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Icons as Paper Cutouts, Public Art Keep South Philly Artist Walking Fine Line

Anyone who's played in a band has probably at some point or another been involved in contributing to the creation of a show poster or making sure they're hung just right on the appropriate utility poles and street signs. Joe Boruchow has been doing that almost since he arrived in Philadelphia from the metro Washington, D.C. area in 1997, promoting his band The Nite Lights, among other musical projects in which he has been involved.

But for Boruchow, the sometimes haphazard task has become its own creative and entrepreneurial pursuit. The 35 year-old paper cutout artist's black-and-white pieces can be seen all over South Philly--covering those annoying Coca-Cola signs outside neighborhood delis, relay mailboxes, and The Bean Café (615 South St.) at his 10th annual exhibit there through Dec. 7. "Icons: New Paper Cutouts" features some traditional images that are stirring, while others play more on controversy and invoke outrage.

"There was a poster in my own neighborhood on an abandoned house that a guy made of works from my blog and he drew a picture of himself throwing a beer can at my head. I'm assuming he's not a fan of my work," says Boruchow unflinchingly.

Inspired in part by the late Keith Haring, a Berks County native whose works dominated the New York public art scene and gained international acclaim in the 1980s, Boruchow isn't just looking to ruffle feathers with the occasional impertinent religious figure.

"I'm not an artist who's comfortable to sit at home and hide my work," he says. "My work isn't alive unless people see it. It's activated by eyes."

It has also been activated by grant funding. Boruchow received $4,000 from the Xeric Foundation to print and distribute a graphic novel called Stuffed Animals: A Story in Paper Cutouts. The book, which also comes available with a soundtrack from The Nite Lights, is available at many independent booksellers in the city and online from Kettle Drummer Books.

Boruchow's process isn't as complicated as it is tedious--he starts with a single sheet of black paper and removes all the white space. Many works are enlarged into posters, or just enough to fit on any of the many public surfaces he scouts. Sometimes his subjects are taken from the headlines, like PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille's penchant for accepting questionable gifts.

Boruchow, who also plays bass in a metal band, has started scripting another graphic novel (Stuffed Animals took four years to finish) and is hoping he can find more buyers for his works at The Bean and some new inspiration for something bigger and better. He has already sold nearly half of the 16 pieces there, and finds that its everyman clientele is a good radar for his work's impact.

"One thing I really enjoy is how different everybody responds to it," says Boruchow, who recently created a keyhole with a nude woman visible through it, made a bunch of one-inch stickers of it and put them underneath door handles at coffee shops.

"I don't want to make too many enemies. I figure it's only a matter of time where I piss off the wrong person."

JOE PETRUCCI is managing editor of Flying Kite. Send feedback here.

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