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Reno artist Joe C. Rock can’t tell you how many times he’s been mistaken for tagging buildings around the city.

With a spray can in hand and a ladder, the artist often goes to work on a wall at night. That’s when he hears from across the street, “Hey, what are you doing?”

At first glance, people think he’s tagging, but when they come closer, they see he’s an artist painting a mural.

“When they see it's done with a spray can, then they're even more mesmerized, like, ‘Oh I didn't know this was possible, it looks like an actual painting,’” Rock said. “And I'm like, ‘Yeah, that's what it is – a painting.’”


Born in Stockton, California, and raised by his mom, the artist also uses his love for rap and rock music as influences for his work. But what inspires his art the most is life.

“Current events is (sic) what really inspires my work,” he said. “Just what's going on nowadays around the country. And history – we can't have current events without history.”

He used Nevada history for his piece in Reno’s third annual Mural Marathon where seven artists were selected out of 40 submissions to paint a 20-foot-wide, 15-foot-tall mural outside the Circus Circus. He won third place for his painting of Orion Clemens, the only secretary of the Nevada territory, and Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

“I responded very positively to that mural, there's a lot going on,” said David Walker, the executive director of the Nevada Museum of Art and one of the judges for the mural marathon. “It's complex in terms of its composition, and, obviously, the characters in it. There's some history connected to Nevada, and I always think that's really cool; especially for people who are here for Artown this month.”

Also as part of Artown, Joe C. Rock has partnered with muralist and friend Erik Burke to create a collaborative mural on the back of Junkee. The public can watch the mural come to life every Sunday of this month leading up to the MidTown Art Walk on July 28.


Local artist Joe C. Rock talks about growing up in Reno and the life of an artist in this town.

Importance of murals

Murals have played a hand in the gentrification of Reno’s Midtown District specifically, which is where Rock has lived for most his life and where most of his murals are located. The murals have changed the look of the once run-down area and made it what Rock calls walkable. And all it takes him, besides his time, is $500 to $600 for 20 gallons of paint and 20 cans of spray paint.

Rock has found that murals are a way to deter tagging.

“If it's a blank wall, people tag it,” Rock said. “It happens. It's in every city, it's something you can't really get rid of … (but) even the kid walking around doing graffiti still appreciates my artwork. It's rare that I get my own painting tagged, it's few and far between because there's a respect there.”

One of the first murals that Rock painted for commission was the Junkee Clothing Exchange building in 2011.

“He asked if he could paint that wall, he asked how much would it pay, what's your budget on paint, he treated it like a business,” said Jessica Schneider, the owner of Junkee.

Contemporary art

Rock wants to change the way people perceive “graffiti” or “street art,” which he classifies as contemporary art.

“The main thing I want people to take is that we're not all some hooligans or punks with spray cans painting,” Rock said.

Rock’s earlier work has a pop art and cartoony style. Over the years, he’s grown to produce more photorealistic work, especially portraiture. He said that in his canvas work, he’s able to express himself more than in the work he’s done on walls for businesses. However, during the last year, he’s become more selective with the projects he takes on because he’s striving to produce more murals that have a message behind them.

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