By: AISHEE DAS
Ben Eine, a London-based street artist, has painted a mural for University High School (UHS) on the side of the Big Theater. This mural says “DIVERSITY” in Eine’s distinct font. The letters are placed on top of diamonds made up of colors representing the various skin colors at University High School. When asked how many schools he’s worked with, he said laughingly, “This is the first time I’ve been to school in 28 years.”
Eine had previously visited UHS on May 7 for an “art talk” with Ms. Dana Kramer’s (Visual and Performing Arts Dept.) Advanced 2D Design class. Eine’s close friend, Ryan Robles, is the son of Ms. Sue Robles (Counseling Dept.), who asked Eine to come present for the school’s art department. After a successful art presentation, Eine requested permission to later paint one of our walls. In subsequent discussions, the school decided on the word “diversity.” His only requirements were to not paint on the brick walls and to use an internal wall that was not facing the community. The mural was free of charge for the school, and cost Eine around $500 in materials.
Ms. Kramer stated, “It was really wonderful to see the students so engaged and excited about art. I think that this mural will really bring the community together.” Students partook in creating the mural and documenting the process with a time-lapse video and many photographs. Aidan Galassetti (Sr.) who was given the opportunity to work on the mural remarked, “It’s a beautiful thing when you find something you know you’ll do for the rest of your life. I have to thank Ben and Ryan for giving me such a mind blowing opportunity.”
Ben Eine started gaining fame for his street art while painting alphabet letters on shutters on Brick Lane in Shoreditch, London. Though he continued street art as his fame grew, he was asked to work on commercial graffiti and began designing for brands and museums. Among his achievements, the United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister, David Cameron, requested an art piece and later presented it to President Barack Obama in 2010 as a gift from the UK. He has also worked with famous street artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey.
Q: How would you describe what you do?
A: It’s a cross between sign writing and graffiti. It’s me exploring typography; it’s me relaying a message or thought that I have. I’m not sure that what I do fits into one category. If it’s on a canvas and coming out of my studio, it’s art. But if it’s on a wall like [the mural at UHS], it’s signage or a statement. I could argue that it’s just the word diversity on the wall. Is that art? I think it’s just a positive and happy message for the school to see.
Q: What are your thoughts on vandalism vs. street art?
A: Vandalism is fun, but it’s totally negative and destructive. Street art is fun, but more time-consuming and thought out. I spent 20 years destroying everything and spent the last 20 years making amends for years of destruction. Graffiti takes something away and street art adds something. Think about it, hardly anyone goes to art galleries and museums to see art. My studio art pieces are luxury items that not everyone can see but [my street art pieces] are accessible to everyone and everyone can see and enjoy it.
Q: What would you say is your biggest achievement?
A: I’ve sold out shows worldwide and made a lot of money, and that’s pretty cool. But my proudest moment and biggest achievement was when my brother’s kids came home from school and told my mom that “we learned about Uncle Ben today!” Everything else is a measure of financial or material success, but having your brother’s kids learning about you in school is just incredible.
Q: Where have you been?
A: Oh, so many places. The Middle East, China, Japan, Australia, North America, all over Europe.
Q: Where was your favorite place to paint?
A: On the subways of New York, because that’s where graffiti started. But other than that, I love painting in Japan. They’re so respectful; I can paint something and it’ll still be there 10 weeks later. The San Francisco graffiti kids go over everything because they hate me, which I find quite funny. That’s why I started making “Hate Eine” stickers.
Q: How was your visit to Uni so far?
A: I really love doing [art talks] because it’s a lot more fun than just sitting behind a video camera. I get to see people get inspired, which I never get to do when I’m just in my studio or painting. It’s amazing and it’s why I do this. I’m hopefully inspiring somebody to change the course of their life. Subway art and the beginnings of hip hop inspired me as a kid and changed the course of my life. And I’m in the position where maybe me and the rest of my culture is changing others. It’s so amazing to possibly have such a positive effect on someone’s life.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
A: It’s virtually impossible to make money as an artist. Pop art has been going on for generations, since the 1960s, and yet I can’t even name 10 famous pop artists. You have to ask yourself why you want to be an artist. Do you want to be an artist to be famous? Do you want to be an artist to make money? Or do you want to be an artist if you can’t do anything else? I have to be an artist because I can’t do anything else. I’ve tried other things and it drives me insane. You know, I have to do art, because I’m a weirdo. So, if you are that kind of person and you have to make art, then you’ll be happy being an artist. If you really love art, do it and be happy.