British street artist Ben Eine just opened his first solo exhibition — titled Heartfelt — in New York City, at the Judith Charles Gallery on the Bowery. Eine is known for his colorful typographic writings, and he’s put up some large murals around town to accompany his gallery show — there’s even one on Rikers Island. Below, he tells us a little bit about how that happened. Click through for a look at his outdoor work, and at the gallery you can see smaller scale spray-painted canvases.
325 West Broadway (Courtesy of Ben Eine)
Can you tell us a little bit about your history — what first got you into street art, graffiti, fonts?
I got into graffiti because of the Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfont; I had never seen anything that excited me so much, that was in 1984 when I was 14. I spent the next 20 years tagging everything and painting loads of trains and walls. Around this time this thing that’s now referred to as street art was emerging around the world. I saw it as a way to continue painting without the danger of getting in trouble with the law. Because of my fascination with this other form of graft I took that back to its most basic form, and started designing and redesigning old wood block and metal press type.
How did you decide on locations for your NYC murals?
We spent a considerable amount of time working with our friends and contacts in New York to find viable spaces to paint leading up to my solo show. We wanted them to be prominent in the streets and in locations that were easily accessible and viewable. I chose a prominent site, which was a former chocolate factory at 325 West Broadway, and this was my main large-scale piece in Manhattan.
(Courtesy of Ben Eine)
Can you talk a bit about the Rikers one in particular?
I assume you needed to get permission for this, was this difficult, how did it come about? A good friend Alan Ket always helps me in New York when I’m here. A couple of years ago he secured me 50 roller shutters in Harlem and the South Bronx. I painted single letters from the Alphabet along these. A good friend of Alan who is very high up in command in Rikers wanted me to come to the island and paint an inspiring piece on a large wall, we will be returning later this year to paint more large scale pieces on Rikers and New York.
What’s the best new thing you’ve seen recently in British street art?
The Banksy show in New York. I’ve also just launched Elephants and Castles, which is my print studio that will be releasing established and up and coming artists that I find interesting. We did a unique set of print editions on the site to tie in with my solo show.
On Rikers Island (Courtesy of Ben Eine)
Coming from London, does New York real estate seem expensive to you, or cheap?
I’ve just relocated to San Francisco and it’s way more expensive there!