The British street artist Ben Eine has painted both legally and illegally on the walls of some of the world’s most iconic cities. While his latest piece of street art, sponsored by Artrepublic, a multi-coloured Oranges and Lemons-inspired mural on the exterior wall of the London Graphics Centre, has been given the okay by the owners of the building, the city of Westminster’s zero tolerance laws mean this piece could have a very short shelf life. Upon the revealing of his Covent Garden piece, Eine speaks to Dazed Digital about the British authority’s shifting stance on street art.
Dazed Digital: How did this commission come about?
Ben Eine: Basically, I was this judge on a competition organised through Artrepublic and London Graphics Centre. They gave the prize out at the Ivy and part of the prize was the winner could have their graphics on the side of London Graphics Centre. It was a big canvas and they hung it up there and it looked pretty rubbish. I was asked if I’d be interested in painting that wall and I said I would as long as I could paint the actual wall and it wasn’t just a canvas.
DD: So is this legal street art because the London Graphics Centre have given you permission to paint a wall on their premises?
Ben Eine: Well, one of the reasons I’m doing it is because Westminster council have zero tolerance on graffiti and street art and we’re kind of hoping that once the scaffold comes down Westminster council are going to go, “Paint over it, you can’t have that on the walls, it’s not allowed.” And then we’re going to have a big fight with Westminster council.
DD: So it’s not strictly legal, as Westminster council hasn’t Okayed it?
Ben Eine: Why should it be? It’s not offensive, it’s not rude. It’s on the side of London Graphics Centre and they’ve given permission for me to do it so what the fuck’s it got to do with the council? Interestingly, David Blunkett, the blind twit, probably the best person for the job, introduced a bill that gives local authorities the right to demand you paint over anything deemed to be offensive, or they paint over it and they charge you. Even if you had a poster in your room that can be seen from the street, if someone found it offensive, someone could knock on your door and ask you to take it down.
DD: How long do you think this piece will last?
Ben Eine: It depends what Westminster council do and how much balls London Graphic Centre have got but I’m up for fighting it.
DD: You’ve got this spot in central London, which makes for great impact, where else would you like to paint for a similar effect?
Ben Eine: The City of London are the only other borough with zero tolerance, so banks and bankers. I doubt I’d find a wall in the city of London I could get permission for.
DD: You’ve been involved in quite a few legal commissions, do you think that street art loses any of its political statement when it’s organised like that?
Ben Eine: Yeah, it’s kind of weird. I’m getting a bit old and I can’t be arsed to run away any more and I like to paint stuff. The reason I got into street art is that I was going to get sent to prison if I carried on doing graffiti and I didn’t want to stop painting stuff. It was about ten years ago when street art was beginning to happen and I just thought that if I just switched what I do a little bit I could get away with it, but I still paint stuff illegally.
DD: Have you felt a shift in the way local authorities treat street art?
Ben Eine: There is a massive shift. When I first started painting the shutters in Shoreditch, the moment I got a can of spray paint out someone would phone the police so I’d paint most of it with a paintbrush and a pot of paint and just use a spray paint to put the horizontal lines on them. And now I can stand there in broad daylight and people will come up to be and say, “Are you Banksy?”
See Eine’s Covent Garden piece at the London Graphics Centre, 16-18 Shelton Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9JL
Artrepublic will be selling limited edition prints of the mural