As the home of the internationally known Philadelphia Museum of Art and countless beautiful murals courtesy of Mural Arts, Philly has long held a reputation as an art paradise.
But what many people may not be familiar with is its culturally rich underground creative community. From visual artists that use the human body as their canvas to fashion designers that reimagine how we look at everyday materials like denim, a thriving underground community of creatives based in Philly is changing the perception of what art is and what artists look like.
One fixture in Philly’s urban art scene, Uncool Chuck, relishes in his individuality as a fashion and visual artist who has also curated several dynamic art shows.
“We don’t have art in our schools,” said the artist. “I think the significance of the underground to urban and black artists is that it’s an outlet. … Art isn’t a focal point, so a lot of us develop our craft being in the underground and being close to our inspiration.”
As alluring as mainstream exposure is, Chuck is quick to note the significance of the city’s underground scene. “The underground is where everything comes from. We just don’t have the means and resources to be seen in a broad and bigger light, whereas the establishment comes and sees what’s happening in the underground and makes it a bigger thing.”
He mentioned destroyed denim as something that was resurrected from the underground art scene. “Initially, it’s seen as weird, but eventually it becomes a thing that you can buy in stores. … I think, as an underground artist and an urban creator, a lot of the things either come from the underground art scene or are influenced by it.”
A self-proclaimed “regular degular West Philly chick,” Nebulus Flair’s jaw-dropping body paintings have captivated casual observers and art lovers throughout Philly.
“Every woman’s body is different and every journey is different,” she said. “The same narrative is pushed with every painting though, in that people are all trying to get out of the box. Each one is like a story, and my brushstrokes follow the curves of the models’ bodies, creating a different story.”
As a young black woman following her dreams, Flair is mindful of how her work inspires others.
“I’ve always been a dreamer, but I didn’t get that inspiration from my home life, so I had to pull it from [somewhere else]. I think that encourages young girls because it’s relatable. We become products of our environments sometimes, so when I started painting it totally took people off guard. I had to be fearless.”
No matter what kind of formal art training you’ve had or where you come from, Philly is a place to create what you love and walk in your artistic purpose.
Three More Philadelphia Creatives You Need To Know:
Barbee Bonner: Iris “Barbee” Bonner’s colorful, woman-empowering fashion pieces and art have caught the attention of stars like Alicia Keys, Amber Rose and Cardi B.
Aaron Ricketts: Photographer Aaron Ricketts has quickly made a name for himself thanks to an innovative visual style, and he counts nationally known brands like Finish Line among his clients.
Distortedd: Anhia “Distortedd” Santana’s surrealist art has been the focal point for campaigns by Vans and served as the cover art for musicians like rapper Action Bronson.