ExplosiveIDEAZ shares a quick interview with Ben Eine the street art master.
Where do typography and art meet?
EINE: It’s interesting. I haven’t studied art and I haven’t studied typography, but I’ve still gone out and done it. A good friend of mine is a typographer and a graphic designer. He bought one of my A-to-Z paintings a few years ago, and said he sees so many things wrong in the painting in a typographic sense. But yet it works. The things he was taught at college, I don’t do, but it still works. And if he tried to do what I do the way he was taught, he didn’t think it would work. So that says something about art school. One of the advantages of not going to art school is that you’re not taught what you can’t do. When I was screenprinting at Pictures On Walls, I hadn’t been taught screenprinting—I just worked out how to do it. So I’d be talking to an artist about what they wanted to do, and they’d say, “Yeah, I want to put some bleach on top of that.” And if I was a trained screenprinter, I would’ve be like, “You can’t put bleach in a screen, it’ll fuck everything up.” But because I didn’t know anything, I was like, “Fuck it! Yeah let’s try it!” We did some interesting and fucking cool things because we didn’t know we couldn’t do them.
When I started working at Pictures On Walls, I’d been hanging out with Banksy for a few years travelling around the world together painting stuff, and then we moved into a new office and wanted to do screenprinting. But we didn’t know how to do it at the time. So I was like, “Yeah dude, I’ll do it.” And at the beginning, it was fun because I was doing something new and working with cool artists. But the excitement went out of it, and it felt like I was a screenprinting machine for other artists. I was spending all of my time making other people’s art, and eventually I was like, “I want to make my own art.”
I was in my studio cutting out some stencils! I got a phone call saying, “Do you mind if I give your number to 10 Downing Street? David Cameron’s looking to give a piece of art to the most important man in the world.” And then 10 minutes later, someone from 10 Downing called up and told me they needed a piece of artwork by Monday… and this was Friday night at 10 pm. So it was two days of frantically painting canvases, and one of the paintings I already had available said “Twenty First Century City” on it, and they loved it. Then it was four days of everything being fucking crazy when the media found out. CNN sent a car down to my studio in Hastings, drove me back up to their studio in London for a 20-second live pick-up to Atlanta, and then drove me back. That’s an hour and a half drive each way!
When I quit the firm, I got my whole arm tattooed with stars, then I got two extra ones put on my hand and shortly after got another tattoo on my neck. The idea of them being so visible was so I couldn’t go back and get another job in the insurance world. I wanted to do something creative. I had ideas. And I didn’t want to sit at a desk. I spent 20 years tagging my name over fucking everything and destroying shit, and in some way, I’m now making streets and public spaces look better and more enjoyable.
I like giving people the idea they can go out and create something.