August 18, 2016
Unity Culture Club: On Your Radar meets Ben Eine
Known for his bold, typographic style, Ben Eine has worked with artists and brands alike to create striking and distinctive art. His lettering can be seen around the world, from his famous Alphabet Street in Middlesex to a print gifted to the White House. Last week, we caught up with the renowned street artist to talk about being creative.
Can you tell us about your creative process? What inspires you?
Recently I was in Gothenburg, like a week ago, and I had an 11 storey high building to paint. I had worked out that I had 45 letters on this building but I had no idea what I was going to write and even if I did have an idea, it would have changed when I got there. I knew I had 45 letters, so I was thinking and running through quotes in my head.
So I get to Gothenburg and we go and have a look at the wall. And then I met this girl and she’s got flip-flops, she’s got glittery toenails. She says ‘every time I look down I feel happy’ – and I’m like, ‘dude, every time I look up I feel happy.’ I started playing around with that, so the wall that I painted in Gothenburg said ‘every time I look up, I feel happy. When I look down I feel sad.’ And that’s what I painted on the wall. So I like [just] turning up in a place and [finding that] what I’m going to paint kind of falls into place.
Do you have any favourite phrases or quotes? Your work is naturally very focused on them.
I really like the word ‘boring’. I really like the words ‘great adventure’. I love the word ‘mesmerising’… ‘marvellous’… ‘magnificent’ – they’re all ‘m’ words!
Have there been times in your career when you’ve thought ‘bugger this, I’m doing something else’?
Basically, when I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do. But I was writing graffiti. Then my mum was like, ‘I’ll take you to London and I’ll buy you a suit.’ I got a job and started working for the insurance company – and I’m actually really good at what I do. So I became pretty good at what I did and they paid me loads of money and I bought a flat. But I was always writing graffiti.
Then there came a point where some friends of mine were like, ‘oh we’re going to make a documentary about graffiti’, it was called Kings and Toys, and I was in this documentary and Channel 4 showed it. And I knew when Channel 4 showed this documentary I was going to get the sack – because I was literally working for Lloyd’s in London and this was 20-odd years ago. So I basically handed my notice in and left and then got tattoos on my hand and my neck so I could never get another job again. That was the last time I had a job.
Is there anything in particular that’s kept you motivated?
Boredom. I lived in America for about four years and I talked to American people about my childhood, and they were like ‘why did you do that?’ Because we were bored? Because we had nothing else to do. ‘Why did you set off those fireworks?’ I don’t know, we were bored. ‘Why did you do that graffiti?’ We were bored. Yeah, boredom: best expression ever.
Look at the punk movement, hip hop – boredom and poverty. The best two inspirations ever.
You’ve come from a discipline, coming from graffiti, where it can be difficult to stand out. What do you think brands and artists should be doing to also stand out?
Brands can stand out by doing something that actually means something. Brands don’t need to advertise; they just need to do something important. And then word of mouth is the best advertising.