Graffiti is often seen in the eyes of the public as a sort of pollution. It’s an old way to approach this longtime art form, especially since we’ve now had decades of brilliant artists proving how much worth graffiti has on a population, but the stigma still exists. Some see ti as a form of vandalism, a scar on the landscape that impacts the beauty of its canvas. Of course, we can all probably think of countless examples where this simply isn’t the case, or where graffiti has beautified its building.
Of course, we can also all think of buildings and city spaces that are inherently polluted, whether the walls are bearing years of traffic exhaust or the pollution of the Industrial Revolution was never quite scrubbed clean. These types of spaces are all over the world and some of the world’s more inventive artists have started to do something about it.
The idea is called “reverse graffiti” and it’s essentially a very artistic version of someone writing “Wash Me” on a dusty car. In its most common form, reverse graffiti involves cleaning away pollution or messes in such a way that the cleaned spaces create an intricate and beautiful design. Of course, since its inception, reverse graffiti has become more complicated, the materials more interesting, and the ambition more incredible. Usually, the job is done with simple soap, but newcomers are using greenery and more to create extremely elaborate patterns, many of which slowly fade as the dirt either accumulates or washes off.
Depending on the material, reverse graffiti is also an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional spray paint graffiti. Since paints are often quite toxic, especially when put in aerosol form, these products can be harmful to the natural world, especially when they’re washed off and poured down a city drain. But reverse graffiti actually cleans the space, so it removes some of the filth and pollutants that linger over our city spaces.
Being a cleaner alternative to traditional graffiti, many corporations have now jumped onboard the reverse graffiti train, using popular artists to both clean urban environments and promote their products. Smirnoff enlisted one of reverse graffiti’s most well-known artists, Moose, for a campaign in Leeds and London. Promoting the campaign as clean and innovative, it managed to draw a lot of attention and have a reverse environmental impact.
Reverse graffiti is an excellent response to the gradual dirt that accumulates in our cities and towns. Since many of the places in which we live have experienced decades, if not centuries, of waste, pollution, and more, it only seems natural that we use artistic and creative means to make the spaces more beautiful. And while traditional street art is being used constantly to beautify spaces, there is something inherently beautiful present in reverse graffiti. By using soap, not spray, we are both creating more beauty in the world while doing our part to make it a nicer, more livable space.