As I chatted with a lululemon saleswoman one recent Monday afternoon, I noticed a familiar design of a heart on the T-shirt she was wearing.
“Your shirt,” I started said, pointing.
“Yup," she said, before I was able to finish my sentence. “It’s Spiritual Gangster … you know that girl from Philly designed it.”
I knew it was a big deal when I got word that local street artist Amberella designed a logo for the Arizona yoga brand that would be available on special-edition T shirts, sweats, and muscle tanks beginning in February. Now I’m seeing how much the design — back-to-back hearts with the phrase “Ur All U Need” written in block caps inside the heart in the foreground is resonating with the positive vibes of the athleisure crowd.
Those familiar with Amberella’s work will recognize her signature Power Heart. It’s glued to brick walls and telephone poles all over Philly, and Amberella proudly screen-prints them on her own eponymous collection of baseball hats, T-shirts, and tchotchkes that would look at home on any feminist’s coffee table. The Power Hearts have even been featured on Honeygrow to-go boxes. Amberella’s work is also part of permanent art installations at the Fishtown Honeygrow, One Shot Coffee in Northern Liberties, and Mission Taqueria in Center City. She’s bicoastal these days, working out of studios in Fishtown and Los Angeles.
“My work is inspired by relationships," Amberella told me. “But these hearts, these hearts came about because I finally ended a bad relationship and I realized, truly realized, that I was really all I need.”
I hear you, sister.
Amber Lynn “Amberella” Thompson, 38, is a graduate of the University of the Arts, and she connected with people by using art to express emotion. Most of these emotions, it turns out, are the universal feelings of heartbreak and disrespect that women suffer at the hands of insensitive men. That doesn’t mean Amberella uses her artistic mojo to knock men. She is just tuned in to how mansplaining, bodyshaming, and catcalling can negatively impact women’s psyches so they feels powerless. Her work is about helping women reclaim, find, or recognize that power.
Her early works addressed catcalling. In 2011, she created an image of an overweight woman with the disrespectful words women hear yelled at them on the street — “You married?" “Tramp," and my personal favorite, “Damn girl, you thick.” The woman is big, but from her expression, you can tell the words make her feel small. Remnants of the images can still be seen throughout the city.
Amberella designs two types of heart — a Goth Heart and a Power Heart. The Goth Heart came first, in 2016, while she was going through a particularly painful breakup. The heart symbolized the love she searched for. So that the hearts would speak to people, she wrote sayings on them. Some are soothing and encouraging: “You are not alone,” or “You are beautiful." Others are pleading: “Stay” and “Trust Me." Still others are final: “You Blew It" and “Bye Bae."
The Power Hearts are a natural outgrowth of the Goth Hearts — they look alike and the sayings are similar, but they’re meant to be emotional kicks in the tuchus to inspire action: “You Can” and “You Are Worthy."
In a companion project, she has a new series she’s named Fortunate. They’re fortune cookie strips on which she paints messages of self-care and then plasters them on buildings. Think: “Watch for signs of joy and immerse yourself.”
See why it makes so much sense that Spiritual Gangster partnered with Ambrella after finding her work on Instagram, where she has more than 19,000 followers?