Ben Eine takes English street art out of short trousers

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The Moniker International Art Fair opens in London this week. Scheduled to coincide with Frieze, Moniker offers an alternative platform for less mainstream artists to showcase their work – something which Ben Eine, graffiti writer and best pal of Banksy, thinks is a clear move toward taking street art out of short trousers and into adulthood.

The Independent Online had a chat with Eine about his plans for Moniker and his recent brush with fame:

Q. Tell us what happened when David Cameron gave Barack Obama one of your paintings? What was it like being catapulted into the public eye?

Click here or on the image to see works showcased at Moniker

A. From the minute the story broke the phone didn't stop ringing, emails went crazy, the press outside my front door. CNN picked me up in Sussex to drive to their studios in Soho for a live link to Atlanta for a thirty second interview and then drove me home again. Sitting on the train and having the guy in front of me reading about me in the newspaper was quite surreal. The weirdest moment must have been ringing on the door bell of number 10 Downing Street.

Q. Were you tempted to leave behind a ‘signature’ in Downing Street when you went to meet Dave and Sam Cam?

A. No.

Q. Do you know where the piece given to the Obamas is hanging?

A. It is up in the White House. I do hope it’s not in the toilet.

Q. What’s the strangest thing a passer-by has said to you when you are working on a mural?

A. The police always ask if I have permission, but a Policewomen once asked for my autograph. Most people ask if I'm Banksy. Builders always shout out " Oi' You've missed a bit". The weirdest thing that happened was receiving 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.

Q. Do people ever offer to help?

A. No.

Q. How many times have you been arrested?

A. I've lost count, but around 15 times. Being found guilty is different to being arrested.

Q. What is the most elaborate lie you have ever told to get out of a sticky situation?

A. It wasn't me.

Q. How long does it take you and the team to work on a piece?

A. 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 have paintings at various stages of completion and ideas and drawings in lots of different sketch books.

Q. Which country has the most daring art world?

A. New York Subway trains are an ultimate goal for graffiti writers – it carries the biggest risk and the biggest punishment if you get caught. They tend not to be painted by Americans but mostly by Europeans. Germans are the keenest to paint trains. 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. That’s a hard question to answer.

Q. What kind of art do you have on your walls?

A. I tend to swap stuff with other artists so I've got quite a good collection of stuff. However I recently bought a canvas by Delta, a painting by the Date Farmers, a watercolour by Neckface and a few other bits.

Q. Is it right to turn what was an anarchic art form into something commercial and respectable?

A. It happens and it's called life. That doesn't make it right but at some stage money gets involved and things have to get diluted.

Q. What are you doing at the Moniker art fair which opens this week?

A. I painted a very large wall which said Vandalism on Holywell Lane, where the art-show is being held, about 5 years ago. I'm repainting a giant new work on the exterior wall of the venue with something a little more relevant for 2010. I'm also showing my first new work since the whole Obama thing happened, which is quite exciting. I hope Moniker 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.

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,

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