The Red Violin of Philly Street Art

Philadelphia is an old city. Every time I come back home, it’s…. my mother said: Philly is the city of gray pavement, gray buildings, and gray sky…

Such were the words (butchered through the broken telephone of my shaky memory) of Joshua Moonshine, the most unlikely discovery of First Friday in Philadelphia.

First Fridays began when some galleries in Philly’s Old City decided to open to the public on the first Friday of some month, then every first Friday, then beyond Old City. It’s now such a strong Philadelphia tradition, that many non-art events take on the First Friday banner (and other “firsts” are more and more common – of not, Tribe12‘s First Thursday happy hour).

So the editor of Always More To Philly went on this particular First Friday to explore random galleries on 2nd Street in Old City. Beautiful photos of the nude body. Human-sized mixed material paintings. $7,000 -$15,000 bongs at the Illadelph Glass with themes as unusual as the price: from Evil Monkey with a cool banana decoration to a Fetus one with a floating… well, you get it.

Even a store with different interestingly textured materials felt artistic. As did a street musician playing the Bittersweet Symphony on a mandolin did.

But not of the galleries caught my eye quite as much as Philly street art did – a street artist, painting with spray cans in a corner of a park on the Chestnut street bridge right over I-95. That artist is indeed Joshua Moonshine. I’ve seen a number of such artists in NYC. Still, his paintings were appealing: from a vibrant color skyline to a white and blue boy and wagon painting to a seemingly glowing sailboat.

I was thinking of buying one of the skylines. And then it hit me… why not order a custom one about Always More To Philly? Commissioning a work of art like a true patron of the arts – new experience for me, but must be a reason we were so close to Society Hill. There was quite a crowd gathered around Joshua to admire his paintings, so I asked him to give me his contact info for me to order a painting later. But he insisted that it would be no trouble to paint one for me right there. I chose the canvas size I liked and told him what Always More To Philly was about. I wanted him to draw whatever those four words meant to him, whatever came up. And so the work began (I captured it on video):

And then something interesting happened. I wasn’t that into the resulting painting. It was good, I was ready to buy it, but… not quite it. And Joshua saw that. He felt my unease about the piece and immediately offered to paint me another one so that I could choose between the two). That second painting was it (also captured on video, this time with me learning how to use the zoom function):

And there it was: old, gray Philadelphia. Not the touristy colors, even despite the Ben Franklin Bridge. This was real Philly. Philly of Philadelphians.

Yet, it wouldn’t be Always More To Philly if there wasn’t more to this story. After receiving and paying for the painting, I went to sit on a bench. Looking at the painting, feeling it in my hands, I felt something missing. Yes, this was Philly. Yes, it’s gray. And yet… there is always more to Philly than meets the eye. There is so much art, music, food, life. There is color. Maybe a little. Maybe hard to find. But it’s there. Just a glimmer.

Right there and then I knew: on that bridge, there was a fiddler with a red violin. There had to be. So I went back to Joshua and asked for that red-violin-playing musician to be drawn in. He was happy to oblige. Once again, video:

Now the painting feels “it” to me. Still, the painting is only a proxy for the artist, who is the truly fascinating story here. Joshua has been a street artist for 21 years, traveling all over. Uniquely, he sees art in music. He understands how color tones are just like musical tones, 12 for 12, with minor and major chords, triads, harmony, etc. He listens to music and paints its colors. Yes: Joshua paints. the colors. of music.

We agreed to collaborate on a project (and definitely will). Always More To Philly will also feature his next music/art project – because it’s exactly the kind of AMTP jawn. Philly is the city of random discovery: from street art to random music. It’s a city that surprises you with incredible talent, with a plethora of alternatives to happy hours and tourist traps, with collaboration and experimentation. It is an old, gray city – our nation’s first capital, no less – yet there is a bit of color that, once discovered, can never be unseen. Like a fiddler on the roof, the little red violin on the Ben Franklin bridge in that white, black, and gray painting is a reminder that there is Always. More. To Philly.

5 thoughts on “The Red Violin of Philly Street Art”

  1. Missing him in Wildwood the last few years. Need a 3rd piece in my living room. Anyway to contact him?

  2. Thank you very much. i look forward to hearing from him hopefully. I have a 3 foot space or so that needs a wider landscape.

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