Ben Eine’s ‘Alphabet Street’ is one of the jewels in London’s street art crown.
A massive row of shop shutters painted in his trademark beautiful typography, it led, he said in 2010, to “kids skipping down the street calling out the alphabet” and "parents saying my work has helped their kids learn their A to Z."
The project helped establish Eine as a leading figure in the UK graffiti scene and resulted, inevitably, in increased offers of commercial work – something he had already explored in the past as a clothing designer and screen printer.
Around the same time in 2010, his crossover from vandal to mainstream artist-for-hire was cemented when David Cameron presented one of his artworks to Barack Obama as a present.
Even still, his latest commercial venture comes as a bit of a surprise.
Perhaps acknowledging that the approval of the prime minister was a kiss of death no underground artist could possibly survive, the Londoner has now cheerfully signed up for a new deal with Virgin Atlantic, which has launched the ‘first ever commercial art gallery in the air’.
The Hirst-esque idea is that passengers flying between London and New York are given the opportunity to view - and buy - a series of his original paintings. Providing they’d paid for an Upper Class ticket, of course.
The pieces are priced between £2,500 and £15,00 and have been inspired – you might want to grab your sick bucket at this point – “by the adventurous and innovative spirit of Virgin Atlantic [and] its entrepreneurial owner Richard Branson” .
Not to deny anyone, least of all an artist, the opportunity to make a living in these difficult times, but it’s a shame anyone has to be made to make statements like this one from Eine:
“My philosophy through all my work, be it on canvas or on the street, is about pushing boundaries and not simply going with the flow because everyone else is doing something a certain way.
“I respect Virgin Atlantic’s brave and challenging attitude and the way it goes against the grain, so I jumped at the chance to be part of the first ever Gallery in the Air. We have created a completely original way of appreciating and buying art – a new frontier for the industry.”
It’s probably unfair to pick apart a statement prepared for a corporate press release, but we’re dubious how relocating your art from the street or gallery - where it can be enjoyed by everybody - to the front end of an airplane reserved for the wealthy represents ‘pushing boundaries’, ‘going against the grain’ or least of all doing anything original. It just sounds like making money at a different altitude, to us.
Perhaps if Virgin had opened a ‘gallery at 35,000ft’ that was open to everyone – including those crammed into economy class with their knees in their ears – we’d have bought this as a interesting idea.
As it is, while sports stars, musicians and artist making a quick buck by loaning their credibility to a corporation is a fact of life, we do wish everyone could at least be a bit more honest about it.