Ben Eine was catapulted into the limelight this summer when David Cameron presented Barack Obama with one of his works. We talk to him about getting nicked, the best street art in the UK and ringing the bell at number 10.
What is the strangest thing a passer-by has said to you when you are working on a mural?
The police always ask if i have permission, A Police women once asked me for my autograph. Most people ask if I’m Banksy, builders always shout out “Oi’ You’ve missed a bit”. The weirdest thing to happen is I got an email from an erotic model with photos of her posing nude in front of my letters spelling out the word erotic, In front of each letter she was in the pose of the letter, very funny.
Do people ever offer to help?
How many times have you been arrested?
Lost count but around 15, being found guilty is different to being arrested.
What is the most elaborate lie you have ever told in a situation like this?
It wasn’t me.
Talk us through the seven days when the Cameron/Obama story broke. What was it like being catapulted into the public eye? Weirdest moment?
From the minute the story broke the phone didn’t stop ringing, emails went crazy, the press outside my front door, CNN picking me up in Sussex to drive to their studios in Soho for a live link to Atlanta for a thirty second interview and then driving me home again. Sitting on the train and having the guy in front of me reading about me in the newspaper was quite surreal. Weirdest moment has been ringing on the door bell at number 10 Downing Street.
Were you tempted to leave behind a ‘signature’ in Downing Street when you went to meet Dave and Sam?
When you and your team are working on a new piece you do it over long stretches, sometimes days. Talk us through it?
I don’t have a team, I do it myself. I don’t normally work on one piece, I usually work on a few pieces and lots of different ideas at the same time. I will have paintings at various stages of completion and ideas and drawings in lots of different sketch books.
I want to go and paint on the outside of my local supermarket – how do i go about approaching it without getting caught?
You will get caught, find something else to paint.
Which country has the most daring art world?
New York Subway trains are an ultimate goal for graffiti writers. The biggest risk and the biggest punishment if you get caught but they tend not to be painted by Americans and mostly by Europeans. Germans are the keenest to paint trains, which is where graffiti was born. London appears hard because of all the cameras, but if you live here you know they are pretty useless. But street art tourists are put off by them. It’s a hard question to answer.
What does Boris Johnson make of your work, any idea?
I’ve no idea what Boris thinks of it but Ken Livingstone was a fan and a supporter of street art while he was Mayor.
What are your favourite fonts?
I like old stuff, the kind of stuff that was carved into wood to be printed, I love the hand-made element of typography, I believe the mistakes that happen while creating a word or font add to the beauty of it, the perfection of an illustrator designed logo or letter head does nothing for my juices.
Do you buy art? What is on Ben Eine’s walls?
I tend to swap stuff with other artists so I’ve got quite a good collection of stuff, however I’ve bought a canvas by Delta, a painting by the Date Farmers, a watercolour by Neckface and a few other bits.
What do your kids make of what you do? Were they aware of the whole Cameron/Obama shit-storm?
They think I’ve won a competition.
What is the strangest request you have had since it all kicked off this Summer?
It was from a Production Company to go and teach street art to some Prisoners.
Your piece given to the Obamas – where is it? Is it up, do you know?
It is up in the White House and I would hope not in the toilet.
I’m in London with 4 hours to kill and i want to see some ace urban art. Tell me where i should go.
I’m not too sure, since the Olympics lots of stuff is getting cleaned off very quickly, but east London is kind of the home of street art, Waterloo where the cans festival was, or under the west way by Ladbroke Grove.
Best free art to see in the UK?
Got to be the Tate.
Is it right to turn what was an anarchic art form into something commercial and respectable?
Talk us through what you’ll be doing at MONIKER and tell us a little bit about the fair?
I illegally painted a very large wall on Holywell Lane about 5 years ago, it said Vandalism.
I’m repainting a giant new work on the same exterior wall of the venue with something a little more relevant for 2010, and this time with permission. I’m also showing my first new work since the whole Obama thing happened, which is quite exciting. Moniker I hope will be the first time English street art gets out of short trousers, for street art to move forward which it has to, it needs to grow up and reach a wider audience. I think Moniker is a step in the right direction.
Ben Eine is one of the participating artists at the MONIKER International Art Fair, 14-17 October. Admission Free, Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, London, EC2A 3PQ www.monikerartfair.com
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