‘I used to go around just tagging things and being horrible’: London Fields street artist Ben Eine on his misspent youth

Hackney street artist Ben Eine, pictured with a mural he created in Romford for Amnesty Internationa

Hackney street artist Ben Eine, pictured with a mural he created in Romford for Amnesty International to highlight the bravery of human rights activists. Picture: Amnesty International - Credit: Amnesty International

Hackney’s own Ben Eines tells Emma Bartholomew how a misspent youth helped him grow into the celebrated street artist he is today – even though he rarely gets paid.

Street artist Ben Eine tells the Gazette he used to go around “just tagging things and being horrible”.

“Honestly, for years I was like a little vandal,” says the 46-year-old, who started out painting the streets when he was 14.

“There was no artistic value in the graffiti I did at all.

“It was purely about putting my tag in as many places as I could.”

But at some point he realised he couldn’t continue in that vein.

Eine, whose real name is Ben Flynn, saw an opportunity to paint the brightly coloured letters he is now well-known for on shop shutters – many of which are in Hackney.

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“I wanted to do something that was different from what other people were doing – and I didn’t want to get arrested,” he explained.

“Back then lots of shops were derelict, and Hackney was poor so I could go out on Sunday morning and paint stuff without permission and it wouldn’t get cleaned off.

“After that I asked shop owners and they gave me permission to paint it.

“Weirdly I’ve painted 500 shutters all over the world – but one dude in Well Street gave me £50 and that’s the only time l’ve ever been paid. I do it for nothing.

“If you want to be cynical it’s publicity for me, but I thoroughly enjoy it. I spent so long destroying things, and now what I do makes things better.”

Ben has lived in Hackney for “a long long time”, and has owned a flat in Broadway Market “since the Cat and Mutton was a horrible pub and the only stall there sold fruit and veg”.

He has no artistic training, having left school at 15 with no idea what he wanted to do.

“I always had a passion for painting on the public domain, showing off and putting my name or art in places,” he said.

“I basically designed my own job and made it happen.”

He takes inspiration from graffiti and old typography, and has made selling his street art his business.

Last week he painted the side of a museum in South Korea.

He will be painting a wall around the back of 93 Feet East in Shoreditch as part of the Festival Iminente celebrating Portugal with Portuguese street art Vhils and Connor Harrington. Urban underground musicians will then perform there over the weekend of July 28 and 29.