Artistically Cleaning City Walls: Reverse Graffiti

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by Eric Waddington

I stumbled across some very interesting photographs yesterday about a new type of street art called "reverse graffiti." It is a form of artistic expression where, rather than painting a city wall with spray paints, the artist creatively cleans the wall in precise patterns and designs to create his or her mural. The result can be a very unique, monochromatic masterpiece, which would be hard for any critic or city council-member to argue against! Killing two birds with one stone: free labor to clean city walls (from the city representatives' perspective) and an open canvas for artistic expression (from the artists' perspective.)

The fact that reverse graffiti is inherently monochromatic could potentially be a downside, however in my personal opinion it works perfectly. The result is a bit more subtle, always pleasant, never an eyesore, and the colors (or lack thereof) in the mural will always match the building or wall it is attached to. Not to mention, perhaps the most famous of all street artists we have seen (or not seen...) is Banksy - and many of his most famous works of street art are monochrome. I would love to see Banksy tag a wall somewhere with some reverse graffiti!

Generally speaking I don't believe this new reverse graffiti is meant to knock traditional graffiti, because as an art form, graffiti with colorful aerosol paints can be absolutely spectacular and surprisingly crisp and vibrant (check out some of my favorites here: However, there is no denying the fact that traditional graffiti is also frequently used in more destructive and negative ways, relating to vandalism and gang membership. That being said, this new reverse graffiti technique is currently intended to represent a positive message. From what we have seen so far, the message in the murals is typically promoting "green" or environmentally friendly living. The designs frequently depict trees, shrubs, landscapes, birds and wildlife.

From what I can tell (and through a bit of common sense) the reverse graffiti technique is most effective on dirty city walls - the dirtier the wall, the more contrast when you clean. To clean the wall, a given artist would use a high-powered pressure washer, and it appears that both free hand and stencils would be used in a given project. You can buy pressure washer nozzles in different sizes to produce different water streams, so I would imagine in many cases of reverse graffiti a finer water stream would allow the artist to be a bit more crisp and accurate in his or her design.

However we go about our artistic expression, particularly with street art, I hope we all keep the unified goal of beautifying our world and uplifting our fellow man - and in the case of reverse graffiti, one water-jet at a time...

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