New exhibition at Paradigm highlights nuances of street art  

Signs, a multi-artist showcase, is running through Aug. 31. 

Photo by Jason Chen/special to SPR

Paradigm Gallery and Studio, 746 S 4th St., has transformed scattered Philadelphia street art into a cohesive exhibition. “Signs,” a multi-artist showcase running through Aug. 31, captures the city’s scope of streetscape creations, highlighting legendary graffiti artists while elevating the work of locally owned sign shops. The group exhibition features the work of iconic artists Cornbread and Kid Hazo alongside Super Signs owner Marissa Cianciulli and miniature sculpture artist Drew Leshko. 

Cianciulli and Leshko discuss their experiences with “Signs.” 

This Q&A has been lightly edited. 

 Drew Leshko 

Your work is described as creating “documentary studies of architecture” from your neighborhood in an attempt to create a “three-dimensional archive of buildings that are in transitional periods.” How do your contributions to this exhibition align with your previous works? What makes it stand apart from your previous works?

Yes! I’ve been creating documentary-style sculptures of Philadelphia’s architecture since I moved into the city in 2007. My sculptures have always explored our ever-changing architecture and the cycle of growth, decay, gentrification, demolition and rebuilding that is both beautiful and infuriating. The works speak to the changing city in the same way as my previous works, in fact, this series shown at Paradigm is merely a continuation of the signs project that I’ve been working on for the last few years. Since my previous solo, Sacred Lands, show with Paradigm, to be exact, which was reviewed by your publication. 

You recreate building facades from neighborhoods at a 1:12 scale. Tell me more about this approach to capturing the cityscape this way. How does this medium, in particular, examine gentrification and history? How does reducing the cityscape to a dollhouse size shed new light on these familiar settings?

Yes — I’m best known for the facade sculptures that have been shown and reviewed extensively, but this show is only signs. My next show of facades will be in February in Valencia, Spain. The scale is something that I settled in on after a few years of working. I’ve found 1:12 to be the most visually successful. I can include plenty of details, but the proportions also allow for some vagueness. How does it shed new light on familiar settings? Go see the show and let me know. I think it’s answered differently by each visitor.

Your pieces will be showcased alongside the work of iconic street artists like Cornbread and Kid Hazo. How does your work complement and also offer a contrast to their projects?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t consider any other artists in the show while making these works. 

What do you intend for audiences to take away from your work in this exhibition and the showcase in its entirety?

Hopefully, they take away a Drew Leshko sculpture for their collection. But also, I hope they take away a new appreciation and consideration for our surroundings, as all of this is just temporary. 


Photo by Jason Chen/special to SPR

Marissa Cianciulli

You are the owner of Super Signs, one of the first women-owned sign shops in Philadelphia. Your business is known for creating signs for major clients like Pat’s Steaks, Union Transfer and TLA. For this exhibition, you’re presenting a series of oil-based enamel on signboard. Tell me about the process of translating your work for businesses to an art gallery. How was this exhibition an appropriate fit for your Paradigm debut?

As a sign artist and enthusiast in Philadelphia, this exhibition was the perfect fit for my work. But there is so much more behind sign art than just the clients’ work I create, and this was a chance for me to indulge in that. My creative freedom can be limited with client work because it is mainly storefront improvements or executing a developed brand. I looked at this opportunity to display my work and love for signs but showcasing the more creative side of being an independent artist not just a business owner. I wanted to express my creativity with the idea of the signs I create on a daily basis, but with a concept that told a story through the lettering, layout and time period.

Super Signs has been a business in Philly for a few decades and was originally established by another owner. In recent years, you’ve re-modeled and re-branded the business. Tell me about your visions to bring the business back to life. Why is it crucial to retain this kind of artistry and craftsmanship that contribute to Philadelphia’s cityscape?

Hand-painted signage has become a lost art of the years when computers and plotters were introduced into sign advertisement. It was a fast and easy way for businesses to get a quick and cheap sign. It wasn’t that long ago where computer technology was introduced for advertising and before then everything was created by hand, there is so much authenticity and character behind something hand-made then computer-generated. My vision was to keep this trade alive and pick up where the previous owner left off 10 years prior to the re-opening of the shop. Retaining this artistry and craftsmanship is crucial to Philadelphia’s cityscape as it captures the importance and originality of what is left of the real Philadelphia. Keeping this trade alive sheds light on the fading urban landscaping of Philadelphia and brings awareness to the authentic signage that adorns our neighborhoods. 

Your work will be showcased alongside iconic street artists like Cornbread and Kid Hazo. How does your artwork, both for the exhibition and your business, complement and also offer a contrast to their projects?

My work complements the other artists’ projects as we all create a form of art that will live in the streets of Philadelphia that are being recognized and documented for decades. We are all creating a form of lettering, illustration and other artistic elements. We all have a creative purpose and process. Street art is one of the several gateways that the young crowd has got interest into sign painting. The work we create builds curiosity and excitement and takes a lot of persistence, commitment and talent. I personally love collaborating with iconic street artists, together we can display public art large scale on the walls of our community, bringing originality and uniqueness to our city. 

What do you intend for audiences to take away from your work in this exhibition and the showcase in its entirety?

The authenticity, creativity and originality behind a hand-painted sign. These pieces aren’t duplicates of signage you have seen around, they are ideas I have thoroughly established and executed according to the time period I wanted to focus on and the message I wanted to reveal. 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano