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The Art of Being a Ghost
by Cortney Maddock
Jul 23, 2009 | 3614 views | 9 9 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/ Debra Reid - "NESR", who would not allow his real name to be used, enhances his name on a Sparks railroad overpass. The 19-year-old considers his work an artform.
view slideshow (3 images)
With excitement and pride, 19-year-old Nesr walks down the hallway in a modest house off Montello Street to retrieve the artist notebooks with images he has scrawled across the heavy, pitted paper.

The lines jet and curve in various directions, sometimes filled in with vibrant colors such as yellow, red and green, while other pages feature stark black-and-white pieces.

“I was always into art,” Nesr said. “I was always into Old English and then I saw tagging. My cousin used to do it and I saw him do it and it made me want to do it, too.”

Nesr, who asked not to be identified by his real name, said he became interested in the artwork associated with graffiti, known as tagging, when he saw the murals adorning the warehouses near an old boxing facility on north Sutro Street. He said he got his tagging name after modifying his childhood nickname, “Bones,” and began tagging in 2004.

After his interest in the art form increased, Nesr started to learn about technique and what he called “can control.”

“When I first started, I was really awful,” Nesr said, adding that he would practice in notebooks. “I see some people now that embarrass themselves. I see it as a competition — who is the best? — especially in Reno.”

He said many taggers see their art as a competition, and judge each other in terms of who has the best “writes,” or lettering, who has the best overall work and who tags the most around the city.

Nesr’s practice has paid off, as evidenced by his photos documenting his can control. He explained that can control is knowing how the spray paint will come in contact with the wall. For example, he said, a tagger needs to be far enough away from the wall for the paint not to drip but close enough so the paint adequately covers the desired space.

As photos flash across the television screen in his room, Nesr explained that the work’s quality depends on how much time and effort a tagger wants to put in to make it look nice. A simple tag, he said, can take only 30 minutes whereas a more elaborate piece could take the person more than an hour.

“I like to take my time on the wall,” Nesr said. “I like everything straight and looking good.”

He explained that because of the time he puts into each piece, he only goes out tagging on average three times a week and is very cautious about where he tags.

“The cities are busting much quicker than I thought now,” Nesr said. “You’ll do a piece and the next day it will be gone.”

In his only true moment of defiance, Nesr said the police have not yet caught him for tagging but only because he tags in places where he knows he has a good escape route.

Nesr explained he has only had one close call with the law during which he and a friend were tagging and a police officer blocked their only escape route. The boys had to hide on the ground in an open field for a long time to avoid getting caught.

“It’s stressful,” Nesr said of the cat-and-mouse game with the police. “But I have respect for things like churches, schools and parks and won’t tag there.”

When a friend was arrested for tagging on public property, Nesr said he was afraid he would be arrested too but was grateful when the friend didn’t snitch, or tell the police, that he also was tagging.

“We were tagging poles with markers,” Nesr said. “My friend never snitched, but he was charged $1,200 for a small writing.”

Nesr stops flipping through the photos, pausing on an image of his tagging crew’s name, B.A., which stands for Breaking Away, painted on a wall in Reno.

“Gang tagging is mostly about them marking their territory,” Nesr explained. “Crew graffiti is more about saying, ‘I’ve been here and I’ve moved along.’ Taggers are like ghosts: You never really see them.”

Nesr also explained that a tagging crew is a group of people who tag because they enjoy the art form and technique involved. He said that one person in his tagging crew even works with a youth art program in Reno.

“We don’t want people we don’t know joining because they might snitch us out the next day,” Nesr said of the crew’s exclusivity.

Lately, Nesr and other members of his crew have encountered problems with gang graffiti when members of gangs have crossed out their crew’s murals.

“I don’t really try to paint around gang graffiti,” Nesr said. “They don’t really bother taggers, especially as long as you don’t go cross them out. If you do, they might just beat you up.”

When a gang crosses out a rival gang’s name, it usually indicates that they want to fight, but Nesr said that if they cross out tagger graffiti, the gang is just being rude.

Nesr said that tagging crews will avoid a confrontation with a gang, but if a tagging crew disrespects another crew’s art, it can cause problems.

“We just kind of keep going at it until someone gets pissed off enough to fight,” Nesr said. “We have even talked to gangs and they’ll say it is the same thing that they do but I don’t see it as the same thing.”

As Nesr flips through the pages of artwork in his room, the Hug High School graduate said he thinks about enrolling in Truckee Meadows Community College.

“I was thinking that maybe I could get paid for it,” Nesr said. “Maybe for doing murals or any type of job painting. I think I do still see myself tagging even when I am old. I think I will slow down but I won’t stop.”

For more coverage of gangs and graffiti, click on the "Gangs" link on the left side of this page.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
June 01, 2010
Only way you can prevent taggers from beeing categorized under criminals is to allow more legal space for this activity to take place in. Like those legal free tagging walls.I have nothing but respect for taggers because some really do it for the art. I drive to work and catch a beautiful art piece everyday.
April 22, 2010
Graffiti is never going to stop. No matter how hard the law tries. Graffiti is a way to express yourself, maybe if we had free walls around the city where we can express our art legally we wouldnt be doing it on the streets. I think its a good article. Stay up Nesr and all the graff artists keep doin your thing.
angry business owner
September 04, 2009
Clint Beck
August 03, 2009
I just don't understand why local print shops and board companies wouldnt want to hire some of these guys. Doing so would do three things: Get them involved in a job that they would like. Keep them busy so that they wouldn't go out and do this any more and lastly, these companies would be giving back to their commmunities. What is so hard about what I'm suggesting. We are all people, and no one is better than the next. We should and we need to be there for one another.

By the way, I really enjoyed the story on Calo, this street language that gang member use. I'm trying to find that story on line, do you know where I can find it?

Clint Beck
Ted Hummington
July 27, 2009
What is so illegal about spray painting a segragated bridge next to the train tracks. What's illegal is what the city isn't doing when it comes to prevention and intervention.

I would rather have these taggers do it there, away from the community (schools, churches and homes) because they are going to do it anyway!

Let's face it! Our clown of a D.A in Reno attempted to crucify these kids for what they did yet despite his discrimanatory nature, he's gotten no where. There was a lot said, and very little done. That is why I'm glad the Tribune has covered a piece on this.

Our city leaders sucks when it comes to providing something for our kids to do. I'm a tax payer, I'm a middle class single Father and yet still struggle with not having the funds needed to keep my kids entertained during summer. Instead of a damn ball park in downtown Reno, we should have created a water Park for our local families.

Thank you so much Tribune for enlightening us about what is going on in our very own back yards. As far as I, am many other are concerned, their entire series on street life has been very educational. Keep up the great work Cortney, I think that's your name? Don't let these dumb asses bring you down.

Ted Hummington

Proud resident of Sparks
Rick Hoover
July 24, 2009

It's a good series. Don't let the "Kill the Messenger" crowd get you down. Keep up the good work.
July 24, 2009
"taggers are like ghosts", not really more like Roaches. They come and in and leave a mess and then scurry away.
July 24, 2009
I agree with "against tribune". It is illegal, why glorify it. Why didn't you ask why he doesn't respect private property . . . you and the tagger are saying it's okay to deface private property. In fact, your entire series glorifies gangs. Go back to covering real news of Sparks.
against tribune!
July 24, 2009
what he is doing is ILLEGAL! so why are you writing an article about him!
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