First things first, though: Unfortunately, green graffiti remains illegal. Although penalties vary from country to country, it is certainly no officially condoned means of artistic expression. A hurdle unlikely to deter artists like London-based Anna Garforth – otherwise known the mother of moss – or the NYC collective Mosstika, however. Their frequent, yet lasting and sustainable living art works not only pimp public space, but also help to cleanse the air: According to a study by Bonn University, mosses are among our most effective and diligent weapons against the number one airborne pollutant, particulate matter. For years, researchers have hailed mosses as something akin to a giant microfiber duster, capable of soaking up large amount of this dangerous, invisible grime. Many exhaust emissions even nourish these unassuming living cushions, making it even more baffling why any art wielding this magic weapon is still considered illegal fringe culture.

At the same time, moss graffiti is truly exciting. Mosses are alive, in flux – and possess a ‘mind’ of their own. Experimenting with this species becomes part of the artistic process. Unforeseeable results are the norm – and one of the discipline’s greatest challenges. Cultivation, in this context, is a misnomer … you are dealing with something truly wild. But patience finds its just reward in moss fish on Brooklyn fences, tags on London’s facades, framed pictures in the New York subway, or cockerels replacing old billboards. Here, potential motifs are only limited by the artist’s imagination – and invariably tactile and three-dimensional.

Green Graffiti New York Mosstika
HUNGARIAN CATTLE, Brooklyn 2008, photo by Mosstika

With her photogenic art, Mosstika co-founder Edina Tokodi aims to rekindle lost relationships. “I think that our distance from nature is already a cliché. City dwellers often have no relationship with animals or greenery. As a public artist, I feel a sense of duty to draw attention to deficiencies in our everyday life.” Taking her green graffiti to everyday locations and situations usually untouched by art, she gives hoarding, phone boxes, or poles the moss treatment, thus transforming New York into her own personal playground. But that’s not all.

According to Edina, “the built environment has always drawn a clear dividing line between itself and its counterpart, the natural environment. My public street art projects actively engage in the dispersion of these demarcation lines. Using the city canvas to recreate otherwise anonymous spaces and working with plants or other natural and ephemeral materials accentuates the energy (and the city) itself. It is with this ‘urban greenery’ that I intend to reflect on the cycle of life, advocating sustainable living and artful participation in the metamorphosis of an urban visual culture.“

Green Graffiti New York Mosstika
METRO MOSS, New York 2008, photo by Mosstika

At the same time, the proliferating phenomenon has long undergone commercialization. While urban artists like the above-mentioned Anna Garforth or the Mosstika collective might opt for green guerrilla tactics, others have turned the thriving genre into an equally flourishing profession and money-spinner. Take botanist Patrick Blanc whose bespoke cultivations and natural embellishments spruce up buildings around the globe and made him a veritable guru of the vertical garden scene. His elaborate creations, grown from mosses, grasses, and other plants, have already taken over facades in North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Always hot on the heels of the latest trend, the advertising industry, too, has jumped on the eco bandwagon, giving rise to new agencies and networks for the creation and promotion of organic or sustainable advertising messages. Communications company greengraffiti.com, for example, has made it its mission to spread the green message across the globe with professional reverse graffiti, i. e. partial cleansing of urban surfaces, and ‘regular’ green graffiti for big players like Beck’s, Campino, Starbucks, or ING.

Well, eco is in – and actually good for us. So, let’s stay on message and hope that green art, and its offshoot green graffiti, prove to be more than just ephemeral fashion phenomena.

Find out more about Anna Garforth at www.annagarforth.co.uk.
The creative online home of the Mosstika collective: www.mosstika.com.
Patrick Blanc’s vertical gardens: www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com.
Check out some moss graffiti recipes at www.wikihow.com/Make-Moss-Graffiti or www.healthybodyguru.com/make-your-own-moss-grafitti/

Text: Agi Habryka