Reverse Graffiti

For as long as there have been dirty vehicles, people have writing “clean me” on them, but visual artist Alexandre Orion has taken this concept to a new level with his much more creative (and time consuming!) take on ‘reverse graffiti’.  It’s like traditional graffiti, but with an eco twist.

Detergents, wire brushes and good ol’ fashion elbow grease replace the spray cans and stencils that we’re used to seeing from graffiti artists, cleaning away layers of dirt and pollution to reveal the city’s natural facade and material colouring.  Driven overseas where authorities are more relaxed on this issue, though still not entirely supportive of the acts, a tunnel in São Paulo has become the latest canvas to spring reverse graffiti into the fame spotlight.

The process itself is intriguing and fascinating, so if you can spare three minutes this video is well worth a watch.

“He is not vandalising the urban environment as he uses no paint and merely strips away layers of grime and pollution” and besides, there are claims that “no one owns the dirt”, which is actually a rather good point.

Even though he is actually making the city a cleaner place, authorities do seem to frown upon his acts and spend a lot of time and effort chasing down the reverse graffiti antics just to wash them away.

It is a shame that this remarkably creative work is being scrubbed away by the the authorities, but the silver lining, I guess, is that they are actually making the city a cleaner place, which can’t be a bad thing.

More images well worth checking out over here.

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125 Responses to “Reverse Graffiti”


  1. 1 Lacie March 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    At least someone is putting a twist on cleaning up! That is a very creative way to start 🙂

  2. 3 Mikalee Byerman March 11, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Anything to improve the image of the city is probably a good thing. Interesting post!

  3. 4 B.C. Young March 11, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    That’s rather impressive. Clean graffiti seems more appropriate.

  4. 5 Keither March 11, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I’ve definitely seen stuff like this on the internet. I think it’s awesome and they should just leave that stuff alone just cause it’s not vandalism! It’s not damaging anything. It’s really too bad authorities frown upon this… But that’s one way to clean up the city!

    Nice post 🙂

  5. 6 TweeCo March 11, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    I love it!
    Great idea and more “green” than regular graffiti because it saves paint

  6. 7 mindslam March 11, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Wow, that is awesome…Thanks for sharing it! They should leave him alone…like you said…no harsh chemicals & it is cleaning in a way!

  7. 8 Lenore Angel Baby Lovelace March 11, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    This is a fantastic concept and certainly far less harmful than spray paint graffiti. Too often I have seen tags on public property, such as statues and historical buildings. Wiping away dirt to create art does not seem like it should warrant so much time and attention, which could be better spent cleaning up the over abundance of poorly executed tags that litter many streets.

  8. 9 Leah Dotten March 11, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    I love this idea! Thanks for sharing.

  9. 10 RunningOnRainbows March 12, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Hey this post was great! I’ve been a huge fan of graffiti/guerrilla art for a really long time. Fabulous writing, keep up the good work!

  10. 11 digthegardenstate March 12, 2011 at 12:54 am

    rad.

  11. 12 johnlmalone March 12, 2011 at 3:28 am

    the East Grange railway station, the one next to the beach, has a number of ‘guardians’ who regularly check the premises for graffiti and if there is any remove it or paint over it in the original colour of, say, the train shelter or the seats so the offended article is returned to its original state.

  12. 13 Olivia Klinkner March 12, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Very cool. I have never seen this before, thanks for sharing.

  13. 14 brotherartist March 12, 2011 at 5:38 am

    It’s always nice to hear about the “good” guys of street art. If you haven’t already heard of him, check out French street artist JR. He’s not only doing amazing work, but making the world a better place.

    Thanks for sharing this, and congrats on your Fresh Pressed-ness.

  14. 15 Amendoza March 12, 2011 at 5:42 am

    Dang…wish they wouldn’t wash the “reverse graffiti” off. do you think they would’ve kept it on if it was about awareness of a social issue?

  15. 16 mayal0 March 12, 2011 at 5:55 am

    This is really incredible! I’m glad I actually read this. I wonder how he came up with that idea. I hope more people do that cause it both shows off some of the most purest forms of artwork and assists in cleaning up the worst parts of cities. He is such a genius, I wish I could shake his hand right now and thank him.

  16. 17 makingup3000 March 12, 2011 at 6:36 am

    That was a great video. Like you said, it is a shame they have to wash away his art. I guess that’s the only way to get them to clean the streets.

  17. 18 ladygarcia March 12, 2011 at 7:23 am

    i had heard about this, but didnt know the concept behind it.. its taking art to a a different level.. very ingenious putting ones creative skills to good/clever use… Love it! 😀

  18. 19 Norquiza March 12, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Thanks for the post! I really enjoyed it. I think authorities didn’t hate his job, but instead they understood the message of his action-creating a canvas out of the layers of dirt and pollution. What a great way to say “It’s time to clean this place!” It’s a good thing that authorities responded by cleaning the public area.

  19. 20 kentslife March 12, 2011 at 9:53 am

    great blog. Really liked it… but yeah it is still illegal…

  20. 21 Single Malt Monkey March 12, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Good work. Getting the city cleaned in a creative way. The city should recognise his contribution creatively.

  21. 22 SnapitStitchitStickit March 12, 2011 at 11:39 am

    This is a beautiful way to create art out of grime….and it gets the city cleaner!

  22. 23 Seth Ryan March 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Superb post

  23. 25 DawneeJo March 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Proof, beauty can be seen and found everywhere.

  24. 27 trombonedevara March 12, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    nooooo fala serio brother?? eu não to lendo isso! tu faz uma arte sinistra dessas ae e depois vai quere modera a palavra, a fala, a mente espaço tempo ideia ser… Minha existencia… liberta! LIBER Tá! LiberDadE irmao!!!!!!

    LIBERDADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. 28 spidergirlxD March 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Wow… that’s amazing!!! Whoever thought cleaning up could be an art form? These “reverse graffiti” pictures are absolutely exquisite… I’m so glad that someone is doing this without spraying paint everywhere.

  26. 29 italianhandful March 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Terrific taking Banksky to the max. Thanks.

  27. 30 freehandprofit March 12, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Great post, this is something I’ve played with in my own work as well. The aesthetic of poorly buffed graffiti has somehow appealed to me, as blasphemous as that is for a grafhead to say.

  28. 31 jaime denis March 12, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    This is fantastic. Thanks for posting this, it’s the first time I heard about it. Great video too.

  29. 32 nooberry March 12, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Fantastic video – and so disheartening to see them wash it all away at the very end, why?

  30. 34 Groveonline March 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Hah I love this, genius! Good art, clever method, clear conscience.

  31. 35 flippingchannels March 12, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I read about this a while back in Juxtapoz. It’s a really interesting way to create unsanctioned public art. Thanks for spotlighting it.

  32. 36 68days March 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Love this article! Just posted the link on my fb.

  33. 37 A. Stevens March 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    I think that it is a great idea, as long as the graffiti stays wholesome.

    Urban art can be beautiful, I actual just posted about that very same topic. Nice work, it would have been nice if you could have landed an interview with that guy.

  34. 38 LATERZMAN March 12, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Interesting !

    Legal ? :_) It depends from the used colour. If you cleaned a dirty spot ( with whatever )and take a picture – that could be art I agree, that is similar to real graffiti……. I like the idea :_)

  35. 39 eLeighoB March 13, 2011 at 12:06 am

    So, long as he; remains employed at an establishment that affords his personal and private responsibilities, and does that previous said: by the standards set forth by the law and judicial system in his community, pose no harm to himself, nor others, and choose to expresses his artistic ability, in a manner that is not only non toxic, yet also assists in the work of city employees… see it I, clearly to allow he, that man to express himself, and “SCRUB AWAY” and rock on!
    – Erin Leigh O’Brien eleighob

  36. 40 jillfeyka March 13, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Very interesting. I have seen some incredible graffiti artwork and wonder where these people could be given their talent. Instead of committing a crime, it would be great to see them apply their energy towards something in which they could earn a living and use their gifts – legally.

    Congrats on being FP!

  37. 41 tyler91b March 13, 2011 at 1:38 am

    I can see why the authorities frown on this. But I can’t understand why they don’t understand. Lot of miss communication here.

  38. 42 Ava Aston's Muckery March 13, 2011 at 2:39 am

    That is very cool. Thanks for sharing.

    Blessings,

    Ava
    xox

  39. 43 heesbees March 13, 2011 at 3:16 am

    That’s so smart! 🙂
    I wish there were more people like that in the world…..

  40. 45 kellykamai March 13, 2011 at 5:11 am

    reverse graffiti is brilliant!
    have you heard of an artist named Moose, he does the same thing! Except he “draws” trees and plants!
    check it out(:
    http://www.reversegraffitiproject.com/

  41. 49 Carrie March 13, 2011 at 5:36 am

    Nice post. I become in awe of “artists” such as Alexandre Orion. While some may consider it vandalism, I think of it as an artist who has found their canvas. Albeit, some people do take it to extreme (meaning when they actually use materials), but some really do put creativity in it which is really hard to come by these days.
    I do like your “silver lining comment, and feel that some cities really need these artists 🙂

    Again, great post!

  42. 50 p March 13, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Really cool, they should be paying him rather than chasing him.

  43. 52 monicastangledweb March 13, 2011 at 9:21 am

    This graffiti is amazing! Haunting, and proof that it’s time we give graffiti its proper place in art history, and stop rushing to destroy it. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  44. 53 mxxs March 13, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Hey, amazing post! Keep it up!

  45. 54 Antara March 13, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Oh my god! WOW!!! I was instantly taken by the phrase “reverse graffiti”. It’s genius. And wonderful. And I am so lazy when it comes to commenting but oh I just HAD to here!
    A big hug to Orion and you for posting this!!

    -Antara

  46. 55 elmer March 13, 2011 at 9:47 am

    I maybe laughing out loud but this here is a great idea! If I had the guts I’ll try this one day on some filthy Manila underpass

  47. 57 aplaceforgracie March 13, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Amazing! He’s an incredibly creative and talented man. Not only is this NOT vandalism, but he’s doing the city a HUGE service in two ways–he’s adding art and character to the surfaces, and if they insist on washing it off, he’s contributing to a cleaner city. Personally, I’d rather see his art all over! Too bad the little minds on power trips get off on removing his work.

  48. 58 tinkerbelle86 March 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    wow, this looks amazing. well done for making an ugly area pretty. who says graffiti isnt art?

  49. 59 adnan March 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    oh cool! i like graffiti..

  50. 60 museampoule March 13, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    AMAZING! Thanks for posting this!

  51. 61 michaelhposey March 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    That’s pretty awesome….

  52. 62 Marta Sofia March 13, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    I love the fact that not only he is creating art but is also calling your eyes to the dirt in the city. And the dirt he gathers doesn’t go to waist either (he makes paint with it) it’s an amazing proof of a conscious artist.

    Great post!

  53. 63 facelessfigures March 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    This is really awesome. It sure is an interesting way to do art.

  54. 64 Rana Impune March 13, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Incredibly inspirational, I love it…

  55. 66 DennisaurusRex March 13, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    To those who gripe over the fact that the art is washed away, have you considered that this might have been his original intention in order to get the city cleaned? I think it is actually good that the art is washed off, not because of the art itself, but because it is better for the city to have cleaner streets.

  56. 67 literatelibran March 14, 2011 at 12:19 am

    What a beautiful concept! I hope it spreads…

  57. 69 Retail Robot March 14, 2011 at 4:01 am

    Clean graffiti > dirty graffiti. Maybe this will inspire Banksy to make his next building wall canvas squeaky clean before turning it into another work of art. 🙂 Great blog!

  58. 72 darthbergen March 14, 2011 at 5:29 am

    So awesome. Great job in pointing out the hypocrisy of city officials in that they don’t want graffiti, but they don’t want people cleaning up, either.

    Thanks for the great post.

  59. 73 Benjamin Ho March 14, 2011 at 9:35 am

    I saw this video 4 years ago. But good that it still inspires 🙂

  60. 74 Bluesky2000 March 14, 2011 at 9:40 am

    We always clean something that we think it should be clean. But actually does that mean the cleaner it will be? We need to think about this problem twice.

  61. 75 Cartoons by CJ Delling March 14, 2011 at 10:15 am

    This is a great story and a brilliant concept. Reverse grafitti – pure genius (no pun intended!)

  62. 76 Ashley March 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    I can’t believe the authorities could object to this. It’s not even damaging the surface.

  63. 77 bandsmoke March 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Thought provoking – thanks for sharing!

  64. 78 Brett March 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    How do the authorities “clean” this? Will more dirt? I . . . ?

  65. 79 bambooshaes March 14, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    cool.Thanks for sharing.

  66. 81 Kevin March 14, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Nice piece! I plan on watching the video you posted. You’re right, anything to make a city a nicer place is good.

    Blessings, Kevin

  67. 82 I Made You A Mixtape March 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    How brilliant! And that tunnel reverse graffiti is spooky!

  68. 83 gabfrab March 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I wonder how much grime he would be willing to muck around in. Like would he scrub down a rat fried to a fence? Anyway, good shit.

  69. 84 Cheri Sundra March 15, 2011 at 2:46 am

    I LOVE this concept! Fantastic post…..

  70. 85 creativeconfessions March 16, 2011 at 2:17 am

    That’s really cool! At least someone is showing us a less boring way to clean.

  71. 86 Joanna March 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    That’s an awesome idea.

  72. 87 Rick March 17, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    What a waste, I can’t believe they get rid of that beautiful artwork and since it’s not breaking any laws….I’m like WTF. Really awesome stuff.

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  75. 91 Livi March 20, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Absolutely love this! It’s just a shame that someone cleans it off afterward (if they get the message!). I’d let it stay there!

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    I like when you talk about this type of stuff in your posts. Perhaps could you continue to do this?

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  84. 101 conceptgirl March 31, 2011 at 2:31 am

    I didn’t know it was such an art to this extent. How creative! The twist on how it cleans things up is nice too. I bet this type of art results in such determined cleaning-up after because it comes off easier than toxic chemicals. Well done city dwellers.

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    This is a fantastic concept and certainly far less harmful than spray paint graffiti. Too often I have seen tags on public property, such as statues and historical buildings. Wiping away dirt to create art does not seem like it should warrant so much time and attention, which could be better spent cleaning up the over abundance of poorly executed tags that litter many streets.

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    Dude this is genius. I just recently watched ‘exit through the gift shop’ and it reminds me of that. Very creative.

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