Reverse Graffiti is a very cool art form that takes a hint from the cars with “wash me” written in the dust on windshields. Artists, instead of applying paint to a wall, will scrub away the thick layers of pollution to create an image. The wall is their canvas and the grime that sits on top of it is their paint. An artist will use detergents, wire brushes, pressure hoses and sometimes stencils to remove pollution from the wall. Artists who practice reverse graffiti often site a desire to make people aware of environmental issues as the reason they utilize this method as a their forum for expression. However, sometimes an artist will be hired by a company to create an advertisement utilizing reverse graffiti techniques in order to create a greener image for the company. (Below: Image of Moose’s mural created as an advertisement for Green Works’ plant based detergent, which was used to create the piece)
While this sort of advertizing may falsely represent how green a company really is, the advertisement itself is a far superior method because it doesn’t utilize any new materials, like paper or ink or energy to power lights behind a big screen. The method in fact does clean up a dirty wall, which not only means some of the pollution has been removed, but more important is that people can see just how dirty their streets really are and maybe be more inclined to pay attention to how the space they work and live in is treated.
There are two artists that stand out in the reverse graffiti movement, Moose (real name Paul Curtis) and Alexandre Orion. Moose is considered the grandfather of this style and has been doing it for around ten years. He is based out of the UK but has done works all over the world. He started doing this art form as a way of drawing attention to pollution and other environmental issues. A lot of his work is done in Leeds and London, where he has sufficiently upset officials and officers with his work. Leeds responded to it by stating that his work was making the neighborhoods unattractive and that they believed the rouge advertising was a type of environmental damage, which is of course very ironic considering he is cleaning the pollution off he walls. He was then charged under the Anti-Social Behavior act and instructed to clean up his cleaning of the walls. Perhaps they wanted him to make it dirty again?
Alexandre Orion is another artist who has taken on many reverse graffiti projects to challenge the people of his city to think about how they impact their environment. Based out of Brazil, he has taken on projects in Sao Paulo that ended up achieving great success in cleaning the cities tunnels. His work was done in the Tunnels and consisted of large piles of skulls that lined the wall. He wanted to use imagery of death to hopefully make people think, as they are driving in their cars, about how emissions affect the planet and the environment that they live and work in. The image was quite disturbing and the city very much disliked having it up, but they could not find a way to charge Orion because he had not damaged any property so they were forced to clean the wall in order to get rid of the image. Orion then went ahead and did the same thing to the other side of the tunnel. The city then decided it was best to not only clean that wall, but the walls in every tunnel in the city so as to prevent Orion from defacing any more of the cities property. I wonder if they saw the wonderful irony of how they tried preventing his personal expression of frustration over the filth by cleaning it up and essentially doing exactly what he wanted.
Although this work didn’t stop the progress of pollution, people still drive their cars through that tunnel and the grime will eventually build back up, the fact that one mans act of expression his frustration at the state of his city actually lead to a clean up is very inspiring. I think this is one of the most wonderful aspects of art and personal expression. It doesn’t always intend to solve a problem, but it asks question and makes people think and sometimes the work can affect direct change in more than just people’s minds. I think reverse graffiti, especially in Orion’s case, does a wonderful job of this. If someone writes, “wash me” on your filthy car, won’t you be at least a little more inclined to actually do it, even if it is just to remove the shame of having the words calling blatant attention to it? Perhaps this method is a little confrontational; it could make people uncomfortable and make a neighborhood look less attractive. But I think that is the whole point. A community with enough filth on its walls that it acts as a paint isn’t a really a clean and attractive area. It can remind the city and its residents, that the places we live ought to be clean and that in order to really solve the problem, it needs to be stopped at the source, pollution.