The Uncanny Valley

Notes on art, culture and preservation

Philadelphia’s Outsider Art

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The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is so far-reaching that it has become almost synonymous with public art. In fact, there’s a little more to the story. Do enough exploring around the city, and you’ll uncover paintings and dabblings characterized by a noble simplicity and lack of upkeep. Some were likely inspired by the MAP’s ubiquity. Others may even predate the program itself.

16th & Diamond, North Philly. Was this in fact an MAP mural? The house hosting it has since been renovated and the mural has been covered.

I call these works outsider art, a term I use with some hesitation. Many of these works come from kids and youth groups, not mental patients or reclusive geniuses. It’s also possible that the MAP, being pretty community-focused itself, had a hand in a few of these projects.

Still, the contrast with the carefully crafted and colorful MAP aesthetic is hard to miss. The program has done much too much good for Philadelphia to ever be discredited, but with so many flashy, professionally designed murals dominating the cityscape, these lower-key pieces can be a pleasure to stumble upon.

Here are some of my favorite “outsider” murals that I’ve encountered in Philly over the years.

10th & Susquehanna, North Philly

Aramingo & Lehigh, Kensington/Richmond

Kensington & Tusculum

50th & Warrington, Cedar Park/West Philly

Randolph & Montgomery, West Kensington. A graffiti artist definitely did this one.

9th & Ellsworth, South Philly

Bustleton Ave. near Philmont Ave., Somerton

Thompson & Sergeant, Fishtown/Richmond

And just to compare…

The “typical” Philly Mural we’re all familiar with, 2nd & Thompson, Old Kensington

Lehigh Avenue mural, Kensington/Richmond


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