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.
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.