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Upstairs At TMom’s – Summer 2022: An Ongoing Photo Essay Documenting Philly’s Unofficial Street Art Museum

June 16, 2022

Words and photos by Streets Dept Contributor, Eric Dale

Welcome to a new periodic series we’re calling “Upstairs At TMom’s!”

Tattooed Mom, the restaurant and bar that has been a [counter]cultural fixture on South Street for 25 years now, is widely known as Philly’s officially unofficial museum of street art. That’s because the entire upstairs is filled—FILLED—with graffiti and street art. Not just from local artists, but also from artists around the world, who make it a point to stop at “TMom’s” when they pass through Philly.

Naturally, we love Mom’s. It’s great to see the walls change over time, but I get serious FOMO thinking about all the pieces that artists put up that get immediately covered before I’ve seen them. That’s what this new series is all about: checking in on a regular basis to see what’s new. And there’s no better way to kick if off than with a recap of an event that TMom’s just hosted—an event that was all about getting artists to come put up new work.

On May 19th, Philly artists old and new congregated at Tattooed Mom for Thirsty Walls, “an evening of slapping stickers, drawing on the walls, making art, and meeting other local artists!” There were stickers everywhere, buckets and bottles of wheatpaste aplenty, a few folks mounting 3D installations, and some even painting directly on the walls with brushes (something I’d never seen there before). The only thing that wasn’t allowed, since the restaurant was open for regular business too, was spray paint.

By about 9pm, sticker artists had commandeered the pool table as a free giveaway zone, as they do during TMom’s Characters Welcome sticker art show. I definitely grabbed a few new stickers for my collection!

I couldn’t stay for the full six hours of the event, but here are some of the things I saw and heard from the artists while I was there:

1. D.T. screwed a new abstract installation onto a wall.

2. Spud did the same with his potato character.

3. Doomed Future brought his own particle board and invited artists to get in where they fit in. Here, Bear adds his character to the board.

4. An Anti Flower Show Movement committee member struggled, but ultimately succeeded, to wheatpaste a giant Nancy (that’s their name for this image of a girl) on the ceiling above the stairs.

5. Nuto Studio wheatpasted several plant drawings done on tracing paper that allow you to see through to older art underneath.

6. Brian McKinney, a longtime Characters Welcome fan, showed up when he saw that wheatpasting would be happening. To practice this new medium, he brought a series of portraits of trans men that he had screenprinted onto pages of old queer books.

7. Gloopy Goblin put up some new wheatpastes.

8. King Caitfish, at the recommendation of a friend, showed up to meet some other artists and put up stickers.

9. El Toro and Bob Will Reign, the first two sticker artists in Philly, came to put up new stickers and wheatpastes. “Tattooed Mom is important to me, personally, because I’ve been coming here for at least 15 years,” Bob told me. “It never gets old or boring because every time you come here, everything is different, and things get covered up so fast. It’s kind of nice, in a way, to have your stuff gone, because every time you come back, you can put up new pieces.”

And here’s what Robert Perry, the owner of Tattooed Mom had to say: “this was an opportunity to say ‘hey, come on down, we’ve missed you; go wild, put stuff up, and have fun.’ It also allows us to hopefully invite artists to come and meet each other. That’s a big part of what I love the most about Tattooed Mom.”

Stay tuned, this new series exploring the rotating art of Tmom’s will be published twice a year, each winter and summer!

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