Street cred


Joe C. Rock is a painter with about 40 local murals and several gallery exhibits to his name. Right now, he’s working on a series of one-story-high portraits—among them Abraham Lincoln and Dat So La Lee, the celebrated Washoe basket maker—on the back of the Junkee Clothing Exchange building. Rock is among a handful of artists scheduled to compete in the third annual Circus Circus Reno 24-Hour Mural Marathon. The public can watch artists paint on the part of Circus Circus’ exterior that faces Virginia Street between 10 a.m. July 15 and 10 a.m. July 16. For information visit

You make murals that are out on the streets and also paintings for galleries. When you’re making murals, which of those milieus are you responding to? Is it a combination of both?

It’s definitely a response to the world in general. If I painted what I wanted on the wall, exactly, a lot of people wouldn’t let me paint on their walls. You know, so of course I have to sort of fit into those concepts and ideas that people make. If I had my choice it would probably be a black man’s face with a crown and maybe some buildings or even a gun and baseball bat behind him or something like that. That’s what I paint myself for my canvasses, my work, but, painting it on the street, you really have to find someone who’s going to allow that, and Reno’s almost not there yet. It’s very hard for someone to just—especially on a main street—to paint what they feel like. So you definitely pick what is crowd-pleasing as well. In five years, hopefully I will be able to just paint whatever I want. With my paintings, I just put it out there. With mural work, I’m getting paid for it. It has to be appeasing to the masses as well.

I’ve always wondered about that. Obviously commissioned muralists might have to make compromises when it comes to subject matter.

If I wanted to paint a big handgun, and, like, a rose wrapped around it, that’s something I’d want to paint on my own, but it probably wouldn’t be accepted by Circus Circus for the competition.

For the competition did you have to get your subject matter approved?

You submit two concepts and they choose the one of their liking.

Can you tell us what you’ll be painting?

I’m going to paint [Mark] Twain, but in a very surreal way, kind of like, like my own style. … I really like painting those historical characters. Those old vintage photographs are so great to paint from as well. I really like the black and white and that very—it’s soft, it’s, like, blurry in a way. Using spray paint, that really just comes together well.

So, what about doing a mural in 24 hours? Is that a stretch?

No, I did it the first year, and I even went and had a few drinks at the middle of the night and hung out for a little while. So, it’s not really a stretch. You know, on a portrait I can paint one in anywhere from one to seven or eight hours. It just really depends on how everything goes.

If you had your own building and you could paint any mural that you wanted, what would it be?

That’s really hard. I go through so many different stages and ideas. I’m born from hip-hop and rap culture, and then I always grew up watching cartoons and comic books. If you asked me today, I’d probably paint a giant picture of Alton Sterling. That’s what I would paint today. Tomorrow it might be a different story. It really depends on the day.