Graffiti writer turned digital illustrator and muralist Spen Oner talks Vegas’ scene, street art and more

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When I was arrested for graffiti, my mom told me, ‘You can keep doing art; you just have to find a way to make money off of it’.”

The rebellious subculture has provided a platform for self-expression, political messages and territorial claims and, today, can be used as inspiration for various commissions. Yet, graffiti’s vibrant legacy is complex; associated with gangs and vandalism, it often leads to arrests and controversy, and historically it has had to fight for respect in the art world.

A local digital illustrator and muralist, Spen Oner —he goes by Spen—knows this firsthand, having repurposed his graffiti background into a professional career. Spen’s vibrant style and characters are influenced by the cartoons and anime he watches and by the ‘80s B-boy style of his late business partner and friend Mex One. These standout attributes are showcased throughout Las Vegas—on murals, event flyers, billboards and more. His work is also sought after by local and national companies.

Spen embodies graffiti’s evolution into a celebrated form of artistic expression, enriching public spaces and challenging conventional notions of art.

Can you share a bit about your journey from being a graffiti writer to becoming a digital artist and muralist?

When I was growing up in New York—I was born in ‘81—I would see lots of graffiti… When I moved away to Florida I saw more and fell in love with it as a kid. I was 18 when I got arrested and after that I picked up digital programs like Photoshop.

You moved to Vegas from Florida eight years ago. Was the move to pursue art?

It was a huge part of it. At the time Wynwood [Florida] was a new thing and there were so many artists condensed into that one area. And I didn’t want to compete with all those people. I needed to be somewhere that I could just do my thing and where the jobs are plentiful.

How did you come to paint various murals all over Las Vegas?

I heard all the locals would hang out at this place called the Bunkhouse [Saloon] and there I met a local DJ named Dialekt and he introduced me to Dana [Anderson] and Phil [Limon]. At the time I didn’t know that they were the I.S.I. Group [a local arts & entertainment collective], and from there, everything flourished. They gave me my beginnings on a lot of the murals I’ve done.

How do you see yourself contributing to or being influenced by Vegas’ art scene?

I didn’t just come here and stick my flag in the ground. I think it’s important to talk to the people that have been here before me and have these art collectives. I’ve spent a lot of time meeting artists and shaking hands because when I’m accepted, then I can participate and people will support me.

What inspires this unique style that you’ve developed?

My style developed from watching cartoons and anime as a teenager while being in the graffiti scene, you know? Graffiti characters have a certain look so I was drawing them in a way that I thought they should look. But in 2004 my boy Mex needed a flyer for his B-boy jam and would send me reference pictures of himself. This was an era of clothes and he was very proud of his poses … he had all this retro ’80s breaking gear, and it just snowballed from there.

You’ve worked with companies like Red Bull, MGM Resorts, Downtown Project, Champion and Hoonigan. Can you tell me about a particularly memorable project?

I’ve also worked with Balenciaga, Tiffany & Co. and Nike… All those people are cool and I appreciate them, but all I’m thinking of is all the flyers I did for my boy Mex. When he passed away, those things became special because I didn’t know how temporary they were going to be. He was my business partner and best friend, and that moment in time where we worked together for 11 or 12 years, they were a combination of his and my mind and I miss that. I would trade anything to go back and make flyers with him.

How do you balance staying true to your artistic vision and meeting the expectations of clients?

Just standing my ground, basically. I think if you want to get far and establish a style you have to stay true to you—give them what they want but your version of that.

How do you see the role of street graffiti art in contemporary society? What changes have you noticed since you started as a teenager?

It’s more welcomed because there’s a lot of areas and cities that are establishing art districts which helps us out a lot. Especially those of us who have been doing this for a long time, we’ve ended up becoming the OGs in the whole thing. But as far as real street graffiti—these art districts and gentrified areas are not going to change that scene. It has a mind of its own and can survive on its own forever.

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