HeARTs in the ‘Hood: Fishtown Artist Amberella Pours Her Heart onto Philly Streets
If you could tell the world what is in your heart, what would you say? Would you even have the guts? That’s the idea behind a daring new body of artwork playing out on the streets of Philadelphia.
Goth Hearts is a “culmination of feelings pulled from diaries, notes, sketchbooks, scribbles, memories, and every day feels,” according to Amber Lynn (aka Amberella), the Fishtown artist behind the project.
The Goth Hearts are a series of wheatpaste hearts reminiscent of the colorful hard candies exchanged in classrooms and offices each year on Valentine’s Day. As the name suggests, however, these hearts aren’t always so sweet.
While some bear messages of unbridled love and hope (“STAY,” “UR ALL I NEED,” TRUST ME,”) others are tinged with dark reminders that love doesn’t always work the way that we want (“UR LOSING ME,” “WITHOUT YOU,” “FOOL.”)
All of these competing messages and the feelings they evoke are equally important to Amber Lynn. She sees this project as a form of catharsis, both for herself and for others. “Feelings — all types — are so important. It means you are alive and present,” she declares in her artist statement.
She expanded on that notion in a recent interview with Spirit News.
“I’ve pulled from the rawest emotions, from those fleeting moments when you want to scream, ‘You’re losing me!’ But you don’t. Or maybe you did and you can still taste that moment. Or a time when you felt so desperate or in love to say, ‘Trust me! You’re all I need. Stay.’ All of these are things we think in very emotionally driven moments, but we rarely say them to the person they are meant for,” she explained.
This idea of feeling and living being inextricably linked is deeply personal for Amber Lynn. In 2015 after years of multi-system health issues, chronic pain, and endless doctor visits, she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder that can make everyday life extraordinarily painful. Before her diagnosis, she struggled with the inability to pinpoint the cause of her ailments, often at the expense of her art.
“I wasn’t focused on my artwork, but rather on getting a diagnosis. I was devastated not to be producing artwork,” she admitted.
Relieved and encouraged that the source of her pain, though incurable, had finally been identified, she was determined to get back in touch with her creative self. She launched the Goth Hearts project soon after, aiming to share her feelings and elicit them from others.
“In the street, I’m providing this happenstance for people where everything may stop for a split second while their heart and mind process what was just read and then felt. I don’t think it’s something you can plan for, just like feelings. They happen. I’m just pulling the trigger,” she said.
The hearts have caught the attention of many users on social media, where Amber Lynn is developing something of a cult following. Her work is regularly featured on StreetsDept.com, photographer Conrad Benner’s popular blog that chronicles and celebrates art on the streets of Philadelphia.
“It’s really special to have someone kind of cataloging this all. I feel really lucky to know [Conrad] and get coverage from him,” she said.
Countless individuals and businesses have reached out to Amber Lynn on Instagram, looking to partner with her in some way. Some simply send her an address with an invitation to paste a heart on their building. Others have asked to team up with Amber Lynn in a more tangible manner.
Lindsay Condefer, owner of Street Tails Animal Rescue in Northern Liberties, asked Amber Lynn to create a custom heart for her business. She already had a heart with the message “RESCUE ME” in her portfolio, so the partnership felt like a natural fit. In addition to Street Tails, Amber Lynn has also partnered with Northern Liberties’ One Shot Café (“ONE SHOT”) and the Divine Lorraine Hotel (“UR DIVINE”).
With so many requests pouring in, Amber Lynn is careful that the message behind Goth Hearts isn’t lost or watered down.
“I do have reservations about who and how my artwork is used for sure,” she reflected. “I have to feel good about what the business stands for and how they operate. It absolutely matters.”
She said she always asks herself the same question when considering a partnership: “Will this benefit both of us and the community?”
In the year since her diagnosis, things have started to fall into place for Amber Lynn. By her own estimates, she’s wheatpasted more than 100 hearts throughout Philadelphia. In addition to her street art and work with local businesses, she recently launched a new website where she sells limited edition prints and has plans to merchandise the Goth Hearts in the near future.
“Things are moving forward in all types of different ways and I’m just going with it and trying to be selective with the opportunities presented to me,” she said.
In April, exactly one year to the date of her diagnosis, Amber Lynn received news that brought tears of joy to her eyes. Rad Girls, a Philly-based group that recognizes women for achievement, innovation, and inspiration, named her their Artist of the Year.
“I remember just bawling, overcome with emotion when I opened that email. I felt myself saying, “You did it, even with this body. You worked your ass off to feed your creative self again [despite] this illness and someone happened to notice along the way,” she recalled.
As new Goth Hearts continue to pop up on buildings and surfaces throughout the Riverwards and beyond, one thing is for sure: more people will soon be taking notice of Amberella.
You can see more of Amberella’s work on Instagram at amberellaxo or at www.amberellaxo.com.