Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Green Art Installations: The Reverse Graffiti Project

The poet Keats once famously said that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” That statement could definitely apply to the Reverse Graffiti Project, which is the next green art movement I am discussing as part of my green art installation series.

The term “graffiti art” is not one that most people think about in positive terms. Many people associate graffiti with gang members, teenage vandalism, and the defacement of public property—and probably for good reason. Although there are some notable exceptions, graffiti is usually a public nuisance and often an eye sore. But that’s where artists like Paul Curtis (aka “Moose”) are bucking the trends.

Moose doesn’t create his artwork using spray paint like most street artists. (Spray paint is, in fact, fairly harmful to the environment.) Moose creates his art by using eco-friendly cleaning products that strip away the grime of pollution from highway tunnels, leaving just enough dirt behind to create a thought-provoking image.

In 2008, he was commissioned by GreenWorks (an eco-friendly subsidiary of Clorox) to create  a 140 foot mural in San Fransisco’s Broadway tunnel. Here’s a shot of the mural at nighttime:

sfreversegraffiti2

And here’s a daytime shot:

sfreversegraffiti1

Here’s a detailed image:

sfreversedetail

The mural depicts plants that are indigenous to that region of California that likely would have grown in the spot where the tunnel is now. Moose created the mural using stencils he engineered in his studio back home in England. He then used a high-pressure water hose to spray the cleaner over the stencils onto the wall, leaving the mural behind.

Moose said he was first inspired to make this artwork when he was working at a restaurant as a young man. One day he noticed a spot on the restaurant wall that he decided to scrub clean. Unfortunately, cleaning up the spot made the rest of the wall seem much dirtier because there was now a big, bright clean spot in the middle of the wall. After he finished cleaning the rest of the wall, he realized the one clean wall made the rest of the restaurant look dirty. At the end of the day, he ended up cleaning the entire restaurant because of that one spot on the wall. As he later reflected on the experience, he realized the power of this kind of psychology for helping the environment. He says that when people discover that he is creating these artworks by simply removing pollution, it helps them reflect upon how dirty our world really is in some places. When you clean the pollution off one wall, it makes people realize how much pollution there really is.

Since that time, other artists have been using the techniques pioneered by Moose to clean up their own cityscapes. Some businesses even commission reverse graffiti artworks as a kind of advertising. Here’s a collection of some of my favorite pieces…

Entitled “For Pat” by jennalouise:

forpatreversegraffiti

Here’s a piece by GreenGraffiti:

greengraffitiflickr

A piece by yeowazup:

yeowhatsup

And here’s a piece created by some students in South Africa:

reverse-graffiti-durban

Artist expression through cleaning? This would have made my cleaning-guru grandmother proud.

If you’re interested in trying out eco-friendly graffiti, you can check out this YouTube channel and website for more information about Moose’s artwork and technique. You might also consider trying your hand at moss graffiti, which also looks like it could be an interesting form of artistic expression. Let’s get cleaning—creatively!

  • Moosefan

    Did you know that Moose is now in Melbourne, Australia, the city of arts working on a similar project for bankmecu? It is looking amazing.

  • Sprout

    Awesome! I didn’t see any announcement about it when I went to Moose’s home page, but I’ll do some searching for it. Thanks for the tip!