A notch above usual graffiti artists, Ben Eine has been turning heads and defining a new style of street art through his works. His unique “alphabet lettering” on street shop shutters in London got him noticed, and now he has taken to lighting up the streets of Paris, Stockholm, Hastings, Newcastle upon Tyne, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Tokyo through his colourful artworks.
“Art is self-expression, purposeful creation and a connection of ideas. I believe everyone is an artist. They just have to find the right way to express it,” said Eine. Now one might consider that painting walls and shutters is graffiti but he begs to differ. “Graffiti is an act of vandalism and anti-establishment. Graffiti is for oneself, whereas street art is for the public and to spread a positive or negative message,” said Eine.
He gained worldwide recognition when his piece “21st Century City” was gifted by David Cameron to Barack Obama on a state visit in 2010. Richard Branson’s airline Virgin Atlantic displayed 10 works by the artist in their upper-class clubhouses at Heathrow and New York’s JFK airport.
This innovative move allowed passengers travelling between London and New York to view the works in a virtual gallery and acquire his paintings. He has been commissioned by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi and his works feature in a documentary called Saving Banksy. An area of East End in London was renamed Alphabet City after Eine’s colourful array of shop front shutter art. He also delves into the field of printing.
Eine’s “throw up” typographic style has become so distinct that one can recognise a piece of work as being his and those gigantic, colourful letters is his signature. “I didn’t choose typography intentionally. I was just trying to express myself and wanted to be different.
I knew I needed something unique and I had an interest in typography, so I started to work with fonts that were pretty ancient and painted them in a new and creative way.
At the beginning, I just wanted to do something totally different from other street artists, so I started exploring graffiti and typography together. As my style evolved, it became more and more recognizable, then it became like ‘my thing’, and people were recognizing my work all over the world,” said Eine.
Each of his pieces of work has different meanings and messages behind them. “For my latest collaboration with Zippo, I chose the word ‘create’, because it’s simply what I think people need to do. As an artist I like to create interesting work, and the idea of creating potentially the biggest piece of street art was definitely a challenge.
I hope it inspires others to challenge themselves and ‘create’ art. I think as creative persons, we have a responsibility to do things which excite people, to try to push boundaries and that’s something I feel we’ve really achieved with this artwork,” said Eine.
He has partnered with iconic American brand Zippo to create a 17,500 square meter mural. “To take on this project on an area of industrial ground in East London, I just couldn’t say no! It turned out that it could potentially be one of the world’s biggest pieces of street art and there were so many aspects to the project that made it so exciting to what I usually work on.
I’d never worked on such a large scale on the floor before, so it was hard work to perfect the piece without being able to stand back and see how it was developing as we were drawing the outlines of the letters. At the end of each day, we had to use a drone to capture footage of the art so we could check if it was all looking good, and luckily it was. It was such an exciting project and I honestly couldn’t be happier with how this piece turned out in the end!” said Eine.
Though the mural may not last forever, the legacy of the lighter will. Being able to carry an art work on a tiny canvas in one’s pocket is a rather surreal thought, and since Zippo lighters are backed by a lifetime guarantee, in a sense, his artwork will indeed live forever!