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Reverse Graffiti. How To Provoke Being An Exemplary Citizen

Updated on June 9, 2011

Dirtying With Water

Standing in one of the moss and dirt covered tunnels in Leeds, Paul Curtis saw the shiny white tile that the fingertips of bored children and the shoulders of unsteady drunks had exposed.

With only a pair of socks as his tool, Reverse Graffiti was born.

Remove the dirt to create a drawing, it cannot be said that it is something new indeed, it's like writing "WASH ME" on the hood of a dirty car using the finger.

The spark of the creativity appears when the artist's eye sees art where the rest of us mortals only see dirt.

Paul Curtis, also known as Moose, is an urban British artist very respected by the singular focus of his work: he is dedicated to create reverse graffiti.

The idea is to create a graffiti by cleaning the surface. This technique is also known as clean tagging, dust tagging or grime writing.

Reverse Graffiti
Reverse Graffiti

Art Or Vandalism?

He create his messages using water and soap to clean in a selective way the dirty walls of Leeds.

A double challenge for the local authorities: the message always provocative of the graffiti and the method that doesn't seem that it can be classified as vandalism.

Great part of the society has depicted the urban artists as vandals.

The main critic to the graffiti is that it dirties and contaminates the urban landscape.

Can it be said that to draw cleaning a surface is a grafitti? May be, may be not.

But for sure to clean, although the cleaning is selective, it is not illegal then it cannot be said that is a vandal act.

We Are In Opposition!

Many of Moose's artistic works are systematically cleaned. The Anti-Social Behavior Act it was the instrument to take actions against Moose.

But a charge for showing how dirty a city is, is a joke in itself. If it wasn’t about the paint, and if it wasn’t about the damage, then it was really only about and against the one remaining element: expression.

As Paul Curtis says:

...You make people confront whether or not they like people cleaning walls or if they really have a problem with personal expression.

The Leeds City Council has been considering what to do with Moose.

...I’m waiting for the kind of Monty Python court case where exhibit A is a pot of cleaning fluid and exhibit B is a pair of my old socks

he jokes.

Transcending The Frontiers

On April 14 2008, he collaborated with Zeroh Design Ltd, and Doug Pray to create and film a long mural in the Broadway tunnel in San Francisco.

Through the tunnel circulates a daily traffic of 20.000 vehicles, so the soot accumulation in the walls is heavy.

The effort was sponsored by Green*Works, makers of an organic, natural cleaning product that Moose used as he revealed his art by removing the dirt with a power washer.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Reverse Graffiti Advertising
Reverse Graffiti Advertising


Paul Curtis has taken this form of artistic expression a step farther, becoming a commercial artist.

The advertisers have found in this ecological way of promoting their products a fantastic opportunity to get the attention in a so saturated market of images.

Moose runs an eco-marketing firm, Symbollix. Big companies (Microsoft, Xbox, Coca Cola, Channel 4 (UK), Smirnoff) have hired him for their publicity campaigns.

The mix of graffiti and advertising never sits well, but advertising that could interact harmlessly with the environment was too revolutionary to be ignored.

Other Reverse Graffiti Artists

Scott Wade: Reverse Graffiti on Cars

He lives very near a dirt road covered in caliche (a blend of limestone dust, gravel and clay). Driving over this surface results in a fine white dust.

This dust billows up behind a vehicle covering the rear window. Scott Wade draws over the dusty glass using plain ordinary artist brushes, and the effects are amazing.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Scott with BrushMona LisaAlbert EinsteinTrapped (Scott and Daughter)RonaldinhoPoker DogsMt. RushmorePatrick, Larry and LindaLinda Gray signs her portrait
Scott with Brush
Scott with Brush
Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Trapped (Scott and Daughter)
Trapped (Scott and Daughter)
Poker Dogs
Poker Dogs
Mt. Rushmore
Mt. Rushmore
Patrick, Larry and Linda
Patrick, Larry and Linda
Linda Gray signs her portrait
Linda Gray signs her portrait

Alexandre Orion: Ossario

He is a Brazilian artist known as Ossario. In 2007 he drew a mural in the Max Feffer tunnel in the São Paulo city.

Cleaning the soot of the cars accumulated in the walls, he carried out a mural of more than 160 meters of human skulls.

By means of this allegory of death, the artist wanted to denounce the excessive contamination of the city.

See the video to know what happened to the mural.

Kseniya Simonova: Sand Animation

Kseniya Simonova is a sand animator from Ukraine.

Certainly she is not an Reverse Graffiti artist, but the applied technique is essentially the same one (covering a surface with sand and rendering images by drawing lines and figures in the sand with the hands).

She is a gifted artist. She tells stories through sand, her art speaks a thousand word.

(Explanation of the video's story)

The Cleaners

Reverse Grafitti work from Artoxic done in Vienna.

(Video suggested by Mesra in the comments section below, thanks).


    Images by
       Reverse Graffiti  Badjonni
       Advertising       Ajuk


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