Born in Bryn Mawr and raised in West Chester, Amber Lynn Thompson—better known as Amberella—has become one of the region’s most recognizable street artists. Her love of the arts began at an early age, and she’s since used it to spread messages of joy, peace and empowerment throughout the country.
MLT: Did you always want to be an artist?
ALT: I was always in the creative world in some way. I knew I wanted to be able to share those gifts, and I always really wanted to help people, too.
MLT: What inspired your first street art?
ALT: In 2009, I created a body of work about catcalling and street harassment. I’ve lived in Philly since 1999, and that was always happening. I created those graphics and didn’t know what to do with them. [I realized] that this body of work conceptually would make so much sense on the streets, in a public space, because of what it is. I made the glue and started pasting the images around the city. They were bold and in your face—and so is catcalling. Once I got into the streets, I just really fell in love with the idea of being able to put my work out into the universe.
MLT: What experience do you draw on for your work?
ALT: I’m trying to express myself and work through different things in my life. I’m not trying to get fame or get you to remember my name—I’m just sharing messages. The Goth Hearts, the first hearts I started sharing, were all about relationships and feelings you have when you’re in a relationship. There are some that say, “You blew it,” “You’re poison.” I was going through a really crazy rollercoaster of a relationship, and I just wanted to get those feelings off my chest.
MLT: What about your label maker series?
ALT: It’s kind of a spoof on Beyoncé’s song “Run the World (Girls).” Instead, I have “Who light the world,” “Who lead the world,” “Who heal the world,” “Who protect the world.” Every year, when the women’s march and Women’s History Month comes up, I feel like I get that fire inside of me where I have to say something. I run into women, people that didn’t know what the women’s march was or that Women’s History Month is coming. To use my voice as an artist, I have that privilege because people are watching and listening, so I want to share things I think are important and empower people.
MLT: How do you choose where you put your installations?
ALT: I’m looking for places that are dilapidated or under construction. I’m not trying to be a menace. I’ve befriended many developers and project managers all over Philly. I have guys that will text me and be like, “Hey, we’re working on a building on this street if you want to put anything up.” I get commissioned all the time to do permanent pieces, interior and exterior (for brands like Spirtual Gangster, Pizzeria Vetri and Honeygrow).
MLT: What do you hope people get out of your work?
ALT: Just to feel something. Whether that means—with the Power Hearts, for example—knowing that you’re not alone and other people are going through things. Or if I can give someone a moment that’s like, “Keep going.” What if they really need that? Everyone goes through stuff. No matter how dark of a time you go through, you’re really not alone.