A few pints after work around Liverpool Street and a stroll from Bishopsgate to Whitechapel, you could quite unwittingly stumble through ‘Alphabet’ street and be overcome by childhood nostalgia.
Occasional lights appear in windows of the terraced housing above the mishmash of signs of the local shops whose shutters are down for the evening. But rather than fading into sleeply night-time, the street is alive with colour, the once grey shutters sprayed over with lower-case alphabet letters in all sizes and colours. The street adopts a rather vivid cartoon-like quality; the typography may be out of context and more at home in a young child’s reading book but there is a feeling of finesse and style that makes the work of the artist, Ben Eine, specifically distinctive.
His star has risen speedily since his early multiple arrests for vandalising property. President Obama was given an Eine painting as a gift from Samantha Cameron in the last month; the prime minitster’s wife a bizzare benefactor of this ‘hoodie art’ (as so called by the Daily Mail) particularly given her husband’s predisposition towards ‘hoodies’.
The work is not the run-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-spray-over-a-stencil-graffiti to which many Londoners are accustomed. The process of obtaining permission from the council and working with the local shops took around a year, the letters themselves about an hour each. The result of this random project? A set of happy shopkeepers and excited passers by; a refreshing breath of creative air next to the imposing city skyscrapers.
Eine’s website shows a personal affinity with the warm, cuddly fairytale programmes of the past and is even a little disconcerting – what with the assorted Care Bears and My Little Ponies jumping out on each page. He is an artist perpetually trying to recreate the delight associated with early childhood and it seems to hold some bearing judging by squeals of delight or smiles seen on the faces of passers by. He’s not just about letters though – some of his more stylised work, canvasses and screen prints can be seen in his website’s gallery. A few of these have light socio-political irony in the vein of one of his old friends, Banksy.
I’d also recommend having a look at artofthestate.co.uk, which is where I first discovered Eine’s alphabet. It provides an excellent collection of urban photography spanning both graffiti and architecture and covers a range of London artists.