Between 2005 and 2006, ILY writer Nathan Reimer painted a colourful mantra of love in the streets of New York City that is still resonating across the world today.















Much of the paint has faded or has been removed, but Nathan Reimer's altruistic message to New Yorkers dissolved some heavy urban cynicism. Photographs carrying the same high energy live on.

The locations he chose for his words often surprised the viewer, and his message was cleverly adapted to fit each environment (check out the use of repetition in these fire escapes). His loopy writing style and pop use of colour cheered us, as he sometimes chose bright, contrasting walls as backdrops. I can only imagine what it would be like to stumble upon his graffiti while walking around New York, as I've only seen examples in photographs. He occasionally added other words to his I Love You messages. Here's a partial list, with links to images:

hi, my name is i love you
life imitates art i love you
from the boy who walked into the desert looking for death, i love you.
i love you forever
because I love you and it feels alright.
i love you so much
pull over i love you
i really love you
i love you is back.
i love you hates the fucking war
i love you so much dear friend
i love you dearly i still love you
right now, i love you
look out i love you
quite literally, i love you

There is an enormous sense of fun to this "work" that feels as pure as...love. Of course, all "serious" work should be so playful!

Nathan's ILY's can be found in People, designer wedding photos, street art magazines, and even in advertisements. Online, a Flickr photo group is dedicated to his graffiti, photos appear on many personal blogs, and New York real estate website Curbed reported new sightings. In Canada, a photo of his work appeared on the cover of Daniel MacIvor's Governor General's Award-winning collection of plays, I Still Love You.

A year later, after the paint settled, I asked Nathan about his experiences. Excerpts from this interview can be found in New York street art magazine Overspray's forthcoming issue about love ("Street Heart").

SHARON HARRIS: How did you approach the series of graf ILY's? Did you paint one graffito, like it, and continue? Or was it set out in your mind as a series?

NATHAN REIMER: I don't know what I thought I was doing right away. I went out with the intention of painting the town but I don't know if i planned to keep going night after night or month after month. My best ideas usually come out of nowhere. I was probably crossing the street or something and all of a sudden I thought, "How nice would that be." Then I bought a few cans of spray paint later that day and went out that night. I'm impulsive and that usually gets me where I'm going.

One of the things that I've always loved about street art is the story told by the authors' travels. You find the same idea, word, image planted in different ways in different places and it always very mysterious and intriguing to me. I like wondering about who these people are and what they were doing in this place or that place at that time and I travel the states and the world or just a single city and trace a running narrative. By connecting dots you can use that as a way to create your own adventure. I had an idea one day and I wanted to create that adventure for other people and share that idea with other people. I thought the more the merrier because it wasn't really just one thought or idea and I wanted to be able to really hit people with it in a subtle but sort of relentless way. The street allows a lot of room for an idea to grow and change for both the artist and the observer.

Context and environment changes a message with the best of them and when you're having a good day it's going to be one thing and then something else on a bad day. At a gallery you always get to pick and you say, "I'm going to see art now and I am going to see this artist who is very so and so," and you read some reviews and get an idea and go in with preconceived notions and ideas of how you are going to feel and what it's going to be like. The first time you see I Love You written on a wall somewhere it seems like it could be specific, it may be written in a certain place for a certain person or reason. As you wander around town and see the same thing again and again it becomes bigger and vaguer. It finds you in different moments and you relate to it in different ways on different days in different colors and it seeps in and becomes both communal and personal and you get to wonder about who and why and what for.

Any idea how many you wrote? Did the repetition affect you in any way? If yes, how?

Hundreds, I don't know. I had friends who wrote more in different cities but I was pretty relentless here in New York for a while. It's addicting for a lot of reasons, because I'm a junky for adrenaline, because I'm a junky for love, because it felt like I was giving and taking simultaneously, because when I got home in the morning after writing I Love You 50 or 60 times I felt pretty fucking amazing. It's an experience I would recommend to anyone, do it on a piece of paper alone at your house even, it feels really really good. It's even better if you're out in public though.

Why, "I love you"?

What three words have had a more profound effect on any of us? Nothing makes you feel better than hearing those three words. I really put my heart into writing every single one of those words. I meant it all. I love people, I love this city, I loved the experience and I wanted to get that message across above everything else.

It was also a really good shot at people who hadn't been able to previously grasp the larger concepts of street art as a social commentary and sort of public notice board. It's like killing folks with kindness. I used to really get off on getting up in front of people and I'd walk out into Astor Place and get up a big silver I Love You on the cube in front of twenty or thirty people. I think that had a lot of effect on different types of people. I think so many people who wanted to be mad couldn't help but feel good.

There is a great book by Dr. Masaru Emoto called The Hidden Messages in the Water that I read around this time. It's about the effect that certain words, music etc. have on the shape of water crystals and it's a really profound and beautiful little story and it made me think, and still makes me think, about the power of words and images and what we put out into the world and the effect that it has on everything else on a very molecular level. If we're 65% water or whatever that is and our earth is 65% water or whatever that is then there's a lot to be said for the way we make each others water crystals dance and transform. Reading I Love You on a wall is going to do this thing to all these water crystals that are making up your physical body and you can't fight that or be mad at that. It isn't physically possible.

Do you do any other street art? And/Or was the ILY series something that made sense in that media, and you're expressing yourself in different media now?

That was pretty much the only street art I've done aside from writing, "slut" all over churches and elementary schools when I was a kid (which is obviously pretty different). I always have something else I want to do on the street but I have this family curse where I've gone to jail for pretty much everything illegal I've ever done since I was 11. It doesn't necessarily happen the first time but anything I make a slight habit out of eventually catches up with me. I'm not one of those hard core as hell, bad ass dudes that's gonna tell you I don't mind or it's worth it to go to jail because jail sucks and everybody who's been to jail knows that. Jail is limiting and frustrating and you can't do anything but be in jail when you're in jail. I try to say what I want to say without having to compromise myself and this gets done in a lot of different ways. Avoiding jail is one of those ways.

When did you start painting ILY? How long?

I was doing this for about a year in 2005-2006. Give or take.

How did you choose the sites?

Total randomness. I would go out with colors and match my paint to walls. I had paint with me most of the time if I found myself in a new part of town or found a spot I particularly liked. Certain spots really stood out to me though. There was a Kettle One billboard on Lafayette that was all white except for a little bit of black text at the top of the billboard that said something like, "Dear Kettle One drinker, can you find the hidden message in this advertisement?" and then the rest of the billboard was blank white all the way down so the ad was saying that there isn't any hidden message because our product is so neat and honest and straight up the middle that we wouldn't need any gimmicks like witty advertising or hidden messages to woo you over. Anyway, it made perfect sense to me to get up there with some off white paint and put in a hidden message. So for a few weeks there was a big I Love You across the bottom of the billboard that you could only see if you really looked.

What do you think of the response to your work?

It's funny because I have this instinct as an artist to protect my ideas and my work and my images from thieves and impostors or something. This is a very selfish irrational fear that contradicts everything else I believe in. I love you was so public and nameless which was something that really made it nice for me. It was cool to see images show up on the internet and in magazines and in advertisements and not be credited. It was frustrating at times too, to be getting all this press and attention and not actually getting any of it. It was weird the first time you contacted me and I found out that someone in Canada was doing the same thing and I started wondering if they were ripping me off or if I was ripping them off. Then it all comes back to this place where I'm thinking, "What's the message?" And the message is love and the message is to share that love so I have to think that that's working. I have to think that the more people there are writing i love you in different cities the more people are going to have contact with and be inspired by that experience.

The response that I got from individuals was really powerful and well beyond what I had initially intended. I think I helped a lot of people get through days and moments. New York is a brutal place and there's a lot of isolation and loneliness in a place that big because it all becomes really impersonal. I was lonely there and lost there and I was reaching out with something I knew people wanted because it was something that I wanted. I think a lot of folks had to be going through similar feelings and experiences.

Sometimes we have to look too hard for validation or acceptance or love, we do things we don't want to do to be accepted and fit in somewhere and I wanted to just put all of that out there for free. Whoever you are, I love you. Whatever you just did or whatever you are on your way to do, I love you. Just woke up and you're still a little tired and grumpy? Don't worry, I still love you. I feel like this approach of giving for the sake of giving and loving for the sake of loving is one of those lost ancient truths which our society has all but forgotten. We all know about it and we respond to it when it comes to us but we don't act it. There is no place for the selfless in our society. This is something that I am still learning about and trying to better understand. There is a lot to be gained by reversing this way of thinking. I love you and people's responses to it were a testament, for me, of the great things that can be done when you aren't trying to take advantage or reap any rewards.

Anything else you'd like to add about the ILY graf?

I'm honored to have this article written. I'm honored that people have been aware of this work and that they have been so affected by it and inspired by it.

It gives me faith as an artist and as a person that we can be touched in such simple ways.