ROME – The post on the Facebook page of the Mayor of Rome was triumphant: the police had found a man who “was once considered not to be caught”. She announced that after a year of investigation, authorities had discovered the true identity of the elusive tagger, known only as Geco.

For years, his nickname has been used in block letters to denote countless Roman subway stations and bridges, abandoned buildings and schools, parks and galleries. There are stickers with his name on countless street signs, lamp posts and newspaper kiosks.

“It has polluted hundreds of walls and buildings in Rome and other European cities that had to be cleaned with public funds,” wrote Mayor Virginia Raggi on social media this week. She posted a photo of “hundreds of spray cans, thousands of stickers” and other tricks of the trade that investigators had confiscated from the apartment of Rome’s most wanted graffiti painter.

The city council did not disclose the real name of Geco. But Italian news outlets identified him without saying how they got the name. And they provided few personal details about the man believed to be in his late twenties and originally from Rome. His lawyer wouldn’t confirm his real name.

Geco is nowhere near as well known as Banksy, the world’s most famous artist provocateur, whose true identity remains a secret. But he made a name for himself in Rome, where his tags seemed to be everywhere, while his true identity – in the spirit of his better-known counterpart – was kept secret.

Paulo von Vacano, publisher and contemporary urban art expert, said the marking was “something brutal, archaic,” adding, “You are marking your name to show that you are the king of the road. In the context of what he’s done, he’s done very well. “

Geco fueled his fame by marking a dangerously tall train tower and climbing the roof of a city grocery store to leave an unusually elaborate message: “Geco ti mette le ali” or “Geco gives you wings”.

While most Romans felt the Italian capital could use a good cleanup, including its graffiti, many grumbled that the city – and the mayor – had much bigger problems to deal with, from the ubiquitous scourge of potholes to the infrequent garbage disposal . not to mention the economic burden of the coronavirus pandemic.

“A writer who is treated like a mafioso,” wrote a center-left Democratic Party legislator Matteo Orfini on Twitter. “Reading and interpreting a city through the lens of decency and safety alone cannot be the solution. In fact, it’s part of the problem (not a small part). “

At least one “Free Geco” tag appeared on a city wall. But in fact he was not arrested.

Geco’s attorney Domenico Melillo, himself a graffiti writer turned street performer Frode, said the investigation was still in a preliminary phase and that his client had not been formally charged.

“Everything has to be checked,” he said.

If Geco is accused of defacing public or private property and has been identified as a repeat offender, he faces up to two years in prison and fines.

But Mr Melillo dismissed the mayor’s Facebook post as little more than political propaganda violating his client’s right to secrecy during the preliminary investigation. Mayors understand that cracking down on graffiti is a way of building political consensus, he said, adding, “They want to show that they are doing something.”

Through his lawyer, Geco declined to be interviewed.

The geo stab was carried out by an 18-month-old environmental police task force that works directly for the mayor’s office. It acted on numerous complaints from Mrs Raggi as well as the infrastructure commissioner of the city and an association for one of the largest parks in Rome. They claimed damage to the city’s property as well as various other buildings and green spaces.

It was rumored that Geco landed in the mayor’s crosshairs for mistakenly marking an abandoned building that turned out to be the secret service’s hiding place.

The mayor’s office said Geco had also been active in other European countries, most notably Portugal, where it caused thousands of euros in damage in Lisbon.

Some might argue that thanks to its tags, Rome had expanded its urban art scene. When it comes to graffiti, there has always been a fine line between vandalism and creative genius, said Mr. von Vacano, the urban art expert.

Many famous contemporary artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, began their careers as taggers. And countless street painters from Banksy to Blu, another celebrated and anonymous Italian artist, have achieved fame and market value.

Geco has never deviated from its roots as a tagger. In an interview on a Portuguese website, he defined himself as a large-volume bomber who “wanted to spread my name more than an overdeveloped aesthetic”. He said his top priority is quantity, adding, “Quality comes later.”

“He is pure,” said Mr. von Vacano. “He’s everywhere, a free spirit, and like all street performers of his kind, he works in lawlessness. He doesn’t interact with the art system. “

While Ms. Raggi was celebrating the alleged demise of a street painter, another was celebrated in Rome’s urban modern art gallery with a retrospective of the American Shepard Fairey. The show “3 decades of dissent” is now closed due to the corona virus.

And for a campaign that was started last November to teach Roman school children to keep their city clean, Ms. Raggi hired a well-known graphic artist to draw her as a manga cartoon character. (In one case, the mayor is shown frowning at a graffiti writer.)

Not long afterwards, the artist Mario Improta, known as Marione, was released from the campaign after posting a vignette on social media depicting the European Union as the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.

“It is clear that not everyone likes graffiti and it is legitimate for someone to be angry that someone has marked their house. But it is a leap to imagine a writer as a criminal, ”said Andrea Cegna, the author of a book on graffiti.

To praise the Banksys or the Harings, you have to accept the contradicting part, the illegal part.

“As for everything that is aesthetic, everything that has to do with taste,” said Cegna, “there is no right or wrong.”