Reverse Graffiti

Reverse graffiti, also known as clean tagging or grime writing, is often done by removing dirt/dust with the fingertip(s) from windows or other dirty surfaces, such as writing ‘wash me’ on a dirty vehicle. Others, such as English artist Paul Curtis (aka Moose), use a cloth or a high power washer to remove dirt on a larger scale.

The first large scale reverse graffiti art piece was made by Alexandre Orion in 2006, the intervention ‘Ossario’ with over 1000 foot is washed by the municipality of São Paulo in the end of the video. 

As with traditional graffiti, nowadays the technique is also explored commercially as an original way of out-of-home advertising to reach consumers in an unconventional new way. The pilot campaign for Telfort was highly successful and made it to several blogs and advertising magazines. Since then, large companies  such as Microsoft, the BBC and Smirnoff have advertised their products in this way. In this context, marketers call it, ‘clean advertising’ or ‘clean graffiti.’ Businesses such as Eco Street Adverts and Clean Adverts have been set up to provide a reverse graffiti service for UK businesses. This form of advertising has been adopted by local authorities to deliver public service messages. Whether it be home watch, litter prevention, or a drink safe campaign around the town.

Because reverse graffiti is temporary, may be biodegradable, and generally uses no hard materials such as ink, paper, or harsh chemicals, and because it generally does not use electricity to back or front light, reverse graffiti can be an environmentally friendly way of advertising. However, there have been several instances of authorities attempting to prosecute those performing clean advertising, but prosecution has been difficult due to the temporary and non-destructive nature of the practice. Moreover, while adding something to the sidewalk like paint is illegal, cleaning is not. Thus, companies or artists offering their reverse graffiti services are operating in a legal gray area. In the Netherlands one needs to have a permit for commercial advertisements in a public space even though nothing is being destroyed by this kind of graffiti.

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