Jay Rock: Spreading positivity through graffiti

York artist Jay Rock used graffiti to channel his anger when he was younger. Now, he’s using it to spread positivity around York.

Presented by: Our York Media
Written by: Anthony Machcinski
Photography by: Caleb Robertson/Our York Media
Graphic artist Jay Rock stands at the top of the Penn Street Bridge that connects the northern end of the street that heads toward Farquhar Park to the southern side toward Market Street. (Photo by Caleb Robertson/Our York Media)

Jay Rock’s life spiraled out of control when he hit tough times in the late 1990s.

“That sent my moral compass out of wack,” Jay says. “I went down a dark road for three years.”

Jay got involved in drugs and the gang life.

“I was a hooligan,” Jay says. “I was mad at the world and wanted to burn it all down.”

His torch: graffiti.

Jay Rock's work, as well as that of other artists, can be seen on both sides of the bridge. The artwork varies from classic graffiti styles to elaborate murals, like the Pokémon mural on the north side wall. (Photo by Caleb Robertson/Our York Media)

Over those dark times, he watched friends go to jail and others shot to death. The respect he lost from his family hurt the most.

“I used to be a Boy Scout, where being trustworthy is a main point, and I got to the point where my own dad wouldn’t trust me to be in his house,” Jay says. “I saw what I was doing to my dad, and I made a vow not to lose that trust again.”

When he got clean, he stopped spray-painting graffiti. He still filled multiple composition notebooks per year with drawings, but he lived in a different headspace now.

“I didn’t want to feel numb anymore,” he says. “My life was full again.”

Jay Rock once used graffiti to "burn the world down," but now he's using it to send a positive message. (Photo by Caleb Robertson/Our York Media)

One day last fall, Jay and his wife walked near the Penn Street Bridge, marveling at an image of rap group Wu-Tang Clan’s symbol. Somebody spray-painted their name over it.

“It was just disrespectful,” Jay says. “Seeing someone disrespect art like that just didn’t sit well with me. It drove me to start doing it again.”

Jay decided to add to the bridge’s artwork – a Miles Morales Spiderman figure – and it reignited his passion for graffiti.

“Painting is a place where I can go and not worry about anything,” Jay says. “I can paint something regardless of a good day or bad day. Maybe some people go to the gym, but I paint.”

Jay Rock poses in front of two of his most recent works, both visible to anyone driving north on Penn Street from blocks away. Each one can take an hour or more to complete. (Photo by Caleb Robertson/Our York Media)

This summer, Jay spray painted a large, white rose on a building at College Avenue and Queen Street set for demolition.

It’s temporary artwork, but he hopes it pushes a positive mental attitude for the community through art.

“If you have a positive mindset, it’s the simplest way to live a good life,” Jay says. “My talent is artwork. Our mission is to brighten up the city and spread a positive message.”

Jay Rock’s life spiraled out of control when he hit tough times in the late 1990s.

“That sent my moral compass out of wack,” Jay says. “I went down a dark road for three years.”

Jay got involved in drugs and the gang life.

“I was a hooligan,” Jay says. “I was mad at the world and wanted to burn it all down.”

His torch: graffiti.

• • •

Over those dark times, he watched friends go to jail and others shot to death. The respect he lost from his family hurt the most.

“I used to be a Boy Scout, where being trustworthy is a main point, and I got to the point where my own dad wouldn’t trust me to be in his house,” Jay says. “I saw what I was doing to my dad, and I made a vow not to lose that trust again.”

When he got clean, he stopped spray-painting graffiti. He still filled multiple composition notebooks per year with drawings, but he lived in a different headspace now.

“I didn’t want to feel numb anymore,” he says. “My life was full again.”

• • •

One day last fall, Jay and his wife walked near the Penn Street Bridge, marveling at an image of rap group Wu-Tang Clan’s symbol. Somebody spray-painted their name over it.

“It was just disrespectful,” Jay says. “Seeing someone disrespect art like that just didn’t sit well with me. It drove me to start doing it again.”

Jay decided to add to the bridge’s artwork – a Miles Morales Spiderman figure – and it reignited his passion for graffiti.

“Painting is a place where I can go and not worry about anything,” Jay says. “I can paint something regardless of a good day or bad day. Maybe some people go to the gym, but I paint.”

• • •

This summer, Jay spray painted a large, white rose on a building at College Avenue and Queen Street set for demolition.

It’s temporary artwork, but he hopes it pushes a positive mental attitude for the community through art.

“If you have a positive mindset, it’s the simplest way to live a good life,” Jay says. “My talent is artwork. Our mission is to brighten up the city and spread a positive message.”

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