This is as good as it gets: A Day With Ben Eine
Ken Caruso is ANTISociety.com’s in-house street art and photography expert. He is a decorative artist and owner and operator of Alternative Interiors in New Jersey as well as an avid collector and graffiti hunter. Follow him on Instagram here @djkcaruso.
Ben Eine is currently in town for his first solo show in the Big Apple with the Judith Charles Gallery at 196 Bowery. The show is called “Heartfelt” and it opens on February 5 and runs till March 16. It’s filled with iconic sayings and the typography that I love about Ben’s work. I get the feeling from my sneak peek that it’s going to be quite successful for him.
For those of you who don’t know Eine, he’s most notable for his alphabet lettering on shops in London. Prior to becoming involved in commercial graffiti he was also a highly credible writer in the underground London graffiti scene. Ben has also produced some custom clothing designs and has worked with screenprints as well, eventually landing a position with the famous screenprint company Pictures On Walls. Ben produced many of the hand pulled prints for artists represented by POW including Banksy, Jamie Hewlett, the creator of the Gorillaz animated band, Mode2 and David Shrigley. Ben’s natural talent for color combinations meant that he was able to enhance the work supplied by the artist, as you can see in his own brilliantly vivid paintings. And in case you’ve been living under a rock, in July 2010 President Barack Obama was presented with a painting by Eine called 21st Century City as an official gift from the British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Now back to the future. While Ben has been in the city he has completed the street piece at Riker’s Island called “Amaze” and he was about to start a piece on West Broadway across from the Soho Grand Hotel. I was going into the Judith Charles Gallery to meet a friend and to my amusement Ben and his crew were getting ready to go tag this wall.
Boxes and boxes of spray paint (aerosol as graffiti artist call it) were strewn about the gallery floor and they were checking for colors and caps. Right as they were getting ready to leave I asked them if I could give them a lift since I had my truck, but first I thanked Ben for putting my name in one of his pieces (Out-Spo-KEN) and told him I would pick it up after his show. Everybody laughed and then Ben, being quite pleased that he didn’t have to take a cab, jumped right in the back of my truck without hesitation. But first I had to get him a cup of joe as is customary when I meet an artist. I feel it bonds people quickly,especially since I don’t drink alcohol. In the next six hours I would get to see the glamorous and not so glamorous insights of a graffiti artist creating his street mural. From the beginning we had logistics issues but Ben was constantly reassuring, preaching “This bloody always happens…it never goes smoothly. But that’s fucking life ain’t it?”
Ben in the back…..With a cup of Joe to go.
Deciding what to write to fit the space.
Let the games begin.
Coming to Life.
One thing I learned with my time with him is that he’s got a great sense of humor – a lot like mine – he’s quick-witted and sharp as a tack. For the next couple days that I hung out with him and his mates, everybody around him would always be laughing. Just the way i like things, and it gives a great sense of bonding. Our interview was done on the streets of the Bowery while Ben of course was smoking and in a kamikaze attack style – just the way he wanted it.
Alright then who inspired you growing up?
Ben: Ah Dude…Vivian Westwood, Malcolm McLaren, Noki (a fashion assassin) and in the art world, Andy Warhol, and graffiti artist and Keith Haring.
Who would you want to be if not yourself?
Um…Bill Clinton……. he’s the fucking dude man [laughing]
When was it that you realized that you were good at what you do and that you could actually make a living?
Oh there’s a difference from being good and making a living. I know plenty of artists that are good, brilliant in fact, and they’re not able to make a living. I’m just fucking lucky.
That your final answer?
“Final answer,” and we both laugh.
What music do you listen to when you “Create” ?
Silence. Back in the beginning I used to share a space with Banksy. I would be painting by myself with no music on then he would show up and go turn the music on and ask me “why don’t you paint with any music on?” He would ponder and then say “I know why you don’t…because you already have too many voices in your head” (a hearty laugh comes out of him on that one, and it was hard not to laugh along with his humor)
What’s the one question that nobody ever asked you and you wish that they would?
“Will you marry me” in a French accent [laughing]
If you could meet any artist living or deceased who would it be?
[After the longest pause for any of my questions, almost 20 seconds] Vincent van Gogh
What would be your first question?
Right, what would be my first question…in the future, everybody thinks your maaaad… True or false? (In that brilliant English accent)
Are you a “night owl” or an “early bird” ?
Um, I spring out of bed pretty easy but I kind of do my creative stuff at night and I kinda almost always have.
Who do you listen to now, music wise?
A bird called LP [she’s] a little like Bob Dylan, and I listen to these other birds “First Aid Kit.”
Oh yeah their hot.
I don’t know if they’re hot but they’re great musicians.
Exactly, that’s what I meant.
Yes I listen to that quite a lot and of course a lot of hip-hop.
So now when you’re painting, it’s still silence for you?
Yeah generally in the studio like I get to work around eight or 9 o’clock in the morning and it stays silent until Julio turns up, and then that silence just becomes too uncomfortable. You know two dudes in silence…in the studio…[laughter]
[Laughing] Yeah turn it on quick before someone says something wrong.
Right, so it stays silent till around 2 o’clock when Julio turns out and then we throw some music on.
Okay what’s the one thing about the art market that you hate the most?
The paintings!!!! [Both of us laughing now] Yea, The FUCKING paintings. Everything else is fucking honest upfront and fucking solid it’s the paintings that are fucking the art world up and leaving it damaged. (Great British sarcasm at its finest)
I saw the “Amaze” mural you just did at Riker’s Island,what made you want to do something there?
Um, because normal people don’t get to go to Rikers Island and they don’t get to see street art there. And before painting Riker’s Island I did a interview for some Ink like last week, and he said to me “what’s the strangest place you ever painted?” And I was like thinking damn if only he had been doing this interview next week then I could have said Riker’s Island. So you see I wanted to paint Riker’s Island just so I could answer that question the next time it comes around.
You’ve been to New York City many times. What is it about New York that you love the most?
New York is just electric. Even in the cab driving in from fucking JFK and getting into the city it feels electric, not too many other cities have that feeling. Maybe Tokyo, but yeah New York feels electric.
Alright Ben,thank you for your time and good luck with your show. Now that was easy, right?
Loved it….definitely different from all my other interviews , nice questions mate. By the way im going to make you an even better painting…BRO-KEN…Get it? You’re my Bro, Ken.
I’m hoping he meant it. As you can see he loves to fuck around and joke.
Left to Right: Patrick Miller (Faile), Ben Eine, Patrick McNeil (Faile), Ken Caruso