Just when you thought graffiti was about defacing buildings – and sometimes adding to their value in the process – along came Moose, a British commercial artist and DJ who creates his pretty pictures by cleaning grime off buildings rather than adding a new layer.
Despite a shift towards cleaner living, our often-filthy urban landscape has provided a blank canvas for the technique, popularly known as reverse graffiti, which aims to create environmentally friendly works of art.
And so it was that, on April 14, 2008, Moose – real name Paul Curtis – joined documentary filmmaker Doug Pray in a statement about “a philosophy of clean”, which saw the pair removing dirt (and simultaneously creating art) in San Francisco’s Broadway Tunnel for the Reverse Graffiti Project.
But where has reverse graffiti been since the Broadway Tunnel statement? The answer: on walls and other surfaces, usually for about 8-16 weeks depending on footfall intensity and weather conditions. The technique is also known as clean graffiti, dust tagging, grime writing or clean advertising, and has been used as a form of guerilla marketing to reach consumers in unconventional ways.
A popular playful example are the words “Wash Me” on the sides of dirty vehicles, while companies like Puma, Smirnoff, Microsoft and the BBC have all used reverse graffiti in eco-friendly ad campaigns. Ironically for what is arguably the cleanest – ink or paper not necessary – and totally biodegradable form of advertising, the art still has its critics.
UK pressure group Keep Britain Tidy opposes reverse graffiti, while authorities have tried on several occasions to prosecute clean advertisers, which has proved difficult due to the temporary and non-destructive nature of the technique.