Drenched in graffiti, iconic artwork by Shepard Fairey now under cover in Fishtown


Something’s missing on the side of a building in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. Drivers heading up Frankford Avenue now see a dull, brown tarp where once there was a bright red art project.

Karen Breese knew that, by its nature, the beloved art project wouldn’t last forever.

“A wheat paste is paper posters that are essentially glued to the wall and then have a paste coating over top of them to make them stiff,” she explained. Still, the owner of the Rocket Cat Cafe didn’t expect things would go down like this.

In 2010 Shepard Fairey came to Philly and applied the art to the side of the coffeeshop building. It was a big deal — Fairey crafted the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster and Breese liked the mark he left on her cafe.

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“A beautiful Vietnamese woman, well I’m assuming she’s Vietnamese,” Breese said. “Sort of couples with a variety of smaller poster-size prints.”

Breese said she got a lot of positive feedback from people in the neighborhood. And then the graffiti started. Over the years, with help, she’s cleaned it up and restored the art. But a few months ago, it was hit again.

A friend called to tell Breese that, this time, it was bad.

“I’ve been told it was spray paint in like a paint sprayer as opposed to a can,” she said. “It was just real sloppy and it’s going to be very difficult to clean up.”

The graffiti left white lines zig-zagging over the woman. The brown tarp now covers the beloved art while Breese decides what to do.

“I think there’s a lot of people that are sad that it’s gone,” she said. “You know it was one of the cooler things that Fishtown actually had … this was definitely one that stood out. I miss it. I’m sad when I pull up and see the brown tarp.”

Breese said she’d like to bring back as much of the Shepard Fairey work as possible, then let other artists add to it. She said the new work will likely be in the form of a painted mural. The busy thoroughfare has a lot of car and foot traffic so whatever goes up will have a lot of attention.

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