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

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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Watch a documentary about the Kurt Vile mural on the cover of Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Artwork by Steve Powers | Photo by Jesse Trbovich

If you’ve headed over Fishtown way lately, you may have noticed a new addition to the Philly mural landscape.  Local musician Kurt Vile enlisted West Philadelphia street artist Steve Powers, aka ESPO, to paint a wall sign that will be used as the cover art for Vile’s upcoming LP Wakin On a Pretty Daze.  Powers, whose signature pop art style is already plastered on buildings along the Market-Frankford El line in West Philly for his eye-catching “Love Letter to Philadelphia” mural series, drew inspiration from the lyrics in Vile’s new collection of songs for the colorful icons that accompany the LP title.

Today, a documentary on the making of the mural was released through Vile’s label, Matador Records. Watch it below, and be sure to stop at Front & Master streets to see the artwork in person. Wakin On a Pretty Daze will be released through Matador this spring.  You can learn more about Kurt Vile’s third full-length here.

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