia,” the artist concedes. “It’s become a destination and site for all kinds of things (to our delight and surprise!)"

At the opening night of Guinn's electric, LED wall mural. 
Photo: Kat Kendon

Guinn’s work has taken him across the world—from Amman to St. Petersburg to Montreal. To see more street murals from the artist, visit his website here, and see more from lighting designer Drew Billiau here

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