Over the past four years, Matyok's handiwork has become part of the landscape of this neighborhood, favored by wheatpasters, graffiti writers and street artists of all types. But unlike most artists working unsanctioned in the public sphere, Matyok enjoys strong support from neighbors — who request murals, donate supplies and recently even honored her with a community service award.
Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA), says the symbiosis took him by surprise.
"At first, I thought people were paying her to paint their fences," he says. "Then, I found out that she was doing it for free. And then I found out that sometimes they weren't even asking her — she was just doing it."
Matyok, a former Northern Liberties resident who recently moved to Delaware County to be closer to her job teaching art at St. Pius X School in Broomall, says her motivation is simple: "My intention is just to make it look at little nicer, a little brighter."
Her methods are simple, too: Just go out and paint.
"Philadelphia is really accepting of public art in a lot of different ways," she says. "But certain organizations have made it seem like it has to be expensive, or you have to have a three-year waiting list for a mural. Part of me was like, 'Well, if we want it to look nicer, then why are we waiting for someone else to do it or to give us permission? We could go ahead and do it ourselves.'"
To begin, the NLNA gave her a list of abandoned properties that could use a colorful paint job. Since the feedback was positive, she took it upon herself to paint other walls she felt needed to be energized.
Generally speaking, the City of Philadelphia Graffiti Abatement Team doesn't tend to go in much for vigilante art-making.
"The only stuff we wouldn't remove would be a mural sanctioned by the Mural Arts Program," says Philadelphia's deputy managing director, Tom Conway, who oversees the Anti-Graffiti Network. However, he says, staffers "know what's art and what's graffiti."
Matyok's work appears to pass the litmus test: She has even noticed walls where the city has cleaned or painted around her work. Graffiti artists seem to respect it as well, mostly leaving her paintings untouched.
As for the property owners, so far there haven't been issues.
Oron Daskal, who owns North Bowl and a number of properties in the area, came upon Matyok painting one of his fences recently. Instead of calling the police, he gave her gift cards to Home Depot. "I appreciate art enhancing a neighborhood, and taking beat-up properties and bringing some color and life into them," he says.
Other neighbors have also dropped off paint unsolicited. However, Matyok covers most of the costs herself, anywhere from $30 to $200 per artwork.
While she usually works alone, she sees each project as a collaboration with the community, and has expanded her murals to neighboring properties at the owners' request. Slowly, she hopes, a new neighborhood aesthetic is taking hold.
On Fourth Street, while she was painting the side of a building owned by a local woodworker, he tacked his own cutout plywood flower form to an old signpost nearby.
"For him to be inspired to add onto it was cool," she says. "That seems to happen a lot. I'll do [a painting], and then a building next door will do something to coordinate. It does kind of spread."
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