REVERSE GRAFFITI: Street Artists Tag Walls by Scrubbing Them Clean

by , 08/01/14

Reverse graffiti, Sao Paulo, Alexander Orion, Clean graffiti, eco-friendly graffiti, eco-friendly street art, clean green graffiti

When is cleaning the sidewalks a crime? When you’re doing it to create art. Obviously. A number of street artists around the world have taken to expressing themselves through an innovative practice known as Reverse Graffiti. Taking a cue from the “Wash Me” messages scrawled on the back of delivery trucks, they seek out soot covered surfaces and inscribe them with images, tags, and even advertising slogans using scrub brushes, scrapers and pressure hoses.

Reverse graffiti, London, Moose, Clean graffiti, eco-friendly graffiti, eco-friendly street art, clean green graffiti, Paul Curtis

The UK’s Paul Curtis, better known as “Moose,” is one of the technique’s pioneers. Operating around Leeds and London, he has been commissioned by a number of brands, such as Smirnoff, who want to convey a sense of “clean” in an innovative way.

On a more overtly environmental bent, Brazilian Alexandre Orion, turned one of Sao Paolo’s transport tunnels into a stunning mural last summer. The mural, comprised of a series of skulls, very succinctly reminds drivers of the impact their emissions are having on the planet.

The practice puts authorities in a definite moral quandary. According to Moose, “Once you do this, 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 decided to lead their attack with an hilariously nonsensical position:

“Leeds residents want to live in clean and attractive neighborhoods, and expect their streets to be free of graffiti and illegal advertising. We also view this kind of rogue advertising as environmental damage and will take strong action against any advertisers carrying out such campaigns without the relevant permission.”

What action was taken against the advertisers is unknown. What is known is that Moose was charged under the very scary sounding Anti-Social Behaviour Act and ordered to clean up his clean act. I’m not exactly sure how he managed to did this. By making it dirty again?

The Brazilian artist’s work came to a happier resolution. The authorities were certainly miffed but could find nothing to charge him with. They had no other recourse but to clean the tunnel — but only the parts Alexandre had already cleaned. The artist merely continued his campaign on the other side of traffic. The utterly flummoxed city officials then decided to take drastic action. Not only did they clean the entire tunnel but also every other tunnel in Sao Paulo.



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  1. Amazing Natural Ads Pri... November 16, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    […] READ MORE > REVERSE GRAFFITI: Clean Green Street Art When is cleaning the sidewalks a crime? When you’re doing it to create art. Obviously. A number of street artists around the world have taken to expressing themselves through an innovative practice known as Reverse Graffiti. Taking a cue from the “Wash Me” messages scrawled on the back of delivery trucks, they seek out soot […] […]

  2. Erni Graffiti Gear Vales March 6, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Its awesome! So simple, so in your face!
    Im sure every city has a lot of issues to solve, and cleaning street art shouldn’t be among them. You cant fight it! Unfortunately, people and officials dont wanna see the difference between vandalism and art. Much easier to call it all illegal. And spend tax money on cleaning it, Its been decades and centuries already, they still havent learned the lesson. Street art will always be there!

  3. HoraceRoad February 7, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Shouldn’t be doing them for advertising. Art is art. Ads and marketing are toxic…

  4. Inhabitat » REVER... June 18, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    […] grit to leave a lasting impression. You may remember Paul Curtis aka “Moose” from our coverage of Reverse Graffiti in the UK last year; we’re excited to announce that the Reverse Graffiti team recently teamed up with […]

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  8. Twan van Elk March 3, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Go to for an item on Alexandre Orion (fast-forward to 10:14 min).

  9. Marcus SERENTITY SUSHI February 27, 2008 at 3:36 am

    hi i was just woundering where one could get one of these jet cleaning pistlols, for a cheap price or anywhere .?

  10. carolita February 3, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Just be careful when you do this kind of graffiti! All that soot is very toxic and not good to breathe in — so do like Moose and wear a mask and gloves! I totally approve! I think it’s wonderful to pose such a paradox.

  11. Derek Eddy January 29, 2008 at 7:38 am

    when you look at the broader picture, at how polluted our cities are, its bassically a match made in heaven, using art for protest, yet without the use of aerosoles, solvents or the like, yet showing the people how much more unpleasent, our own ignorance can be when painted on a wall.

  12. paul b January 29, 2008 at 5:29 am

    arrt is the best

  13. Bill Ectric November 30, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    This is brilliant!
    A top-notch idea I wish I had thought of myself.

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  15. rhys November 17, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    graffiti is alright if u do it in a place where you are aloud,and it is bad for the envoirment aswell so STOP DOING GRAFFITI AND RESPECT FOR OTHERS!!!

  16. DoN November 15, 2007 at 4:30 pm


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  19. kristo November 4, 2007 at 8:39 am

    these are some excellent examples — this technique is very similar to that known as “selective buffing”, removing select parts of another, damaged graffiti piece or stencil, in order to create a new artwork.
    clearly the authorities here have completely missed the point of the works, but it had the desired effect to some extent nonetheless.

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  21. Jade November 1, 2007 at 9:57 am

    This and the live-green graffiti are making me feel really excited about art… street art… the green movement… Wow, this is so awesome. What a silly city council statement though!

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  27. minigun00 September 5, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    i live in são paulo (yes that is how we write it) and i’ve seen alexandre’s work, it really blows oyu mind, i didn’t know it was reverse graffiti untill i saw this

    it’s incredible if seen personaly, and i think this is a kind of street art that creates a certain conciousness of how dirty the place is by knowing that your looking at a clean spot

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  34. Crazy_816 May 21, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Yo crazy graffiti is good is not crime or ”Vandillism” its a for of art or a form of a message and if you dont like it then you dont know the true meaning!!

  35. samuel messinger April 28, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    we would like to email or speak with mr curtis. we have some work for him here in south florida

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  40. Marcoz March 23, 2007 at 4:51 am

    It’s funny how the graffiti world is turning back to powerful messages. Look at Banksy and Dolk two of the leading stencil artists. I posted a bunch of pictures from one of them here it’s worth a peek.

    The problem is where they put it.

  41. »... March 19, 2007 at 3:59 pm

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  43. abc March 17, 2007 at 9:27 am

    You can’t have the common man putting out messages to the people now as this is to be the domain of the governers of the system.

    I very much doubt ‘their’ arguments against expression like this are for any reason other than they must not allow people to express powerful messages to others, as this threatens their control, as it attacks their monopoly on the dissemination of information.

  44. LL March 12, 2007 at 7:21 am

    Some people think writing looks dirty when all it is is paint. in a lot of cases, most of the time the paint from the aerosol art is covering up the dirt and crap from the fuel emissions too.

    aerosol writing since way back in the late 1960s has always been an outlet for ghetto youth to come out of that dirty inner city and express themselves — to get their names up and not just be another damned statistic. escaping routine, rejecting convention, resisting the constraints of a repressive society, and have an alternative to being in a gang. compare this with the paint used to write their names covering dirty city walls, symbolically they’re coming up out of that environment saying, “these are my surroundings.”, “I exist.”, and “we shouldn’t be overlooked”.

  45. Richard Trautmann March 9, 2007 at 11:24 pm

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  46. royal March 7, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Awesome awesome. I’m no hugger and I think this is the bomb-diggity. City doesn’t like how you cleaned the sidewalk? They can clean it themselves, right? AWESOME!

  47. Martin Teuschel February 27, 2007 at 5:13 am

    Guys this is a great idea!
    I used to decorate rubbish with stickers a while ago.
    Be sure the city will be more beutyful.
    And on the other hand rubbish come more public.


  48. genevieve February 24, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    amazing! i love the idea of restoring by art.
    i think some graffiti is actually pretty cool … im working on photo collection of graffiti in different cities … but i think this idea is fabulous.

  49. Svetlina February 15, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Street cleaning Graffiti! Who’d thought it? Unbelievable. That is a top novel idea deserving some kind of award no?

  50. greg February 15, 2007 at 5:12 am

    y r u using a stencel??

  51. jlam February 14, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    Awesome idea… I think it is awesome that you can take an eyesore and make art out of it. If all these street cleaning artists succeed in doing is getting the city to clean up the mess in which gave them a canvas to work with, then they still have done a great service. Criminal charges for reverse vandalism, especially in good taste, is just stupid. Get the point and clean the area up. Otherwise shut up and be thankful someone with raw talent and excessive creativity can take what you neglected to do (and probably still won’t for that matter) and make something that is appealing to the general public. Its like taking a city dump and turning it into a city park. They made great what was previously disgusting and a disgrace to a town. Keep up the good work!!!

  52. NiKki SiFueNtes February 12, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    I think if an artist is so called CLEANING a wall, so be it.. Let ART be.. its a beautiful thing. To walk around a trashed out part of a city and then come across the vibrant colors and beautiful images of an ARTIST, it just makes the whole site worth seeing… I love Art and I believe if it is in good taste and creative, it should be expressed… One Luv,,,, NiK

  53. Chris Barna February 10, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    True they are not actually marking on the walls but I would imagine this would still cost something to “clean off”. When a wall is painted, the paint obviously has to be removed but when grime is cleaned off in a pattern, the only way to get rid of it would be to wash the entire wall. The moral issue comes up in whether this is vandalism. I don’t think the artists are the ones at fault, they are just bringing the problem to the attention of everybody else.

  54. Anna February 9, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    To vandalize is to destroy, and there’s nothing destructive about cleaning (except maybe to the dirt and grime). The effects that the reverse graffiti have on its society are very interesting. Those who believe that it’s wrong don’t realize how dirty their community has been. Obviously, they see pictures or phrases they find offensive and want them removed, completely missing the fact it’s written on FILTH. Furthermore, the fact that the community is only cleaning the area that has pictures on it proves that the poor conditions of the area aren’t the main concern. We need to do something. We need to make reverse graffiti an epidemic and address the cause. Why should we get in trouble for improving our community and making others aware of the issues in an artistic way?

  55. michael ashley February 9, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    yo my name is michael im 14 years old and im tryin to lurn street graffiti ritin im doin a hip hop street dance and break dance at durngate in northampton on the saturday 14th may i hope you can give me advice for graffiti ritin i hope you get this message

    from michaelashley

  56. Chris Edmunds February 9, 2007 at 8:03 am


    Love what you’re doing. I’ve been trying the same technique with a high pressure washer and series of steel stencils. I am piloting the scheme with the Design Iniative and have been washing all kiinds of grime of walls – hence “Partners in Grime” is born. Check out my site at 10% finders fee to anyone who can find me a commission (listed buildings not considered) . . . ‘-)

  57. BERLIN BLAWG - SEWOMA®... February 4, 2007 at 5:02 am

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  58. isearch February 2, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    Well done guys! I am quite the fan of graff and “illegal” advertising. I don’t have a say in which advertisements meet my eyes and are burnt into my subconscious when I walk down the street so it is good to know that we keep the peaceful fight going. On that note, I have to mention that I am REALLY pissed off by the graff on trees I have seen recently in my current city, Odessa, Ukraine. The trees have done nothing, target the corporations. Keep up the Green Graff guys! I will support you all the way! It is good to know that a lot of us are still doing it for the right reasons and not just for ego advancement!

  59. notafool January 30, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    This is baloney. If the artists want to do something good & green, they can just clean the dirty walls. The great unwashed would appreciate that more than the pretense of art.

  60. Freedom Fighter January 30, 2007 at 7:09 am

    In response to the person who added comment about who would object to this form of expression- its prolly the same people who throughout time have supressed free thought and speech to gain control in our world! I tip my hat to the people who wont give in to our increasingly facist world and find creative means to deliver the much needed truth to the masses !

  61. lisa January 30, 2007 at 4:57 am

    I think this is brilliant! Everyone should be allowed to show off their artwork, even if it’s graffiti.
    Yes there are bad points as well as good points of this type of art, but if it’s purpose is to make people look and go “WOW!”.
    Graffiti is only vandalism unless “that person” allows them to place their artwork on “that person’s” property.

  62. Carney January 29, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    F’in brilliant!

  63. ZeroTolerance January 28, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Exciting pictures!
    I always worry about cities that imagine themselves “clean”. Remember streets in the nineteen century where full of mud, shit and garbages! The main pollution comes from advertising!
    Ain’t no half steppin,writers will burn every wall.

  64. K M January 28, 2007 at 6:39 am

    I thnk graffii is good and bad because if its something that is art and has put work into i think it is absolutly great but if its jus somethng theve writtin with swear word and insults to other people that is wrong and nasty

  65. Yoi January 27, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    I thinks this is sick!! =)
    Whyy is it considered bad if its cleaning??!

  66. Erik January 27, 2007 at 4:06 am

    wow, thats pretty cool… My city gives out free muraling permits to artists… and as long as they have permission by the owner, have the permit when they start and thier work is considered a mural, the city wont take it down…

    But this is a pretty cool idea.

  67. alex January 26, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Wicked! I live in Leeds n am gonna make n effort to go find the graffiti! Great idea

  68. michelle January 25, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    this is awesome!!!, maybe i should try it, my rez is sooo dirty!!

  69. links for 2007-01-26 at... January 25, 2007 at 8:35 pm

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  70. D2 January 25, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    That is so funny! I have been meaning to ask the local police department whether it would technically be graffiti to powerwash my name into the side of a building. I asked everyone I know and don’t have an answer yet… but this would be an interesting example when I go talk to the authoriteies!

  71. Keith Hallam January 25, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    I’ve just had a “I wish I’d thought of that” moment. Awesome and then some.

  72. zoe betts January 25, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Wow! Such simplistic idea,yet so effective! Everyone (well most people have at some point in there lives) usually does little doodles on car windows etc when they are condensated or write things on the sides of cars when they’re dirty, but i’d never have thought of taking it further and making my little doodles into something so spectacular!
    I respect the artists greatly.
    Zoe, Norwich, Uk

  73. Keith January 25, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Very nice!!! It takes much more talent to create images using this type of medium vs colors. Skill is certainly required in getting the shading to look good. Besides the fact that the only way to remove it is to actually CLEAN it. What a concept!

  74. swordfish23 January 25, 2007 at 5:55 am

    awesome idea! so easy, so powerfull, so hortative.

  75. Kristen January 24, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    Hah! This is a very cool!! Much better than a original type of grafitti!

  76. ivybug January 24, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    That cleaning equals vandalism is the dumbest thing I ever heard.

  77. paul January 24, 2007 at 11:53 am

    “Art is not eternal.” Wash/sandblast the damn walls and penalize taggers.

  78. Steph January 24, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Wonderful work and Leed’s council’s atitude just typical of their moronic stance when it’s something they don’t like, but can’t think up a logical reason for or against it!

  79. fusion.01 January 24, 2007 at 5:54 am

    Well, I think we do need to come up with some kind of legislature that differentiates between crap, blatant vandalism and actual street art. This will no doubt be very difficult to do, as art by it’s very definition is so open to individual interpretation. My point being that these wankers whom utterly destroy people’s walls or street signs with inane and juvinile tags (messy, uncreative, nasty scrawl of a ‘signature’) have disrespectful intentions behind their actions. The inverse is that there is incredible street art out there, such as it showcased on this blog page… utter genius in the works. I also remember incredible illustration / graphic design in the Amsterdam parks and also here, in Cape Town (since deleted). This creativity should be encouraged as it wins IMHO hands-down versus a plain white wall which has little to say for itself… as long as it’s not on some individual’s personal property (or, once again, blatant vandalism). I think more thought should go into better supporting valid graffiti / street art by local municipalities: to encourage it within certain areas reserved for this use. But it’s difficult to enforce what does have merit and should be allowed, and what should not. Seems some whom wreck anything possible with a spraycan and no talent spoil it for the rest whom really spent time, energy and dedication on such a project.

  80. songlines January 24, 2007 at 4:47 am

    what a great, even somewhat poetic, idea! love this!

  81. Sean January 24, 2007 at 2:30 am

    It’s genius. JUST PURE GENIUS.

    I wish my city was dirty enough to practice this.

  82. Todd Hamilton’s B... January 23, 2007 at 8:36 pm

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  83. barefootcreative | prod... January 23, 2007 at 8:08 pm

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  84. Fan January 23, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Brilliant! I have been considering the moral dilemas of graffitti latley- And I have come to the conclusion that if we can be completely bombarded with images and words through advertising- then we might as well say what we want as well. Hearing the voice of the public is important and keeps a community alive. I would stress that I appreciate the athestics of Moose’s work, and that quality is important. I LOVE that he doesn’t use any harmful solvents. I have been busy ‘beautifying’ my area as well- do what you can to make the world a better place everyone! Clean, plant, restore, decorate, speak out!

  85. fade theory » rev... January 23, 2007 at 4:52 am

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  86. Reverse Graffiti - Uber... January 21, 2007 at 7:29 pm

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  87. Podnosh Blog : High Fib... January 20, 2007 at 7:24 am

    […] But another blogger Andrew Brown pointed me in the direction of another challenge to how you would police a ‘broken windows’ approach: Reverse Graffiti sees the art (or vandlism) creating by cleaning grime from public buildings – a hyper version of the ‘clean me’ scrawl on white vans. Take a look at inhabit for some fab photos and the simple challenge: When is cleaning the sidewalks a crime? When you’re doing it to create art. Obviously. In some cities the only response from the authorities has been to clean the place up – de-grime it. I wonder how long it will be before we see taggers buying solvent, so they can reverse tag by creating clean patterns in other people’s graffiti? Broken window? […]

  88. listener January 19, 2007 at 4:56 pm


    Artist Draws ‘Clean’ Graffiti from Dirty Walls
    Some British Officials See Moose’s Handiwork as Vandalism

  89. Justin Forney January 19, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Wow, one time where even if it was permanent it would be ok (in my book, anyway).

    Way better than that coloured scribble.

  90. just john January 19, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Wow, I’ve always wanted to do that!

    A quarter century ago, I was a professional dishwasher, and one of the nifty gadgets in my arsenal was a “Jet Spray” — a machine that would pump water mixed with cleaning stuff through a hose at high pressure. The nozzle made the stuff squirt out in a fan shape, and the visual effect it had on the concrete floor was like an inverse airbrush.

    I often wondered if one set up next to a graffiti-festooned wall and selectively cleaned it in a way similar to your linked graphic, would that count as vandalism? I mean, it would be selective removal of stuff.

    (crosspoted from Apostropher)

  91. originalgardener January 19, 2007 at 11:35 am

    urban art never can stop. It s wonderfull! Original gardener-France

  92. lynn dickason January 17, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    wonderful! thanks!!!

  93. 5chw4r7z January 15, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    So art stops being art when its commissioned?
    I love how this confronts the establishment with just how dirty modern life is.
    This shows just how ridiculous it is to ban smoking in bars when you stand on street corners with cars and buses flying by spewing toxic emissions.

  94. Streetsblog » Rev... January 15, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    […] Who is the big bad graffito — all of those automobile tailpipes or the guy scrubbing soot off the wall of this tunnel in Sao Paulo? A Streetsblog tipster sends along news about a cool new urban art form: […]

  95. rob in chicago January 13, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Well, the art is art and should stay up; the ads are ads and should come down. ‘Moose’ is not very true to the cause if he works for f’ing Smirnoff!

  96. karline Segan January 12, 2007 at 8:36 pm


  97. jb January 12, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    i gave a speech about how to do this for a class. The teacher gave me a C on the speech and wrote on my evaluation page that he had some “moral issues” with the topic i chose. btw, i go to an art school in georgia.

  98. Ann Garrison January 12, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    This is absolutely fabulous because iit’s so thoroughly radical but so simple and so obvious.

    The city fines homeowners who leave graffiti up on the sides of their houses where I live, They say that’s encouraging gang behaviour. (Taggin’ your territory.)

    I wonder what they’d say to this and I’d be tempted to countersue for the cost of washing the sludge from the diesel buses buses that chug up the hill and spew nightmares all toxic grime over the side of my house.

    Any chance I could use some of these photographs in a local newspaper that is much read but impoverished, because it’s so thoroughly radical?

    Splendiferous, brilliantissimo, fabulosouza; THIS IS ART. —Ann Garrison, San Francisco

  99. Gregory January 12, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Nice work!! Keep me posted. Thanx

  100. street art at TheGoddes... January 11, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    […] Following an interesting post on Inhabitat about ‘reverse graffiti‘, where the artist cleans an area to create his image, I found the work of Alexandre Orion.  First, Alexandre creates an image, then waits with his camera and captures passers-by interacting with the image, often unknowingly.  Take a minute to view his gallery- it’s fascinating. […]

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