Further Adventures of Ben Eine
I was sitting on the top of a number fifty five bus going along Old St recently when I saw the word “CHANGE” flash before my eyes in six foot high multicoloured capitals – it was Ben Eine at work on his latest painting – so I took the word as a literal instruction and leapt off the bus to join Ben and his friends in their sunny afternoon painting party. It was one of the last warm afternoons at the end of Summer, and Ben and his assistants were happily at work in the dappled light beneath the plane trees, where they welcomed me into their midst. And as the afternoon wore on towards rush hour, a certain drama accumulated as crowds of passersby, drivers and passengers on buses seized the opportunity to photograph and film Ben at work with their phones.
He was at sublimely at ease with all the attention and swaggering a little, his eyes flashing with absurd delight as he confided to me that Islington Council have actually granted planning permission for this painting. Eighteen months in the planning, it was commissioned by the Flavasum Trust to commemorate the life of Tom Easton, a twenty-two year old who was killed in a knife attack nearby in 2006. Placed here on this major thoroughfare, the painting is a direct appeal to young people to stop carrying knives and a call to everyone to help make our East End a safer place. Painted in lush vibrant colours, this is an inspirational work that will the confront millions who come through Old St daily, reminding us all of the possibility of change for the better.
Just a few weeks later, I was halted in my tracks in Redchurch St by another new painting of Ben’s that filled the whole of Ebor St with the text, “ANTI ANTI ANTI ANTI.” There was strident quality to these vigorous monochrome letters dancing across the uneven wall surface and appearing out of Ebor St to crowd my field of vision unexpectedly. At once, it set me thinking how two negatives make a positive – if you are anti-anti something it means you are pro it. Since there are four antis here in a row this adds up to an enthusiastic endorsement, even if superficially it sounds a little negative. Subsequently, I discovered the painting had been commissioned by the Anti-Design Festival that was held in the building in the question, leaving my theorising quite redundant.
Then a startling development occurred! I went back and Ben had painted “PRO PRO PRO” on the facing side of the street in richly flamboyant circus letters, commissioned by the advertising agency based in the building on that side, in response to the “ANTI ANTI ANTI ANTI” on the other side of the street. I stood in the middle of the road and looked from one side to the other and could barely believe my eyes. It was an exemplary example of the drama that Street Art can bring to the cityscape, making a side street -possessing architectural discontinuity and little identity – alive with compelling poetry. I watched people turn the corner and break into a smile as they saw the words, because just walking down this street is an exhilarating visual experience now.
Ben invited me along to a discussion about Street Art that was dominated by dealers pontificating about the market possibilities of selling work to new collectors – all missing the point which it was left to Ben to articulate, that this is an egalitarian form which only exists in the street and belongs to everyone. The very best Street Art enlivens the urban landscape by its presence, enriching the experience of all those who pass by, and this is exactly how the sly inventiveness of Ben Eine’s painting excels.
You can watch a film of Ben Eine painting in Ebor St by clicking here.
In Old St
In Ebor St.
Ben painted this number thirteen in Goulston St, Spitalfields, recently for the cover of a magazine. The owner gave Ben permission although his shop is not number thirteen.“They’re always going to get the mail for number thirteen now!” whispered Ben to me mischievously afterwards.
You may like to read my other stories about Ben Eine
As you may know, Hackney Council are threatening to paint out Peter Roa’s wonderful Rabbit on the Hackney Rd, even though it was painted at the invitation of the owner of the building. If you would like to sign the online petition to save it, you can do so by clicking here.