With the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, 2011 is proving to be a year of radical change. And “All-World” graffiti writer BNE, who has plastered his simple B&W Helvetica stickers everywhere from New York to Kuala Lumpur, is no exception. In a seemingly mysterious U-turn, BNE earlier this year launched BNE Water Foundation, an organization helping impoverished children all over the world gain access to clean water. To satisfy our curious minds at 12oz and all over the world, we decided to sit down and get serious with BNE about his graffiti and his philanthropic ambitions for the future.
What inspired the sticker campaign? Stickers have been around for a long time, but the way you used them completely changed the game.
I have always thought that stickers were an effective tool but never had the time or patience to do thousands of tags on stickers by hand. I started going hard on stickers because I was in Tokyo catching tags and I thought that there were probably only a couple hundred people in the whole country that could read those tags. I figured if I simplified it into something very legible, I could capture the attention of millions of people instead of hundreds or thousands. Since I was a young kid I have always been attracted to block letters and legible graffiti. The stickers were designed to catch the maximum amount of attention but once I got going I wasn’t doing it for fame. It became addictive and I enjoyed walking. Putting up 400 stickers for me is like walking a dog or doing yoga. It relaxes me and I like being out in the streets. Even though the whole sticker thing developed naturally and they didn’t really influence me to do it, I do have to give props to Cost and Revs. They were the first to go hard with Helvetica font labels on a local level in the 90’s. Mad props to those guys.
So lets talk quantities, how many BNE stickers have been put up around the world and in how many different countries?
Hundreds of cities. Thousands of neighborhoods. Hundreds of thousands of stickers.
Has the attention your stickers received always been positive?
No, they seem to anger some people. I overheard someone in a bar talking about BNE stickers so I asked him what was up with them, for some reason he really hated them. He said they were everywhere and were destroying the city. That particular city was flooded with Pepsi stickers and posters. I asked him what he thought of the Pepsi labels being everywhere advertising unhealthy products to children. Strangely the Pepsi stickers didn’t seem to bother him. I think the anger comes from people’s minds being penetrated by a logo that they do not understand. I don’t think it’s always about it being “vandalism”. People are assaulted by so much corporate advertising that they have grown numb to it. The corporate logos are still very effective and make their way into our subconscious but they do not stay on your mind or make you angry. The fact that BNE can create such an emotional reaction and capture so much attention is what has fascinated the advertising world.
How were you first introduced to graffiti?
Just seeing it on the walls when I was young and wondering, “who did that?”
That “Who did that?” mystery can leave a strong impression. Was trying to get everyone to ask, “What is BNE?” one of your strategies?
No. As strange as it may sound, even though I designed my graffiti to reach a large amount of people, I never actually thought about how people perceived it. It was all very selfish and there was no big plan, I was just doing my thing. The first time I heard “What is BNE?” was on the news. I was seeing “What is BNE?” so much that I started to ask myself the same question. Eventually I realized that it could mean whatever I wanted it to mean, and that not to use it for something more would be a waste. Now I know that I can use graffiti to communicate with millions of people and advocate important issues as well. Graffiti truly is the voice of the people.
READ the full interview over at the oooontz.
I'm not one for speculating on the internet so believe it or not... I do support the idea, as well as the promotion of peace and unity.