Why the heck did somebody think it was okay to deface the Kurt Vile mural?

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For an update on this story, see below.

An unknown man took it upon himself to roll cover-up paint overtop of Fishtown’s Kurt Vile mural this morning. Located at Front and Master streets, the mural, painted by Steve Powers, provided the iconic cover art for Vile’s 2013 tour de force LP Wakin on a Pretty Daze

In the above photo posted to Philly photographer Conrad Benner’s Instagram (known on the local internet as @streetsdept), we see that much of the lower half of the mural – graphical interpretations of many of the albums lyrics – is now covered in a dreary white-grey paint. Benner said the photo was shot by fellow local artist Najeeb Sheikh this morning.

According to @dasheikee, the man said he was not connected to the city or the building’s owner and that he was buffing the mural because it was attracting graffiti to the neighborhood.

On the one hand, muralist Powers – who is also known for Mural Arts’ Love Letter along the Market-Frankford el – does indeed have roots in the graffiti scene. But where does graffiti end and art begin? Or, more simply, is all graffiti art? It’s a philosophical debate that stretches back to the 70s and before – a debate that Benner actively engages in. But let’s assume for a moment that this person defines graffiti as any unwanted writing or illustration painted on a building. Wouldn’t a stucco wall covered in empty white paint be more likely to attract that than a wall covered in a bright, colorful and lively work of art?

It boggles the mind. Let us know your thoughts in the comments and, if you haven’t yet seen it, watch the below video of the mural’s birth.

Update (6/29/14, 3:15PM) – The person responsible for painting over portions of the Kurt Vile mural is DJ Lee Mayjahs.

At 10:14 AM this morning, someone commented as “Dumb Buffer” on a story about this on Philadelphia Magazine.

The offender posted:

Hello everyone, I am the idiot in the picture. Let me start off by saying I Love Philadelphia, I love my neighborhood and I love Art. I am completely committed to supporting legal street art, publicly funded art and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. But what I did yesterday was the most stupid and selfish thing I have ever done. I think I literally had a mental breakdown and lost my mind there.

At 1:28 PM, Leah Kauffman, a Philadelphia based journalist posted an interview on her Facebook page with the mural buffer. During Kauffman’s interview with Mayjahs he admitted he was responsible for painting over the mural and putting the comment on the Philadelphia Magazine story.

Below is a portion of Kauffman’s interview: (read the full interview here.

I just spoke with DJ/kurt vile x espo mural buffer Lee Mayjahs on the phone. Turns out that he is not well. He is offering to pay espo to come down and restore the mural. I hope he gets the help he needs. I also hope espo takes him up on his offer.

Lee Mayjahs: I got home and started doing research on my computer. I can’t believe what I had done ad I wrote a letter to Kurt Vile apologizing. And I wrote a letter to the artist Espo apologizing, telling them that I would pay Espo to come down and repaint it. I also wrote a letter to the mural arts apologizing. Apparently it wasn’t official. Even though it wasn’t official I’m sorry for everything I did. I would do whatever I could do to make it right. I really am sorry. I don’t know what I was doing. I literally lost my mind and took it out which was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.

Leah Kauffman: Was it premeditated? Did you just have white paint laying around? It’s 9 am on a Saturday. What was going through your head?

LM: I live in that neighborhood. I’ve lived there for 15 years. I’m always cleaning up the streets and alleyways. I don’t know…for some reason I feel like ever since that piece has been there it’s attracted more and more graffiti to that neighborhood. Every time I paint over illegal graffiti I was blaming it on it (the mural) and I didn’t realize the people in the neighborhood love it, I’ve never really sat and looked at it. I never did any research on it and then I just snapped.

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  • whenimrightimright

    i assume whoever commissioned the mural can just send that idiot a bill? dude has to pay for something imo.

    • unoder

      Or find his house and pain over that.

  • Throwing_Things
    • ganzo

      may he burn in hellfire

    • Droogie

      What an asshole.

    • Girly girl

      Who made this dude the art police?

    • zeldasixactual

      this guy is awesome

  • ganzo

    what a shit

  • HDDave

    He should be arrested!

    • Ray Haze

      defacing property and a paid for mural /advert.

  • melissa

    Yea cause that white paint randomly rolled all over the place looks a whole shit ton better than what was there before. What an asshole

  • Thrasymachus

    It’s the nature of street art to be self-adjusting and self-destroying. You create new art and new meaning by reappropriating the old. It makes one ask oneself “why am I attached to this symbol? What is the purpose or value in the object, and why does it matter?” It sucks that this dude messed up a cherished piece, but graffiti is graffiti. It’s more like a performance piece than anything else.

    • Ice Hockey Is Dangerous

      Knock it off.

    • montgomery burns

      save that shit for some art school discussion

    • howdy

      But it’s not like he himself was posting grafitti. He literally tried to white wash. I agree with the premises of your argument, but it just doesn’t apply to this situation.

  • tkellybal

    If it isn’t yours, don’t paint on it. That applies to graffiti sprayers and do-gooder graffiti erasers.

  • Robert Blake

    It’s not news. The wall was not iconic by any stretch of the imagination. Street art is constantly changing and being painted or scrawled over.

    • Maureen W.

      My house isn’t iconic but I’d be pretty peeved if someone painted over it just because they didn’t like my house or how it looked.

      • Robert Blake

        Yep, sure but it would not be news. I don’t think this is news. There have been far more artful installations in the city painted over than this one. Granted, new murals were going up but it is the same thing. Murals are temporary not permanent.

        • Dashtego

          You realize that you’re not on an actual “news” site, right? This is a music/culture site that comments on local issues related to those topics. This undoubtedly falls within that rubric. If you don’t find it interesting, don’t read the damn article.

    • http://chrissmari.org ChrissMari

      seriously, acting as if it’s something important and not an old and kinda ugly part of an aging art installation is stupid.

      • Maureen W.

        This mural is two years old and it while the beauty of its original state was in the eye of the beholder, it’s currently incredibly ugly with white paint dolloped over parts of it.

    • Jesse Mccormack

      I’m an Australian who was travelling in Philly last year. I visited the Museum of Art, the Liberty Bell and funnily enough this mural in Fishtown. I think you underestimate the currency it might hold with music fans around the world, or might have gone on to have in the future.

    • Scott Haldeman

      Just like when Sheppard Fairies storefront mural got defaced, it all changes.

    • montgomery burns

      how is a piece that millions of people around the world recognize and associate with our city and one of its best current musicians not iconic? This wasn’t scrawled over or added to, it was just replaced with boring white paint by a guy no one would otherwise be talking about and claims to be a member of the philly music scene.

  • SassyPants

    I’m pretty sure who ever commissioned the mural went through extensive procedures to attain permits to have such a beautiful mural painted that represents not only an iconic indie folk singer, but also the work of the commissioned artist Steve Powers! If so, someone should file a complaint to the city hall, so they may send the “bill” or if must, an arrest to this person who took it upon himself to do what he thought was best. Even still, his white strokes on this wall was not a beautification of the surrounding neighborhood. Poor judgment on his behalf! SMH!!!

  • Nicole D.

    It’s a shame, but the dynamic and fleeting nature of street art is part of what makes it so beautiful!

  • newgirlsghost

    There are no special Exceptions. Not because one is more pleasing to the eye or a better statement. That’s beside the point.
    Fine the dummy heavily and give him a week in jail, because he defaced a commissioned mural.

  • Calzone

    Imho, everyone’s missing a larger issue. Why didn’t he paint over the entire word ‘friends’? Don’t go 75%, man! Roll paint over the entire word. It makes no sense at all to read “THERE’S A PLACE FOR ALL MY FR”…(unless he’s a speech therapist, I suppose).

  • DMR

    By golly gee probably because they didn’t want to see some atrocious guerrilla marketing for an over-hyped artist? Or maybe another reason?

    • LookAtThisIdiot

      So you bald white assholes all stick together I see.

    • Seth K

      Why do you gotta be so cynical? I live in the neighborhood, I own (and enjoy) the record, I pass this mural on my commute, and I think supporting local artists is good for the community. The guy who buffed this piece was being an asshole, and if you want to talk about guerrilla tactics I think singlehandedly destroying a mural on a Saturday morning certainly qualifies.

  • Vikt

    Too bad folks don’t get this angry when more serious crime and thuggery happens in this city.

    • LookAtThisIdiot

      “Thuggery.” You mean black people right? Kenzo trash.

      • Vikt

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…No. Buy nice try with the race-baiting. I mean people who are robbers, rapists, murderers…thugs, who commit such thuggery. Stop jumping to conclusions and being so emotionally blinded that you defend criminality.

        By the way, is your real name Al Sharpton? If so, you have the perfect screen name.

  • William Blake

    Damn, I was going to visit this next week…

  • Muscles

    Mural? looks like an Ad to me

  • Scott Haldeman

    Really, it was only a matter of time. At least it lasted a whole year

  • MichaelNutter

    Sorry Vile fans, looks like you’re overruled. True Philly natives can see the difference between a mural and an advertisement. The bald man is definitely not the only one that feels Kurt Vile is not connected to the city. Welcome to Philly!

    • Michael Nutter

      Oh and he obviously does not look like a Kenzo so get the facts straight

    • montgomery burns

      “true philly natives”? that guy is a fucking DJ not some union dockworker. you suck.

  • Ray Haze

    who are any of you to decide what’s art more or less ?” I’ve seen better murals destroyed ” Really ? In your opinion you mean. Not his property even ! That’s a legit PAID for mural with plenty of work , paint and thought involved. I bet he thinks that crap on his arm is ART. lol All this proves is Philly is culturally devoid and full of morons like this common as s&^t D-Bag.

  • Louis G

    There may be a debate about where graffiti ends and art begins, but this isn’t that debate. The guy defaced public art.

  • erin alice

    At least he is going to have it fixed and updated. We are all humans. Life must go on.

  • Jim

    Why are people so upset over this Kurt Vile mural.
    Iconic??? Hardly.

    First, the dude had to hire someone to paint the mural for him.
    I mean, who is this dude? It’s not like an artist created it as a tribute, he paid someone to make his mural “iconic.”

    Further, he is only selling out a 200-1000 seat venue (Union Transfer) in his hometown of Philly. Come on people. He can’t even get 1,000 fans to his show.

    Acting like the Kurt Vile mural is iconic and legendary is a total joke.

    Art changes, it transforms. Who cares.

  • haunani

    What may be hoity toity art to some is just an eyesore to others. Taggers seem to have free rein in most all cities any longer. Even if the Guy did wrong, which he admits, thousands of taggers DO deface, and otherwise damage property that is not theirs. In this instance, everyone seems sure that it commissioned.