'So it's been a weird day today," says a recent posting on Ben Eine's website. "David Cameron has given one of my paintings to President Obama." Weird indeed. You wake up one morning as a street artist known to few outside the aficionados of Britain's urban art scene, and go to bed as the man whose work the new prime minister, for his first official visit to Washington, chose to present to the president of the United States." (see TWENTYFIRSTCENTURYCITY above).
Eine (real name Ben Flynn) 39, is best known in and around Shoreditch in the East End of London, where he has worked for several years with his close friend, the elusive Banksy. "They're the best of mates, old friends," says Lindsay Alkin, manager of the Artrepublic gallery in Brighton, which also sells the artist's work. "Banksy would do one side of the street and Ben the other, and Ben did all Banksy's screenprints. He's one of the founders of the whole street-art movement. But this is really going to broaden his audience: we've had a great deal of interest this morning. And we've sold one of his originals."
Eine last came to the media's attention when he persuaded the shopkeepers of Middlesex Street in Spitalfields to allow him to paint the entire alphabet, in his trademark vibrant, cheerful colours, on their closed security shutters. Elsewhere in London, his letters spell out whole words – "Exciting" or "Scary" or "Vandalism" – on walls and buildings, or just stand on their own: a solitary "e" or "a" adorning a shopfront or telecomm box. There's a Googlemap of his London work, but similar typographical totems can also be seen in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Paris, as well as Newcastle and Hastings, where he now lives.
"For me, it's mostly about having stuff on the street," Eine says. "You're walking down the street, you do it every day, and suddenly there's something that wasn't there yesterday: something bright and cheerful and different. It might stay there for a year; maybe it will disappear. But you know, I have a family, I have a mortgage, I have to make a living. So I do the screenprints too."