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Alexandre Orion, Reverse-Graffiti Artist: Saint or Sinner?

John is passionate about human and animal rights, social justice, equality, and the environment, and likes to convey that in his writing.

Reverse graffiti by Alexandre Orion

Reverse graffiti by Alexandre Orion

Banksy - Stencil on the waterline of The Thekla, an entertainment boat in central Bristol

Banksy - Stencil on the waterline of The Thekla, an entertainment boat in central Bristol


Graffiti is often viewed as a worldwide social and community problem and even a criminal activity, but there is true art and conviction in the work of some graffiti artists such as Banksy. One "greener" offshoot of this artform is called Reverse Graffiti and one of the main exponents of this is Alexandre Orion (better known as just Orion).

You may ask the question, "When is cleaning the sidewalks a crime?" The unexpected answer is: "When you’re doing it to create art." A number of street artists around the world have taken to expressing themselves through the innovative practice called Reverse Graffiti. With a new spin on the “Wash Me” messages scrawled on the back of dirty cars and trucks, they seek out soot covered surfaces and inscribe them with images, messages, and even advertising slogans, using rags, scrubbing brushes, scrapers, and pressure hoses (but no paint).

Alexandre Orion, Metabiotics

Alexandre Orion, Metabiotics

Alexandre Orion

Short Biography

Alexandre Orion (born 1978) grew up on the streets in Brazil. As a child in São Paulo, he became accustomed to the busy sidewalks by day and the din of traffic at night. The streets inspired Orion and his first graffiti was done at 13 years of age. He bases his urban street art on the “pichaçao” (from niche, meaning tar).

Orion first gained public fame with his exhibition Metabiotics in 2006, a graffiti/photography project in which he painted graffiti pieces with white and black latex paint and photographed people interacting with them.

Also in 2006, Orion created Ossário, in one of São Paulo's road tunnels. He spent 13 nights using pieces of cloth to remove some of the thick layers of soot caused by vehicle exhausts that coated the tunnel sidewalls. Orion selectively wiped off the grime in such a way that skulls were outlined by the soot left on the walls. The tunnel became a catacomb with over 3,500 hand-designed skulls reminding people that the same black soot covering tunnel walls also darkens our lungs and our lives. In other words, what we do to the earth directly affects our well-being. (read more: Wikipedia)

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo, Brazil



Orion, Saint or Sinner?

Orion is an artist,

The environment's his muse.

Reverse-graffiti is his style,

A damp rag the tool he'll use.

ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ

Orion's signature is skulls,

Scroll to Continue

He draws them in the dust,

On the grimy walls of tunnels

In São Paulo's inner crust.

ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ

People live trapped in their homes

Behind self-made prison walls,

While the world outside them is destroyed,

Despite anti-pollution calls.

ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ

Back and forth enclosed in cars,

Oblivious to change,

Moving between work and home,

Priorities are strange.

ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ

He wears a gas mask as he works,

As protection from the fumes,

And tunnels become catacombs

Adorned with Orion's skeletal murals.

ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ ζ λ ξ

His illegal artwork is a sin,

Though he never uses paint.

His protest for a better world

To me, makes him a saint.

Read This Interesting Article about Orion


John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 25, 2016:

Shauna,mai hadn't heard of him until recently either, but I applaud what he is doing and other artists like,him. Thanks for reading.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 25, 2016:

I've not heard of Orion before now. I love what he's doing. He's found the perfect way to speak out against what we're doing to our planet. I think his work is brilliant!

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 11, 2016:

Deb, thank you for the great comment. I appreciate the thought for the "thumbs up" and if you do ever visit São Paulo, congratulate Orion for me too.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on July 10, 2016:

If we still had the thumbs up votes, I would give you one for this, and I did not often give them. Glad to see Orion wore a gas mask for his work, and I agree wholeheartedly with his work. We are destroying ourselves with all this pollution. If I ever get to Sao Paulo, I will look him up to congratulate him in person.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 09, 2016:

So good to receive your comment, Surabhi my dear. Some graffiti is vandalism it is true, and should be seen as a crime but Orion's work is different as it only uses the soot and grime of the city as it's medium and is used to point out the dirty state of the city. As an aspiring artist yourself I know you can appreciate Orion's work. I am glad you enjoyed my poem also. Love to you.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 09, 2016:

Thank you for finding the time to read this, Missy. I know how difficult things have been for you recently so I very much appreciate that. How Orion can be classed as anything but a wait escapes me. The only crime here is the authorities trying to stifle freedom of speech. He has great talent, and he is using it to point out injustices and just trying to wake people up to things that is wrong with the world. I applaud him.

Surabhi Kaura on July 09, 2016:

Jodah, an interesting piece. There are some by-laws that prohibit the use of graffiti, but then there is an artistic side to it, yes. I guess, we can have a special spot where the art of graffiti is valued. Amazing hub, and I am fascinated by the great works of the artist. Cool. Loved the poem at the end. Vivid!

Missy Smith from Florida on July 09, 2016:

It's crazy that it even poses a question whether Orion is a sinner or saint for his artwork. We should all be inspired in some way. Everywhere we go; there should be an artistic inspiration in some form that gives us a different vision, especially, in nasty, grimy, tunnels and such. It brings positives and negatives to my mind. So, he is taking grime build-up and making exquisite skull art out of it. It blasts a message to wake up to pollution, but also shows a person's raw and unique talent. I mean, I think he is a saint. I think he is a messenger here, and he does it with his art. If we would all find a way to take our talent and use it for purpose, I think we would all appreciate one another more. :)

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 09, 2016:

Yes, he certainly does have amazing talent, Dianna. Thanks for reading.

Dianna Mendez on July 08, 2016:

He does have great talent! It is done with great detail and thought from the artist.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 08, 2016:

Thank you very much, Devika. Glad you liked this.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 07, 2016:

You beautifully presented a art and its great meaning.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

Good for your son, Jackie. I am constantly amazed by the originality of artists and what they use as their mediums. This type of creativity needs to be encouraged. Thanks for reading.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on July 03, 2016:

My son (who isn't famous lol) does art like this so I know for a fact it is not evil and that Christians can do it. Art cannot be fully understood can it? Either appreciated or not and for all the time he put into this I so hate to see it washed away!

Loved the poem in his honor.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

Hi Seafarer Mama, I am so glad you enjoyed learning about Orion, the video, and my poem. Thank you for the kind comment.

Karen A Szklany from New England on July 03, 2016:

Great hub, Jodah. Enjoyed reading about Orion and your tribute poem. The video is the of the best illustrations!

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

Thanks for the great comment, Theresa. Yes, you are right, the only crime should be not cleaning the soot and grime away in the first place. Glad you enjoyed reading this. Have a great Fouth of July.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

Hi, Larry. Yes, reverse graffiti sure is interesting and a worthwhile form of art'

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

Thanks Bill, it's hard not to like Alexandre's form of artistic expression. I am glad I could bring him to your attention.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on July 03, 2016:

Wow, John,

Fascinating read here! I've never heard of this reverse-graffiti, and find it so interesting, especially why Orion does what he does, and I hope he continues on. His art is amazing to me and should never be washed away. I love the photos of real people interacting with his art. Clever!

The only crime I see is the pollution and tar not being cleaned away to prevent people from breathing it in, so his art should remain as a reminder until something is done!

We have a long Fourth of July weekend here in the States.

Peace and blessings

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 03, 2016:

I was aware of graffiti as art, but I had no idea what was being done with filth:-)

Very interesting read.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 03, 2016:

Great read, John! I knew nothing about Alexandre....I found myself liking the artistic expression very much.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

ps, thank you for the great comment. Orion sure does have a special gift.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

Thanks Frank. Your comment is always greatly appreciated.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

A nice little verse there, Shyron. Glad you liked this.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 03, 2016:

Hi Genna, the concept of reverse graffiti certainly should be welcomed around the world. It is a way of, if not highlighting pollution and city areas that need cleaning, at least making them more attractive. Thanks for your comment.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 03, 2016:

Thank you for this introduction to an artist I have not known before this time. He truly has a gift. The ability to 'see' as artists do is beyond my feeble little brain's comprehension...and the way he creates his work is amazing.

Angels are on the way, Jodah.

Shared ps

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on July 03, 2016:

I agree with shyron Jodah.. and the poem you wrote is a clever piece of graffiti, awesome my friend :)

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on July 02, 2016:

John, I hope they never clean away

The Skull and Bones

And just leave Saint Orion alone.



I love this

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on July 02, 2016:

I hadn't heard about reverse graffiti before, John, or this unique artist. I liked the poem, as it reflects what and how I feel about his powerful art. Well done. :-)

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 02, 2016:

Thanks, Mel. The authorities should be nothing but pleased. Your comments are always most welcome.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 02, 2016:

Lovely poem. I vote saint. At least some aesthetic benefit to humanity comes out of the soot and grime.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 02, 2016:

Yes he is Vellur. Glad you enjoyed this hub.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on July 02, 2016:

Alexander Orion, definitely a great artist. Interesting, great poem.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 02, 2016:

Exactly what art should do, Flourish. Thanks for reading.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 02, 2016:

Yes, manatita, I am sure Brazilian streets are a great learning ground in more ways than one. Thank you for the kind comment.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 02, 2016:

Enlightening! He does just what art should strive to do -- motivate people to think, inspire change.

manatita44 from london on July 02, 2016:

A remarkable journey, but again I suspect the streets of Brazil is a good school for many. Very nice and inspirational work and your poem is 'cool' too. Peace.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 02, 2016:

Hey Ruby. Yes, it is good when artists have such conviction and use their talent for the greater good. Maybe it was a way of forcing the authorities to clean up, but unfortunately they only seem to do it where he is placing his reverse graffiti. Thanks for reading.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 02, 2016:

Hello Mike. I am glad you found Orion's story intriguing. From what I read the police were unsuccessful in getting him charged with anything. The fact that he was not actually using paint and was actually cleaning soot away made it impossible to charge him with vandalism. They did only clean the area where he was working however to prevent him from doing more there..but the soot soon reformed.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on July 02, 2016:

To me he's a saint. The video is amazing. Why would they hose his artwork away? Maybe that's the only way to get the grime cleaned up? I love your poetry...

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on July 02, 2016:

Hello John. This is an amazing story. Orion sends a powerful message. His art is compelling. I wonder what the police wrote him up for. As I was watching the video, I thought the simple solution was for the municipality to clean the walls of the tunnel, then I see the water truck and power sprayer doing just that.

This is another worthwhile presentation.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on July 02, 2016:

I agree Eric. Orion should be encouraged as his work turns the filth created by the city into art. Thank you for being the first to read and comment, and glad you found this hub of interest.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 02, 2016:

Wow that is really interesting. How could this be anything but art? How could anyone complain when it is their failure to clean that creates the medium? It is the polluter of the air that creates the defacing of things.

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