Ben Eine, Shoreditch types
Anyone who has been walking round the neighbourhood will recognise the work of street artist Ben Eine who has been painting his distinctive alphabet on shutters for years and created handsome murals of words like EXCITING! and SCARY. His alphabet paintings have now become integral to my perception of this place, so that their presence has almost come to define the territory to me and I miss it if one disappears. In fact, there is a Google map that shows you where they all are and people take walking tours to visit every one. No longer confined to London, you can also now see Eine’s alphabet pictures in Paris, Copenhagen, Hastings and Newcastle too.
Many are the initial letters of the particular shops, but not all. After the first six, Eine approached the proprietors to ask permission and most were more than willing to have their initials on the shutters. However, Eine wanted to create a complete alphabet and there were certain letters missing, so then he asked owners if he could put letters on their shutters and simply painted the remaining letters that he needed to make up the set. They had to like it or lump it!
I think these alphabet paintings – which are derived from English and French woodblock display fonts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – suit the neighbourhood and its architecture perfectly, being sympathetic hybrids of the old and the brand new. I am pleased to report that in 2007, when Tower Hamlets council surveyed residents to ask their opinions about graffiti in general and Eine’s work in particular, the greater majority wanted his work to remain and even be preserved.
Out of all Eine’s works, I particulary like the locations where the letters form short words, as I have illustrated here. It must take a phenomenal amount of organisation to create (and regularly repaint) all these pieces with such efficiency and dexterity. Our neighbourhood is visually richer because of them. And I can only admire Eine’s heroic tenacity in the pursuit of pseudo-random poetry, he must be doing it for love.