SERIES | Married to the Game: Nicer is the master of disaster

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Empty spray paint cans fill a recycling bin outside the home base of graffiti artists, Tats Cru.
Photo Lapacazo Sandoval

This article is the final installment of our four-part series — “Married to the Game” — that takes the reader on a journey, recounting the stories of Bronx graffiti artists as told by a Bronx graffiti artist who grew up in the game. 

If you know — you know — Nicer aka Hector Nazario, born in the South Bronx in 1967, knows that there’s no way of getting around the fact that this borough has a way of burrowing into your psyche.

Nicer is like my uncle. Quick-witted, ready with a joke and he’s a good storyteller, which I love because, over the years, I’ve finally figured out there are life lessons burned in that humor. And for this, I am grateful. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was born smiling. As he tells it, he was damn fortunate enough to be born with creativity running through his veins.

He grew up in the 1970s when the Bronx was burning, playing in abandoned buildings, engaging his imagination to transform them into magical worlds and using his surroundings to create trucks and cars of bricks and wood chunks found in abandoned lots in his South Bronx neighborhood.

Maybe that’s the hidden gift that the Bronx leaves for all of us, the ability to construct safe places in our minds if we are smart enough to pick up. Maybe the dismal surroundings and the gang wars are key to opening the door to our unending supply of pure imagination.

Time waits for no one and in the ’80s, as a teenager, Nicer was drawn by the colored written graffiti on the subway trains and walls. He was so immersed in the art form that he became one of the founding members of the Tats Cru, which was his official introduction to the art world.

To date, his work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the U.S. and internationally, including The Smithsonian Museum, The Bronx Museum, BOX Gallery Guangzhou – China, Casa de Cultura – Mexico, Hip Hop Paris 2015 – France, Jardin Orange – China, La Jardin Rouge – and Morocco.

Members of the legendary Bronx graffiti ensemble, Tats Cru. From left, Nicer, Bio and BG183. Photo ET Rodriguez

Here’s what Hector “Nicer” Nazario who continues to work and live in New York City had to share about how he started and where he’s going.

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: Nicer, why do you do, what you do?

NICER: ‘Why do you do, what you do?’ Because I don’t want to do anything else. Since I was a little kid, I was always drawn to art. We use to have these newspapers, the [New York] Daily News with the Sunday cartoons in them. I use to trace a lot of the stuff that I saw. Way back we use to have the TV guide. It was this magazine that would tell you what was on this week, and information about the television. Inside this, there was this contest on how to draw certain things to get into [an art] school.

RR: So comic books influenced you, to some degree?

NICER: Yeah, I grew up with the cartoon era. I didn’t know what snapping was until I saw Bugs Bunny and Heckle and Jeckle. This was part of my mental engagement but at the same time, it was part of something that started to create this hunger and I actually thought it was normal. I actually thought everybody was doing what I was doing.

RR: There were no programs or anything like that? Right?

NICER: Naw. There were no programs [on the computer] to learn art so I had to do it all by myself. I was always interested in colors and comics, I guess that’s why I do all these characters.

RR: Got it.

NICER: Why I do, what I do — I like that question. This is the only way that I know how to express myself. I’m a funny guy.

RR: Who influenced you besides Bugs, Heckle, and my man Jeckle?

NICER: Believe it or not, my aunt painted this glow-in-the-dark painting on her wall, it was ugly but when she turned off the lights, she did this purple light and would invite people to admire the glow. She was an art major but seeing her creativity [inspired me] … she took a closet and turned it into a dark room to develop her photography.

RR: That’s interesting but where did the love for graffiti come from?

NICER: Growing up [in the Bronx] I would see all these tags here and there and the colors drew me in. Once I found out who was doing these things the guys that came before me and I started asking around. I learned about Seen UA, Nada, Lace, a two-man team they do the blockbusters, Two Bang who does these crazy burners and then disappears; and Panama who does these ill-tube connections.

RR: How do you come up with ideas?

NICER: I use the things around me that influence me also. Just staring at a cereal box I concentrate on the letters and the way they use color patterns and characters, and how they blend the background — this is just a cereal box to everyone else. The kids don’t care about the packaging they just want what’s inside but for me, I get inspired. Doors open up in my head and it’s like looking at things through x-ray glasses and I see things that other people don’t see. Once you can open up that door in your brain you get that inspiration.

RR: I got it. So, what’s next for you?

NICER: Besides eating this Filet-O-Fish? What’s next? I’m going to keep doing what I do. We are living in a day and age where it’s digital but tangible, which is actually paint to surface i.e. painting on canvases and walls that stuff is never going to disappear. That being said, we are living in this day and age where having computer knowledge will help you understand how to manipulate your images, it’s definitely key.

RR: So you know these programs?

NICER: I’ve been training myself for some years now and I am playing around with some different ideas. So to answer. Let me roll that back. The next step is taking visual images and creating digital artwork with them because it’s the future. It’s something that you can’t avoid.

To revisit the entire series click here.

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