Nashua man in crusade against graffiti
Victor E. Rodriguez of Nashua stands on the train overpass over Rt. 3 in Nashua that he's struggling to keep free from graffiti. (Simón Rios/Union Leader Correspondent)
For years, a railroad bridge near Exit 7 over the Everett Turnpike has been a hub for Nashua's graffiti writers, who have sprayed layers upon countless layers of tags and cartoon-style images visible to northbound drivers.
“Every time I go to that bridge I try to see the art in it, but I don't see it,” said Rodriguez, a Nashua resident who paints in watercolor. “I just see a mess.”
Dominican by birth, he came to Nashua in 1990 after living in Brooklyn, N.Y., which ironically, he noted, is one of the graffiti centers of the world.
“I was like Jesus, now Nashua's becoming like New York!” Rodriguez said, standing at the overpass covered with broken glass and cars roaring underneath. “It bothered me. I said I have to do something about it.”
In August Rodriguez organized an effort to clean up the panels along the overpass. He didn't want tourists coming into the state to see graffiti from the highway. Using four gallons of paint donated by Nashua Wallpaper, Rodriguez and six volunteers cleared years' worth of graffiti in under an hour.
“That's what I tell these people,” said Rodriguez, who seems to take it all in stride, with a smile. “If you're going to be here all night, almost getting caught, I come here and in 50 minutes I will erase what you do. And I got the paint and I got the time, and I want to keep Nashua beautiful.”
Three weeks later, someone had come over night and painted a giant word spanning half the width of the highway. The following day he was to fly to his native Dominican Republic. But seeing that the graffiti writers were back in action, he couldn't leave before returning to the bridge with his paint cans.
“I was like oh no no no, I won't go to Dominican before I clean that thing. I came in just me and my girlfriend and we tried to cover it up.”
Manny Ramirez, cofounder of Positive Street Art, a nonprofit which aims to channel the tendency towards public spray painting into legal expression, said people do graffiti for a myriad or reasons, but it's usually a form of protest.
“People see crime everywhere, people see violence everywhere, and their way of telling everybody that it's out there,” is through graffiti, Ramirez said.
He said since graffiti stems from individual turmoil, Rodriguez is a good Samaritan for doing this work.
Positive Street Art works with the city and other nonprofits to paint murals and teach art. Ramirez would like to see a community-based effort to put up art at the railroad bridge.
Asked if the graffiti writers should be approached to collaborate in this, Ramirez shook his head. “They don't believe in doing anything that's sanctioned, anything put together by the city or anything that's controlled.”
And he knows the possibility that regardless of what is put up there, someone will eventually be tagging over it.
Capt. Jeff Bukunt of the Nashua Police Department said graffiti has experienced a lull in Nashua. “Graffiti seems to have peaked about a year or two ago, and I guess like anything else it can be trendy.”
Police photograph graffiti in the city and attempt to link it with known perpetrators. Bukunt said it should be removed if it's on private property. If it's city-owned property, contact the police department.
“We don't want to let it linger,” he said. “The best way to prevent graffiti is to remove it right away, because these people that spray graffiti, they like to see it, they like others to see it, so by removing it as soon as possible it deflates them and they maybe will move elsewhere.”
Jon Coronis, one of Rodriguez' cohorts in his move to wipe out graffiti, said it's amazing what some people can do with spray cans. But it's not represented on the Route 3 overpass.
“Some people do it as art, but if you ask the city, maybe they'll give you a place to do it and not defacing public property — to put it in a place where it can be seen and admired by people and not just tagged to represent an area or what not.”
Rodriguez said if you're an artist, follow the proper steps and go through the city and get a legal spot.
“That way that's the spot that you can take care of, and then encourage other people to do the same — not putting 50 names all over the city. Let's keep Nashua beautiful.”
Rodriguez also plans to paint over the graffiti at the Hudson Bridge; he's waiting for permission from City Hall. The group has a Facebook page, Keeping Nashua Beautiful, where it will announce future cleanup initiatives.
He knows the work isn't likely to end any time soon, but he's not without hope. “I hope one day maybe they'll say, OK, he's right,” Rodriguez said with his omnipresent smile.
“I got people donating paint, and I'm donating my time.”
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