4C: The Dilemma with Reverse Graffiti

We all know what graffiti is. How it’s considered a crime for defacing public property but what about reverse graffiti? I’m sure once in your life you’ve taken your finger and doodled a picture from the dirty windshield of your parent’s car; that’s exactly what reverse graffiti is. Reverse graffiti is art that is created by literally removing dirt from surfaces. Its graffiti by means of subtracting dirt and creating a temporary image that can be scrubbed and washed away with ease.

Believe it or not, because of its unique attributes reverse graffiti has turned out to be one of the more highly debated topics in street art. Is it really considered illegal to remove dirt from surfaces? Of course not, but when the word ‘graffiti’ is attached to the act it’s immediately labeled as an illegal practice. This is the dilemma that has befallen reverse graffiti.

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  • The History of Reverse Graffiti

One of the taggers instrumental in the reverse graffiti movement is British graffiti artist “Moose”. He discovered the craft during his stint as a dishwasher; one of many odd jobs for him. Moose always tried to draw things from dirty plates while cleaning and thus the “Reverse Graffiti Project” was born. The movement has now gone on to widespread popularity all around the globe from Europe to North America and South America. Check out the short video below to get familiar about the reverse graffiti project:

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  • The Problems with Prohibiting Reverse Graffiti

There have been cases where officials have prohibited reverse graffiti, putting it in the same category as regular graffiti but there has been public outcry that this rationale doesn’t quite make sense at all.

  • For one, reverse graffiti is temporary therefore artists who participate in this form of art aren’t really doing anything illegal. While they are defacing public property, they are not creating via spray paint or any other toxic substance, they are simply removing dirt to create an image.
  • Also, artists are creating works by means of subtracting dirt and debris – last time I checked, the act of cleaning walls is NOT illegal. It’s this very fact that reverse graffiti operates in a very grey area for public officials. While in a sense it is graffiti, it is also considered to be a sort of cleansing and cleaning of the environment.

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  • Reverse Graffiti’s Rise in Popularity

Because reverse graffiti doesn’t require any physical materials to create its art unlike its ugly sister, which deploys spray paint, ink and other chemicals to the environment, it remains as one of the cheaper (if not the cheapest) forms of street art out there. Where as purchasing spray paint and other materials can prove to be costly, reverse graffiti is the exact opposite. Due to its affordability as well as being technically not considered illegal in some places in the world, reverse graffiti has been on the steady rise. The downside is obviously the work doesn’t last as long but artists have gotten around this issue by taking photographs of their finished works, “preserving them” in a way.

Below are some of the best works of the form:


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  • Global Acceptance and “Green Graffiti”

Reverse graffiti has gained favour in many places, and some have dubbed it “green graffiti” referring to the nature of removing dirt and scum, and replacing it with art. In some countries like South Africa, government officials are actually promoting reverse graffiti proclaiming that it makes their cities beautiful. The image below depicts a dirty freeway wall being scrubbed clean by taggers.

A company also going by the name “Green Graffiti” provides its clients with a means of advertising through the reverse graffiti method. Green Graffiti’s clients include Starbucks, Dominos Pizza, and MTV.

I think reverse graffiti is one of the more ingenious forms of street art out there. I believe the movement promotes cleanliness as well as providing beautiful works of art. It gives graffiti a good rep and is great for the planet as it doesn’t pollute the environment with hard materials, and toxic chemicals.

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  • Where Do You Stand?

What are your thoughts on reverse graffiti? Do you believe it should be categorized as a crime for defacing property (similar to permanent graffiti), or do you think its a smart way to promote cleanliness in an urban setting? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your responses.

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