Graffiti artist Ben Eine embraces the art world

Emma Love
Friday 10 December 2010 01:00 GMT
(Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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Known for his brightly coloured letters that he paints on shop shutters and walls, Ben Eine was catapulted to fame in the summer when the Camerons gave his Twenty First Century City print as a gift to President Obama.

The 40-year-old artist (whose real name is Ben Flynn) wears black-rimmed glasses and has several tattoos, including an "S" shape on his right arm because it was the symbol he painted everywhere for years. He grew up in South London and got into graffiti when he was around 14. Later, when he worked at Lloyd's of London, he would tag trains in his lunch hour. "I wore a suit and tie and had a newspaper. I would tag, then sit down and read. It was the perfect disguise". After nearly being caught during a train-tagging spree in the middle of the night when two of his friends were sent to prison, Eine turned to street art instead.

"Graffiti writers don't care about what people think. It's very impulsive. It's walking down the street with a can of spray paint and doing a tag when no one's looking. A lot of street art is made in the artist's studio, then taken out to the street and put in a place they've thought about," he says.

When he first started painting shutters, which he says he likes doing because they suit his short attention span and don't get painted over as quickly as a wall, he used paintbrushes to avoid attention. "Now everyone just assumes that I've got permission," he says wistfully. "Eight years later and street art isn't nearly as shocking. When people see spray paint they think street art, they think Banksy. They don't think, 'let's phone the police'."

He's just got back from painting five wine towers in a vineyard in South Africa; next week, he's painting a window of London's Doyle Devere gallery for their exhibition Tease, and in spring he'll stage a solo show at the White Walls gallery in San Francisco.

He now lives in Hastings with his wife, Joanne, and three children. The town has several pieces of street art; a Banksy appeared on the weekend of Eine's birthday (the two met in a pub 10 years ago and are old mates) and a few months ago he painted a young Prince Charles, made up of hundreds of pixels, on a market-place wall. '"I don't do it for fame or money. I do it because it's what I enjoy. It's great that Cameron decided to give Obama one of my paintings so I'm getting more opportunities to sell my work. I'm happier as an artist".

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