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

October 3, 2022

Words and photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale.

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

Tattooed Mom, the restaurant and bar that’s 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. TMom’s just hosted their second “Thirsty Walls” event, which is all about getting artists to come put up new work, so I showed up too.

Some folks seem to have recognized that the Thirsty Walls events are a kind of a stopgap measure until Mom’s has the capacity to bring back their international sticker art show, Characters Welcome. Accordingly, the pool table started filling up with stickers much earlier than last time, and the bar’s owner, Robert Perry, periodically seeded it with stickers mailed in from out-of-town artists, just like he would during CW.

Once again, I didn’t stay for the full six hours, but here’s what I did see during my visit.

Faithsfunnn, As Above So Below, and D.T. showed up early to the sticker table, pulling out completed stickers to put up and blank ones to draw on together. Later on, I met Hunterogeneous, who also started drawing some stickers.

Faith put up several new wheatpastes, using motifs I’ve never seen from her before, and Robert generously grabbed a ladder for her to put one up high. I don’t think she’ll ever quit the narwhals, but she told me that she’s recently been having a hard time getting the eyes right on her cats, so is experimenting with other ideas.

A few minutes later, who did I find drawing eyes on a blank Faith cat, but… Hunter! As an artist seemingly focused on eyes, he was a perfect fit as a collaborator! I also saw Gloopy Goblin hand a goblin without a face to a member of Anti Flower Show Movement for the later addition of Nancy’s face. Moments like this are the real value of Thirsty Walls. It’s only in a space like the upstairs of Tattooed Mom that serendipitous partnerships like this can emerge so organically and so frequently.

Speaking of partnerships, Lindsey Gill and her friend Jeremy Berkman showed up with a huge collaborative design that they pasted up in the front room. Apparently, after I left, I Thee Decor also added some three dimensional paper flowers to the installation!

I was happy to see that some of the same folks who were painting directly on the walls last time around were back for some more live painting. This time, I made sure to get their names! K. painted a cat with a classical golden nimbus, and Michael Anthony painted… well, I’ll just let him explain it!

“When I got to Tmoms I looked around for any shapes in the wall. Random shapes in the wall from all the stickers layer on top of one another, just trying to see something to make. Then I saw a creature in my head and started painting. Eventually that became a robot so I started painting another one because my best friend/partner Adam and I have two characters we came up with based on us called ‘Small and Tall.’ He wanted me to make the little robot’s leg slightly busted because he actually is disabled too. Then of course I had to add the cats in the top right (that’s our cats Casper and Meow Meow). The whole vibe was like a sci fi ‘Freak the Mighty’ allusion too.”

I caught up with Darkmeal as he squeezed out every last ounce of—ok, I’m not actually sure what type of adhesive it was—onto a new installation and then mounted it in an inconspicuous location. He told me that although he started out making stickers (read more about that in my 2017 interview with him), he’s moved into more pensive work that he does at a slower pace. So instead of constantly making stickers, taking photos of them, and posting them on Instagram, now he works on one piece for a little bit every day for weeks or months. It satisfies the part of his brain that wants to feel like daily progress is being made without burning out the rest of him.

And finally, I had a completely new experience! The 666 Cat offered to let me try my hand at putting stickers up really high using a telescoping pole designed specifically for this act. In the photo above, you can see Gloopy Goblin using this tool to put one of his stickers nearly at ceiling level next to a large Melt sticker. It was fun!

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