Often the line between alternative street art and flat out graffiti is blurred in urban settings. While some cities are willing to promote a certain amount of creative expression, others are utterly intolerant of anything but un-touched walls and clean lines. But just un-touched does not necessarily correlate with clean, as in free of dirt and relatively hygienic. The dirt and grime that cover many urban landscapes, often uncared for by large municipalities, especially in low-income areas, has long been an issue of concern that provides negative reinforcement for poor standards of living for a large number of urbanites.
It is this concept that the art of reverse graffiti was born out of. Reverse graffiti is the practice of using non-chemical cleaners, pressure washers, stencils and other zero impact tools to create art out of neglect and ignorance. Reverse graffiti artists clean patterns, pictures, and other messages onto walls, tunnels, signs, and other urban infrastructure to create beauty and art out of grime from excessive pollution and the failure of government clean up. And while many images that are created using reverse graffiti range from aesthetically pleasing to detailed beauties, the medium here certainly sends a much greater message than any visual depiction that results.
By cleaning a piece of art into a dirty wall, reverse graffiti artists reveal just how badly unkept city streets and buildings are, and just how severe the pollution and neglect are. People walking by realize what a certain structure is actually supposed to look like through the clean surfaces peaking out through patterns on the wall, weighing feelings of disgust and amazement about the effects of modern lifestyle. Overtime, the picture will disappear into the grime, or be cleaned off entirely when the powers that be realize the political message being sent to the masses through different projects.
The most powerful part about this alternative medium is that is forces the city government into a lose-lose situation: they either clean up the “graffiti”, which by doing do is acquiescing to the artists demands for a cleaner city and thus admitting guilt, or do nothing about it, which is being stubborn and still admitting guilt, allowing the artist to show how quickly his art will fade yet again into the wall as soot and dirt gradually fill the clean lines he or she has created. So if you feel like your neighborhood is dirty due to neglect and are fed up with the willful ignorance and inattention, then get your wash bucket and rag out in the street and create something worthwhile! Don’t settle for a simple and uninspired “CLEAN ME”, but you will most likely have a better chance at making an impact by showing intellect and creativity to prove your point.