Vincent Tocco knows what it’s like to be a restless artist.
Growing up in Rotterdam, the 22-year-old skateboarder and prolific painter found himself drawn to the urban practice of graffiti art. It gave him an outlet to explore his creative side but also occasionally landed him on the wrong side of the law.
As a teenager, Tocco was picked up by the Rotterdam police after being found with spray paint and markers, the telltale tools of a vandal. Though he didn’t face any serious criminal charges from the incident, it prompted him to rethink his underground practice.
“That sort of taught me a lesson,” he recalled. “But I couldn’t stay away from it. It’s my passion. It’s what I do.”
So Tocco did the next best thing: He went legitimate, including involvement with Art Night Schenectady.
Now, instead of anonymously striking barren walls or bridges, he’s employing his abilities to cover up unwanted graffiti in Rotterdam’s Esposito Park.
Tocco is the founder of Existing Artists, a growing urban arts collective that started last year. He is leading a group of five aspiring artists who volunteered to design and paint street-art-influenced murals over the graffiti tangle of the Rotterdam Girls’ Softball League’s concession stand.
The building was among several areas in Rotterdam struck by vandals later arrested by the Rotterdam Police and charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief. All three pleaded guilty to the charge earlier this month and are awaiting sentencing in Town Court.
The pointless vandalism frustrated softball league President Jackie O’Brien, who said she wouldn’t have minded the teens lending their artistic abilities to the building, provided their work was a bit more refined and absent of profanities.
“If they had called and asked, I would have said go ahead,” she recalled Friday.
When Tocco learned that the league was willing to offer the building as a canvas, he decided to volunteer his talents. Members of his group sketched designs for three of the building’s four walls and then submitted them to O’Brien.
After consulting with the league’s board, she gratefully accepted.
“We thought it was a great idea,” she said.
On one wall, they designed a windmill with the league’s name etched on its blades; on another, they’re creating a mural with an oversized dog holding a softball. Both designs use spray paint and stenciling, two elements of urban artwork.
Tocco and his group offered to paint the building in their free time and at their own expense. He said seeing his work in public — and legitimate — was enough.
“I feel honored to do it for our community,” he said. “It’s good enough for me to put my artwork out there.”
Tocco also hopes to offer Existing Artists as an alternative for underground artists looking for an area to legally ply their skill. He even offered the group as an alternative to the teens who originally struck the softball league’s concession stand.
”Most of the younger kids don’t know where to go with their artwork,” he said.