A painting by street artist and former Hackney resident Ben Eine has been chosen as a gift for US President Barack Obama by PM David Cameron. Twenty First Century City was picked by the Prime Minister at the suggestion of his wife Samantha, a fan of the artist, and now hangs proudly in the White House.
Eine told the Citizen he was “completely and utterly taken aback” after receiving the call from Downing Street. “I’ve got no idea who knows about me, who has heard about me, who likes my work,” he explained. “I got the first whiff of this on Friday night and the painting went to Washington on Monday morning. It’s totally amazing – in my wildest dreams I didn’t imagine this would happen. As an artist you think ‘wouldn’t it be nice if the Tate bought one of my paintings’, you never think ‘White House, President, Prime Minister’. Because of the kind of art that I make, I don’t associate it with those things.”
The final recipient of the picture was originally kept secret, but Eine was assured it was going to “the most important man in the world.”
“I didn’t think it was going to go to Ronald McDonald,” he said, “so it had to be Obama.”
Already an artist of international renown, Eine was thrust into an unprecedented limelight, and as a reaction to this he created a new work: the words, The Strangest Week, emblazoned in huge letters along Hackney Road.
Although this piece should be around for a while, in the past Hackney Council has had a somewhat cavalier attitude towards painting over street art, for example the partial destruction of a Banksy on Stoke Newington Church Street, despite protests from the owner of the building it adorned (Council contractors clean off iconic Church Street art, Hackney Citizen, 28 August 2009).
Eine, however, defends the Council: “They are in an awkward situation with the Olympics coming up. This happens all around the world. Melbourne had the Commonwealth Games a few years ago – it was an amazing city for street art and they painted everything grey. The people in power didn’t want their city portrayed like that, and that’s going on in Hackney at the moment. People have been making street art for years and now it’s all going.”
A previously tolerant attitude has been replaced by a stricter approach, and as Eine himself puts it: “If people aren’t nicking it and the council aren’t cleaning it off, it might just stay.”
Eine lived in Hackney for 12 years, and many of his more famous endeavours reside here: the shutters on Broadway Market, Scary in Rivington Street and Hell in Hackney Wick to name but a few, and despite the recent change in the council’s disposition, he still sees it as the capital’s creative heartland: “To me, Hackney is street art – the arty hub of London.”
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