Artifact: Dirty Pictures


Credit: Alex Coley

See those happy, eye-catching ducks on the wall? Are they art? Or is this, as authorities in the British city of Leeds have complained, mere public vandalism?

Before deciding, you should know two things. First, the ducks haven't been painted on–the image was created by carefully removing grime. The ducks' outlines are the clean spots.

Second, they're paid advertising.

The images are created with water and a shoe brush. This process is the specialty of the British street artist Paul Curtis, who calls himself Moose. Moose says his company, Symbollix ("refacers of the 21st century"), is "a completely ecologically driven guerilla-style operation." It uses walls, tunnels, and sidewalks to bring temporary ads "literally up to the doorstep of the target audience."

Moose has done refacing campaigns for such clients as Microsoft and Britain's Channel 4; the ducks were created for a shoe store. There's a certain poetic justice in his work, Moose believes, because "the corporations who help make the dirt are getting me to clean their names in it."

Moose cleans more onto walls than ads. He says he's gone "wherever the graffiti has taken me," including the occasional message to his girlfriend. The graffiti will soon bring him to the United States, where he plans to set up a similar operation.