There is a comment on the boards at enviro-site Inhabitat: â€œSplendiferous, brilliantissimo, fabulosouza; THIS IS ART,â€ it reads, and the sentiment continues down through nearly a hundred similarly pants-peed reactions.
The source of the excitement is a story on graffiti, which is strange subject matter for an earth-minded place like Inhabitat. The people reacting to the story are, by large, equally uncommon supporters (made thoroughly clear by their use of words like â€œSplendiferousâ€) because up until this genre of street art, there have been few reasons for art activists and earth activists to commiserate.
In retrospect, it shouldnâ€™t have taken nine years for a good reason to show itself. That was low long Paul Curtis, also known as the UK-based artist Moose, had been at it before the tree-huggers realized they should be hugging himâ€”–and a lot had happened in that time.
As the story goes, it started with a sock. A sock, a wall, and maybe a decades worth of scum, soot, and other sins that floated in the air of England, expelled from cars, factories, and someoneâ€™s aerosol can of hairspray three towns over. Paul had no history of graffiti, just a history of art college, curiosity, and roadie trips with Whitney Houston—but for whatever reason, he scrubbed a spot of the gloomy wall clean. It made him think.
It was a painfully simple reversal: a message written in the cityâ€™s own crime. The areas with old buildings and ocean air were best, where years of pollution mixed with moss, dirt, and lichens created the perfect canvases for some selective cleaning. All he needed was a cloth and an idea—later, once the game became a hobby, he would incorporate stencils, scrub brushes, and power hoses.
The city was befuddlingly up in arms. Graffiti was a crime, but what crime was there in cleaning? It was the addition of paint that made tags on the city illegal; the defacing of the property that was not the artistâ€™s own. But what claim did the city have on dirt—and were there such a claim, was it one they could feel good about claiming? Thatâ€™s our pollution, donâ€™t touch it was a sad set of wordsâ€”–a set that brought up questions they needed to answer themselves. Some cities took a cue from the messages, and cleaned the entire wall to its original shine, but other places only wanted to say what theyâ€™d been saying all along; that graffiti was graffiti was graffiti, and they wanted nothing to do with it. The Anti-Social Behavior Act fit the bill for action against Moose, but a charge for showing how dirty Leeds was created a joke in itself—a joke and a confession, because it proved that the fight against graffiti might have never existed in so many words. If it wasnâ€™t about the paint, and if it wasnâ€™t about the damage, then it was really only about and against the one remaining element: expression.
There was a buzz around the reverse-graffiti, and as it tends to do, the buzz caught the eye of advertisers. It was immediately ethical and unethical; the mix of graffiti and advertising never sits well, but advertising that could interact harmlessly with the environment was too revolutionary to be ignored. Moose had always been in it for the revolution, so a business was formed, personal and professional lines were drawn, and the hobby became a calling.
Throughout the process heads were turned. It was street art, it was eco-activism, it was brilliant in its simplicity. Like Moose said, it was a beautiful contradiction; making something out of the corners where people went to take a piss: a poem out of pollution.
Today, Moose balances commercial work with personal work. After time, he cleans the commercial work up himself, but the personal work he leaves to the streets, the city, and the normal evolutions of a graff wall. Heâ€™s done both kinds of work in places around the world—San Francisco has seen his selectively unsoiled murals, and he has worked with the unfriendly paint of New Yorkâ€™s Splasher by cutting graffiti into and out of his angst.
He is now in his forties, and he communicates like a different breed of graffiti artist: one in tune with the progressive mentality of youth, yet in step with the reasonable mentality of age. He has no plans to stop; as long as there is dirt there will be a reason to wipe it away. In the meanwhile, weâ€™ll just call him a revolutionary, if only because he has found a way to prove the guilt of a city by reminding it of the one thing it claimed to have all along: purity.
*Eloquent comment credits go to Ann Garrison of San Francisco.