Also known as clean tagging, dust tagging, grime writing, green graffiti or clean advertising, reverse graffiti is a method of creating temporary or semi permanent images through the removal of dirt. It is often done by removing grime with fingers – as is often seen on dirty cars – but can also involve larger-scale crud removal via a high power washer.
UK street artist Paul Curtis (aka “Moose”) pioneered this novel form of graffiti upon discovering the technique during his dishwashing job. According to Curtis, reverse graffiti is “re-facing,” not “defacing,” as every mark shows people how polluted the world is. The technique involves placing a template against the soiled area, then using a power washer or detergent and a wire brush to create designs in the dirt that’s built up on various surfaces throughout the years.
Always seizing an opportunity to profit, advertisers have expressed great interest in the emerging art form, as they often pay Curtis up to 600 British pounds for a piece of art tagged on walls, pavements, poles and even the Blackwall Tunnel. Nevertheless, there are others who consider it vandalism and police have even apprehended Curtis once because of it. As such, Curtis often works during the night.
Since Curtis’ seminal artistic statement other street artists have taken to reverse graffiti, including Banksy and ZEVS (who cleaned the slogan, “I shall not dirty the walls of my city” in Wuppertal, Germany). Two of the most prominent include Brazilian Alexandre Orion, who created the largest reverse graffiti work – skulls – inside a car tunnel in Sao Paulo, and Texan Scott Wades, who is a connoisseur of dirty car art.