Hesh Halper had so much heart that it breathed out of him onto the streets, sidewalks, and walls of Lower Manhattan in the form of colorful hearts etched in chalk.
That’s how a brother described Mr. Halper, 41, in a Facebook tribute after the quintessential New York street artist and Philadelphia native died on Friday, June 11, after jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Asher Lewis described Mr. Halper’s art as a treasure map, “chalked hearts that mirrored the one he wore on his sleeve cascading to the streets. As if to say, we walk these streets together. We are many hearts but can be one.”
Mr. Halper, who grew up in a family with six children in Elkins Park, gained a following of 10,000 on Instagram, posting photos as the New York Romantic. The New York Times did a Valentine’s Day story on him in 2018.
After his death, Instagram became a forum for an outpouring of grief and thanks for Mr. Halper’s art.
“Your hearts helped get us through pandemic!” Naomi Haruta Paulin wrote.
Sarah Marie Mayo wrote: “Your work peppered this city with reminders of love. So subtle yet so vibrant it was an urban version of wildflowers.”
Another fan, posting on Instagram as rutele555, wondered what motivated Mr. Halper to draw hearts: “Maybe these vibrant, foot-trodden hearts are a reminder that the heartache we carry every day eventually washes away.”
Mr. Halper also created art that was meant to last, and had his first solo show in February at Art of Our Century in Greenwich Village, selling pieces priced from $50 to $1,400. It was a “rip-roaring success,” gallery director Timothy McDarrah said.
McDarrah recalled meeting Mr. Halper a few years ago when he saw him drawing hearts on the streets: “I said, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ He goes, ‘I’m spreading love.’ I thought he was being a [jerk], but he was sincere with his beliefs.”
Even though he struggled financially, Mr. Halper was always ready to give. When he learned McDarrah was undergoing chemotherapy, he brought him a bottle of homeopathic mushroom pills. “He was just a sweet guy who never quite found his path,” McDarrah said.
Family and friends called Mr. Halper, born Tzvi Mair Lewis, Hesh. As a street artist he adopted the name Hash — as in hashtag, said his mother, Hana Nan Halper, a Philadelphia schoolteacher. Mr. Halper, her youngest son, used her last name.
Mick Lewis, the oldest brother, said Mr. Halper curated shows for other emerging artists and had a magical ability to connect people, but struggled with the business side of the art world.
Every day since Mr. Halper’s death, Hana Halper has been hearing from strangers about how much he meant to them. “He was a sensitive soul connecting with everyone,” she said. “My heart aches.”
The family would like to hear by email from others who knew him: email@example.com.
In addition to his mother and his two brothers, Mr. Halper is survived by his father, Eliot Lewis, another brother, Omkar; and sisters Este and Sara.
The burial was private. Donations may be made to CogWell @ Penn, a student group at the University of Pennsylvania committed to building a campus-wide support network.