A graffiti tag can tell an untold story. Malcolm Moorer, a local Cleveland writer, is recognized around his hometown as “REGS57”. Only a handful of his close friends know why he chose that signature. Whenever Moorer creates a new piece of artwork, he creates it for his family.
Moorer’s fascination with art began in his mom’s old Honda in East Cleveland, Ohio. A six-year-old with eyes wide open, taking in life from the window of a car. He remembers being captivated by an image that would stay with him forever. It was a mural of Martin Luther King, Moorer’s first ever memory of graffiti.
Moorer has always gravitated towards art, whether it was drawing, painting, or music. Cheryl Moorer, his mother, witnessed his artistic abilities throughout his childhood.
“I noticed he was an artist when him and his friend Omar used to draw Yu-Gi-Oh characters around the age of 10,” she said.
Moorer’s creativity showed early in fifth grade. He struggled in school, but thrived when it came to his art class. “I was always a disruption in class,” he said. “I was the funny dude but when we were in art class I was always quiet.”
Years after his profound loss, he’d feel inspired to acknowledge his family through his art.
Moorer was 12 years old when his aunt and uncle passed away. Years after his profound loss, he’d feel inspired to acknowledge his family through his art.
Rob Jones, or Big Rob, grew up in Cleveland with Moorer. They met in fifth grade while riding the same bus to school. Moorer was pointed out to Jones as “one of the other art kids.”
“One of the first times I saw [Malcolm’s] drawings was on that bus,” Jones said. “He was collaborating with another friend Omar on a fan comic inspired by Dragon ball Z. I don’t believe they ever finished it. A shame honestly.”
Moorer and Jones cultivated a friendship from their mutual love of art. Both attended Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which neighbors Cleveland. Moorer stood out from other students by having a different way of thinking. Having learned the concept of hierarchy when he designed his graffiti, the writer was able to explain the concept and apply it to school.
“My first project in high school I was describing the hierarchy of the letter ‘E’ and why it is the best letter in the whole alphabet,” he said. “I got an A on it. It was my senior thesis too.”
Senior year, Moorer spent most of his time in the art department with his friends. They created their own graffiti crew and started tagging, or signing their names, inside and outside the school.
The tagging grew from school to around the neighborhood. Graffiti became an outlet of expression for Moorer. It gave him two identities to choose from when he pleased.
“It was a way for me to be anti-establishment and express myself without anybody knowing who I was,” he said.
Moorer’s hobby developed after he joined the graffiti group Broke and Famous, or BAF. His crew brought him into a world of new experiences. He met other artists and creative minds at hip-hop shows. He would sit in the back, draw on canvases, and listen to music.
As a member, he received higher recognition, which brought hate along with respect.
The more advanced his artwork became, the more people recognized him. Eventually, Moorer joined a well-known group called GK. As a member, he received higher recognition, which brought hate along with respect.
“It was a little raunchy and rough around the edges but it reminded me of stuff I was comfortable with,” Moorer said.
He became absorbed in the culture. Moorer spent late nights on the streets getting drunk, high, and tagging around the city. He remembers him and his friends racking, or stealing supplies, back in the day. They would double up sweatpants, tie them with rubber bands, stuff them with markers and paint and walk out.
Moorer felt the more he progressed in the graffiti world, the worse his personal life unraveled.
Moorer’s tag “Regs” was originally an abbreviation for regression, which he described as a return to his less developed state. Moorer felt the more he progressed in the graffiti world, the worse his personal life unraveled. “Regs” was also a nickname for his late uncle, Reggie, and the number “57” representative of his late aunt, whose initials were “KS”. On a dial pad, those letters create “57”.
“It was very destructive. I’m not going to lie, but I learned how to cope with things through art,” Moorer admitted.
During his carefree chapter in life, he discovered his true creative process. He creates art that looks aggressive because he pulls inspiration from negative experiences and feelings.
“I like evil, dark-looking things because I always paint from a depressed, sad spot,” he said. “You can find out someone’s emotional state by how they paint or the attitude of their letters.”
Moorer’s creativity and hard work got him into the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he now combines his passion for art with his focus on cars and automotive design. His commitment to graffiti hasn’t completely gone to waste, as the writer quickly realized his skills applied to what he was learning in school.
“Colors, shape coordination, seeing how different geometric volumes work together…I’ve learned all of that stuff from graffiti,” he said.
Most days after school freshman year, he sat in his room playing video games. One thing Moorer didn’t expect was the Cleveland Police Department knocking on his door with a search warrant. That was Moorer’s wake-up call.
Someone he was affiliated with was caught painting illegally and gave up Moorer’s name. He never kept any of his graffiti tools at home so they never found any proof. Still, seeing his mother’s palpable disappointment was enough to make him step away from illegal graffiti.
Moorer didn’t let the unfortunate incident stop him from creating, though. He vowed to stick to legal walls after his burner on September 11th, 2011 in Little Italy, a small neighborhood in Cleveland. Moorer’s piece is still there to this day, representing a farewell to his past life.
“Graffiti is about passing on memories or a message that lasts forever, it’s a reflection of one’s self,” Moorer contemplated.
“Graffiti is like a car without wheels.” – Moorer
Moorer’s dream of working on cars continued when he accepted an internship at General Motors in Michigan. He is now a creative clay sculptor prototyping car designs for the future.
“Graffiti is like a car without wheels,” Moorer said. “The curvature of the car is like the curvature of the letters.”
Moorer continues freelance work painting garages, basements, or anywhere someone wants him to create. As long as he has creative freedom, which he considers a crucial part of his work, he’ll dedicate his time to the piece.
Robert Morris has known Moorer since high school and continues to be impressed when he sees him create something new.
“His creative freedom is a reflection of himself and his own interests and it’s part of what makes his art so compelling,” Morris said. “You can really see the artist when you look at his work and though I’ve known him all these years it’s still super exciting to see what he can cook up.”
There are still mixed opinions when it comes to graffiti in Cleveland, even with the culture growing. Rob Jones, however, claims graffiti is more than just walls. It’s everywhere even if people don’t realize it.
“Although graffiti may have its roots in vandalism, today’s cities pay artists for murals to showcase,” Jones said. “A graffiti artist’s work was used for a presidential campaign, a graffiti artist did the ticket design for this year’s Super Bowl…It’s everywhere and I don’t think it’ll be going anywhere anytime soon.”