Philly Street Art Interviews: “Praise Dobler” Means More Than You Think to More People Than You’d Expect

This is the first post in our fourth season of Philly Street Art Interviews! This season is sponsored by Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and its @PHLAirportArt program, which curates museum-quality art exhibitions that introduce millions of visitors from around the world to the vibrant artistic culture of the region. PHL proudly supports Philly arts and culture/365! Interview and photos by Streets Dept Lead Contributor Eric Dale.

If you’ve been in Philly any time in the last three years, you’ve almost definitely seen the phrase “Praise Dobler” written somewhere—perhaps on a sticker, scribbled on a pole, or spray-painted on a construction wall. This message is the work of a Philly street artist called Praise Dobler… but did you know that this Dobler they praise is a real person?

“I don’t know if I ever really broke rules. I think that I was a master at playing in the gray area of every rule ever made.” —Conrad Dobler

You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Dobler is fictional—because Praise Dobler’s art doesn’t make sense at first glance. Who or what is Dobler? Why should you praise them? Who is writing this phrase? What does it mean? How do you even pronounce it?

If you’ve ever seen a mustache on a sticker character, or a football with the number 69 on it, you’ve been in the presence of the Lord. But is Praise Dobler connected to a real religion? Yes and no. Is it even street art? Yes, but not like what you’ve seen before. Praise Dobler is a gray area within a gray area. But I think I really get it now—because earlier this year, I had an epiphany that put it all into context. And when I ran it past Dobler’s #1 disciple, when I sat down with him for a conversation about his artwork and message, he wholeheartedly agreed with my realization.

Streets Dept’s Eric Dale: First things first, please settle this once and for all, is it “Doe-bler” or “Dah-bler”?

Praise Dobler: “Doe-bler,” like dough, like you make bread out of.

SD: So… Dobler was a real person. Can you tell me about him? 

PD: Yeah, he was some kind of professional football player. I think he was a defensive guard? Offensive guard? I’m not sure. I don’t know how sports work. But he was a professional football player back in the 70s and the 80s. He played for the Saints; he played for the Buffalo Bills; and one other team. I’m not sure. I know him for his divinity, not his sportball prowess. But he was a dirty player. He lives in infamy for his antics on the gridiron.

SD: Is that one of the things that attracted you to him? 

PD: No, I literally chose Him arbitrarily. He appeared to me on a box of cookies in the county jail outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He was a “Snack Legend”—[Keefe] Snack Legend™-brand oatmeal cream pie cookies. I saw His face looking at me from the box and I was like alright, He’s my higher power. And I got Him tattooed on my arm. The rest is history. 

SD: What about Him stood out to you? How did you make that decision? What was that moment like for you?

PD: I don’t know, my cellmate and I were joking about [how] there’s so many different conceptions of God and religions out there. When you’re in jail, they have to get you any religious text you want, for free. So we ordered several—I’m not gonna throw any religions under the bus, but we got a couple that were pretty out there—and so I was just like you know what? Screw it, I’m gonna make up my own conception of a higher power.

I just saw Him on the box, and I was like yeah. I ordered more boxes of cookies while I was in, made little shrines for my friends, and they’d put them on their wall, and the gospel of Dobler spread throughout the facility. And then when I got out, I found out he was Sports Illustrated’s “dirtiest player” in NFL history. His number was 69! I was like oh God, this is my higher power!

And then years later, he was inducted in the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame outside of Detroit, in 2018, and I met him! He was a nice guy, and he made a joke—I told him, like, sir, I’m not actually crazy. I don’t actually think that you are God, but I made this fake religion. Here’s some pictures that I doctored with angel wings you can have. When you get sober, they tell you you need to find a higher power, and I didn’t want to take anybody else’s conception. They say in recovery you can choose your own higher power. So I arbitrarily chose you. And he chuckled and sipped his whiskey and said “that’s funny” or whatever. He was a good sport.

SD: Cool! So on a scale of one to ten, like, how devout are you? How real of a thing is this for you?

PD: I mean, I have my spiritual practices. I’m in recovery, so I have my prayer meditation, but I don’t actually sit there and pray to [Dobler]. Like, that’s just tongue-in-cheek.

SD: What has Dobler provided for you? I know it’s tongue-in-cheek, but, you know, he’s definitely impacted your life in some way. So tell me about some of the effects that praising Dobler has had on you.

PD: Well, I mean, a couple of years ago, a friend of mine was trying to sell his house—and this is a true story—he wasn’t getting any offers, and then he, out of frustration, just said, like, Dobler, help me sell this house. And then the next day he got an offer. And he excitedly texted me and told me that, and I was like it’s a miracle!

There is something out there. There’s a higher power, you know? I’ve had little moments, you know, spiritual moments, and I think it’s immaterial what you call it or how you dress it up. It’s just, you know, you’re trying to make a connection to the universe. So I figure there is a God who’s got a sense of humor… so Dobler it is.

SD: Dobler works in mysterious ways.

PD: It’s true.

SD: How did you feel when the real Conrad Dobler passed away in February 2023? 

PD: I was shocked. I knew it was coming. Some friends had said I should set a Google alert, and they’re like oh, are you going to fly out to the [funeral]?

His grandkids follow my Instagram. The man inadvertently played a big part in my life and became my artistic muse, so, you know, I had some sad feelings about it. But I knew it was gonna happen. It’s not like he was a close friend or family member or something like that. So, yeah, I gave it a couple of weeks after he passed, and then I sent a nice message to his grandkids and said, you know, sorry for your loss, and I met him one time and he was a super cool dude. Life goes on.

SD: So, let’s talk more about street art. When did you start praising Dobler in the streets? 

PD: I made some stickers arbitrarily back in, I think, 2018. And I just started putting them up. And a friend that documents graffiti—I didn’t know him [at the time], but he started seeing my stickers around. I used to have a Facebook page, the Transcendent True Faith Church of Dobler. And he messaged me through that and said do you want to meet for coffee? And he’s like so how long have you been a street artist? When he used the word “street artist,” I was like me? What? Oh, no, I’m not.

And then I was like oh… okay. Like, I just made stickers for whatever. I probably got like 50 or 100 made. But then I started paying more attention to other stickers that I liked, and I started recognizing artists that I liked, and I started experimenting—like making your own stickers instead of just printing stickers, and different mediums, and blah blah blah, and it just progressed from there.

SD: What is your goal with your street art? 

PD: Literally to just spread the gospel and save souls.

SD: Okay, so I want to get your take on something. A while back, I had a realization that I think really contextualizes everything you do. I think that “Praise Dobler” is a meme in street art form. Do you agree with that description?

PD: Yeah, I mean, I do use a lot of memes. I think the meme is the apex of human communication. It’s, like, distilled, you know? It’s like, poetry is distilled literature. And the meme is just the highest form of direct communication because it’s got an image that anybody can relate to and it’s got minimal words, and it’s very effective at communicating humor.

Memes are great. It’s cool that I can make these things and express myself, my weird little niche sense of humor, and just put it out there, and then have other people go oh, okay, this is funny, I see it everywhere, it’s like a Philly thing. Just having that spread has been fun.

But I ran into a friend, and he was like oh yeah, I saw some of your things around… And the [guy with him] didn’t know me. [When my friend] brought up Dobler, he was like oh, I thought that was just like a Philly meme or something. And I was like it is!

SD: It almost seems like all street art is meme. And maybe all religion is meme. 

PD: You’re not wrong. All street art is, like, that person’s brand. You know? It’s kind of combating against ads, and just taking back public space, and there’s definitely a level of ego and personality to it. It’s like this is my mark. Like I’ve been here. Like dogs peeing on trees or whatever. I think it’s ingrained in human nature to draw on caves and carve into trees and whatnot.

SD: Yeah. For me, saying oh, it’s a meme just made me get it. Like I’m in on the joke now. I could make these memes myself. That’s powerful.

PD: I do have friends that proselytize in other cities. Like, they order big sticker packs from me. I’ve never been to Jacksonville, Florida; or Portland, Oregon; or Seattle, Washington; or Japan; or Germany… 

SD: You have proselytizers in Japan and Germany?

PD: Yes. Absolutely. And I’m not trying to impress—I’m not from the graffiti community. I’m just doing my thing. I try to be respectful and follow, you know, “the rules,” but I’m not trying to be, like, “all city king.” I’m literally out here to spread the message and have fun. Some people are very gatekeepy, and there’s a machismo. Whatever, you do your thing. I’m being respectful, I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes, but it’s been fun to just spread my meme. And there’s room for all of it. Especially in Philly—the buff is so aggressive, there’s always fresh walls to get out and get up.

SD: Absolutely. Okay, so what’s the number one thing to do if you want Lord Dobler to smile upon you?

PD: Invite Him into your heart. If you’re able to grow a mustache, grow it unto prodigious proportions. That is an outward sign to other converts of your fealty unto the Lord.

SD: And what’s the one thing you should do to avoid Dobler’s smite? 

PD: Just blaspheme not upon His name. If you see a Praise Dobler scribbled somewhere, don’t paint over it. If you see a sticker, don’t scratch it out. Just let it ride.

SD: But spray painting over in silver is okay?

PD: That is not okay. None of the blaspheming is okay. That will lead to instant smiting.

SD: Can you tell me anything about the Instagram account @forsakedobler?

PD: When you go out and preach the glad tidings, it’s gonna rub some folks the wrong way. Maybe it agitates their demons. I can’t speak to what would lead a person to blaspheme so egregiously upon the Lord, but there’s a place for this “forsake Dobler” in Dobler-hell.

SD: Anything else you want to add or share? Before we sat down, you said you wanted to go off on buffing…

PD: Oh, yeah, I mean, considering Philadelphia is the birthplace of modern graffiti, the buff is very aggressive in this city. I think that’s ridiculous. And then there’s citizen buffers, which blows my mind. Like, people that literally move to an urban center and are like I don’t like these scribbles I see everywhere. And they go out and take it upon themselves. And you can see the psychology of it—like, some of the gouges on the scrapings are very deep. I’m like yo, you need therapy. You need Dobler is what you need.

But, you know, it’s part of the game. There’s always gonna be some buff. You put something in public, it’s out of your hands. I just think it’s a little extra in Philly. I’d like to issue a call to arms for anybody that has any artistic inclinations: get out and get up. Be respectful, don’t go over anybody, don’t be a douche… but I think the more people that get out and put up stickers or whatever medium, eventually I feel like it’ll reach critical mass. And maybe the City will revisit their buff funding budget, and just throw up their arms and give up.

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