About the work
Ben Flynn [Eine] is best known for his alphabet lettering on shop shutters across London's East End. He is one of London’s most prolific and original street artists who specialises in the central element of all graffiti – the form of letters.
For the 50th D&AD Annual, Eine was asked to produce a cover. We caught up with him during his stay in San Fransisco to ask him about typography and street art.
I first got into graffiti when I was around 14. In the early 80’s, hip-hop and breakdancing spread out of New York and around the world. All kinds of kids my age got into graffiti, breakdancing or DJing. Basically I couldn't breakdance, so graffiti lit up my life. I've loved it ever since.
I tagged stuff and became obsessed. I wasn't into characters and New York skylines, to me, graffiti was about changing letters and words; changing the form of those letters, and creating something that had never been done before. I was trying to push the boundaries of the letterform.
I kind of empathise with kids who write tags. It's the beginning of graffiti, and that led on to street art. It's how you learn your hand and tag style, which develops and influences how you write. It's like the ultimate sense of freedom.
Back in the day you could get away with it - the punishments and fines weren't so harsh. Most people don't do it any more, but they're sticking up random stickers, posters or stencils instead. What drives these younger kids? It's interesting, a strange art form.
I did graffiti for around 20 years, and got myself arrested a fair few times. I traveled the world and met other graffiti writers such as Shepard Fairey and Banksy – people who were creating the movement that would later become street art.
But ten years ago it got to the point where I was going to prison the next time I got caught. I had had a lucky escape where I managed to get away, but the people I was with were caught and sent down. That was a wake-up call for me; it was time to stop painting trains.
I started painting shop shutters; exploring old woodblock fonts, old styles of typography and reproducing those on a large scale in public places.
I was inspired by typography, anywhere and everywhere. I once found a bible in a charity shop. It was so old that as you turned the pages, the pages turned to dust. On each page was a unique capital letter, something I've never seen reproduced in another book. From this, I designed a font, and that font recently became a free download.
Then there was an old receipt from Phillip Morris tobacco that I found. From the P and M on that receipt, I designed and drew out the entire alphabet. I used this on canvasses and painted it on the street. This is also available as a downloadable file, thanks to my friend, Chank Diesel.
A lot of graffiti is about male ego and competition. The idea is to have your name in as many places as you can. It’s something we all do.
I did 60 designs across East London in the space of a month. People had no idea what they were – was it graffiti? Was it advertising? Some were related to the shops, others completely random. If I had put my name to them, they would have turned it into graffiti rather than something a bit more interesting.
Working with Brands
Ever since I was a kid I've worked with advertising agencies, designers and record labels. Street art is a much more user-friendly version of graffiti. It's totally natural for people to take what we do, flip it around, and use it to sell something. What we do, to some degree, is cool. People want to take that and use it to sell something – it's part of life, it's what happens.
I've done so much in so many places – Budapest, Osaka, Bombay – and never put my name to them. The brand is well known. In a way I've created a brand identity that is big letters. Nobody had done that before, and because of that graffiti attitude, nobody could do it after me. Like Banksy and Shepard, we've all created a style that's uniquely our own.
I recently took a font workshop where the kids knew so much more than me about how fonts should work – the balance and weight. To me it’s natural how a font should work. Because I don't know the proper way of doing them I experiment more, which is fun.
Quite often when I paint a large wall I'll purposefully select half my colours, then blindly select the others. That forces me to work with a different colour palette, and to work in a different way. A lot of what I paint is about balance and contrast; it's boring to continually use the same colours. If you can inject some randomness into your selection you'll create something that you wouldn't have otherwise.
The Annual Cover
I worked a bit like that for the D&AD piece. I got the email from D&AD and it was like "fucking hell, this is pretty crazy, why me?”. I wanted my design to look like it had been painted on a canvas, rather than generated on a computer. Painting it on canvas gave it that hand-finished feel. I like things with human error; it makes it interesting and adds personality.
Buy the original Eine artwork at our 50/Auction on Dec 3.