Reverse graffiti, also known as clean tagging, dust tagging, grime writing, green graffiti or clean advertising, is a method of creating temporary or semi permanent images on walls or other surfaces by removing dirt from a surface. It 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 artist Moose, use a cloth or a high power washer to remove dirt on a larger scale.
English artist Paul Curtis aka Moose is one of the first street artists to make an art piece using the reverse graffiti technique. He discovered the technique at his dishwashing job, as he explains in his documentary.
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.
Since then, large companies as Microsoft, the BBC and Smirnoff have advertised their products in this way. In response to Moose's use of the technique for advertising in Leeds, a city council representative described the work as illegal advertising. In this context, marketers call it, "clean advertising" or "clean graffiti".
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.
There have been several instances of authorities attempting to prosecute those performing this form of 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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- Carter, Helen (2004-10-15). "Graffiti artist's new form of street art under fire". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2007-07-22.
- Brenhouse, Hillary (03-06-2010). "Marketing firms clean up with 'Reverse Graffiti'". The New York Times. Retrieved 21-03-2011.]
- Morgan, Richard (2006-12-10). "NY Times article on reverse graffiti". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- Baron, John (n.d.). "Pavement ads under fire as Leeds council is accused of 'environmental crime'". Guardian Leeds (London).
- (Dutch) 'Guerilla-reclame' KPN in Arnhem snel verwijderd, De Gelderlander, February 16th, 2012