The Graffiti Artist

Photo by Anthony Mair

Photo by Anthony Mair

King Ruck hit his first train in the fifth grade. He spray-painted the word “bomb” on a boxcar, with a picture of a bomb in place of the “o.” “I was such a toy, a scallywag,” the 34-year-old says of his childhood. He was always causing a ruckus—that’s how a guy born Josh Glover evolves into King Ruck. But the spray-can-wielding kid by the tracks also grew into one of the most sought-after graffiti artists in Southern Nevada—and now a ground-breaking tattoo artist as well.

Even when he was “out there on the walls,” Ruck always had a strong drive to challenge himself artistically. “You had graffiti artists that would just do little bubble letters, little simple tags. That wasn’t enough for me. I like to present my work on a wall. I want people to stop and look at it.”

When Ruck’s mother, an artist herself, died in the early ’90s, he fell into a grief-fueled tailspin and started “bombing” everything. Ruck eventually realized that the woman who gave him creative talent wouldn’t like how he was using it. So he changed his life. “I haven’t done anything illegally since 1995,” he says. “I’m proud of that, too.”

When Ruck made the switch, friends thought he’d gone soft. But he endured their disapproval because he wanted to show them that graffiti could be a recognized art form. The criticism stopped when he shared some of his commissions with his detractors, who realized that they could get paid to create graffiti and, as a bonus, not have to run from the cops. Today, Ruck’s mural credits include Insert Coin(s), Cornerstone Art Gallery (see page 35), the Arts Factory and the Funkhouse.

Now Ruck is applying that same boundary-breaking attitude to his new custom tattoo studio, Black Spade Tattoo.

“‘Black spade’ is controversial,” he says of his positive re-appropriation. “As an African-American, we were called black spades. I chose that because I wanted that edgy feel. I want people to know that I am taking this word because I am the first African-American to open up a tattoo shop in Las Vegas.”

Ruck, who started tattooing four years ago with an apprenticeship at Bad Apple Tattoo, found his niche when he noticed that the graffiti style wasn’t represented in the tattoo industry. “I am a hip-hop head. I carry this graffiti torch strong. And there’s a lot of people that want that type of flavor on them. I used more of my spray-can style of art and combined it into my tattooing. There’s probably a flair of it in just about everything that I do freehand.”

Ruck’s shop doesn’t have a traditional tattoo parlor feel. An aquarium, ambient music and the clean lines of modern furniture give the space a calm, soothing atmosphere. Some of the walls display attractive graffiti murals (a product of his new spray-paint mural company, Slum Beautiful). And then there’s the showstopper: A custom wallpaper of digitized raw sketches of hip-hop-style characters. It adorns the room’s largest wall, and it embodies the fundamental basis of what his art is all about: “I didn’t want this whole cool, super-graphic colorful thing going on. That’s not the foundation of my shop. The foundation is raw creative talent. With a straight, loose simple sketch, you can understand what I’m getting to.”

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