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Graffiti artist paints his way to respect

Barry Carter

Hector Garcia had doubts about the pitch from a graffiti artist, who, unbeknownst to him, had once tagged property in the Ironbound section of Newark.

Vincent Santorella promised to paint a mural on the side of Garcia’s store, Station Wines & Liquors, and he guaranteed that no one would deface it because he knew the graffiti writers in the area.

Garcia didn’t have anything to lose, considering the grassroots Ironbound Community Corp. offered to pay for the work with a grant. Garcia and his aunt, Behatriz Garcia, who owns the store that he manages, welcomed the gift. They already had spent at least $1,000 to paint over graffiti tags— a stylized signature — on their building and it didn’t solve the problem. Their wall would get marked up again, so why not give Santorella a shot?

“Let’s see how much clout you have out there,” Garcia said.

Apparently, a lot.

Nearly two years later, no one has messed with the mural or any others that Santorella, 30, has done with the help of graffiti artists he brings to Newark from around the state and country.

Hector Garcia doesn’t want to jinx the respect, but he’s stunned that the wall has remained clean. The mural, which Santorella created with Danielle Mastrion, a muralist from Brooklyn, has become a neighborhood attraction. People stop to take pictures of the colorful woman on the wall, who is looking across Hermon Street, her large face spray-painted in an array of shades to represent Newark’s diverse population.

The city skyline is in the palm of her hand. Waves splash against the canvas and her fingers, a representation of the ethnic culture that keeps Newark buoyant, Santorella explains.

Across the East Ward, Santorella is confident that his “no-tag” guarantee will stick. As an incentive, Santorella assists business owners in getting a summons dismissed when a code enforcement officer mistakenly identifies his work as a graffiti tag and not a mural.

He developed a relationship with Tommy McDonald, manager of code enforcement, who said business owners should not worry when Santorella’s work is on their property. That’s good news for Yemi Ojikutu, who has one of Santorella’s murals on his business— Subrina’s Tropical Food.

“If he (Santorella) does the work and I know about it, my team will know (not to) touch it,” said McDonald, who thinks highly of what the artist is doing. “It (the artwork) really does stop people from tagging and doing all kinds of crazy stuff.”


“That is a perfect example of what street art can do. The reduction in vandalism a nd graffiti o n w alls has gone d own d rastically in the neighborhood.’’

Daniel J. Wiley, a former graffiti artist who now works for the Ironbound Community Corp.

Vincent Santorella stands by a mural on Cortland Place in Newark. The 30-year-old graffiti artist has brought in dozens of other artists to paint on garages and buildings, turning the alley into a gallery of sorts. They call it the “Allery.” Photos by Andrew Miller, for The Star-Ledger

Even after several years, the walls remain free of vandalism. Some murals have themes. This one on Margaretta Street symbolizes beating cancer.

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