Man turns chewing gum on London streets into intricate works of art
When most of us come across discarded chewing gum in public, we usually step right over it.
Ben Wilson, however, sets up shop.
That’s because he’s an artist turning even the ugliest things into intricate works of art.
The 57-year-old Englishman has toured London for the past 15 years sculpting and repainting scraps of gum discarded by passersby.
It’s not just an eccentric hobby. Ben considers the form of art a recycling technique.
‘I’m transforming the rubbish and making it into a form of art, so that’s a form of recycling,’ he says.
‘It is taking a thoughtless action and trying to transform it hopefully into something positive.’
His colourful creations, barely bigger than a coin, can be found in his recent work along the Millenium Bridge in the shadow of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
Unless you look closely, the works are easy to miss.
Many are miniature representations of the famous cathedral nearby, while others are vivid – almost psychedelic – drawings, often signed and dated.
Originally from north London, Wilson started out carving wood before turning to chewing gum.
Over the years, his unusual hobby has earned him the nickname ‘chewing gum man’ – a moniker he has fully embraced.
His procedure is now well established.
Ben spots old gum stuck to steps, streets and other parts of the urban landscape.
Then, out comes his equipment: an old paint-stained blanket to sit on; bottles of acrylic paints and varnish; a burner to melt the gum; and, of course, a brush.
He is careful to avoid painting on the actual bridge or other surfaces, in case he is accused of vandalism by the authorities.
‘The person who spat out the gum is the person that created the criminal damage,’ he noted.
‘It’s sad really the impact that humans have on their environment, the amount of rubbish that we create.’
Pedestrians, some used to the regular sight of Ben working in his paint-flecked jacket, engage with him, asking questions or sometimes taking photos.
He estimates he has painted thousands and thousands of pieces of gum and prides himself on having produced his hidden art across central London.
Ben also collaborates with galleries and other artists for some income and refuses any money offered to sign people’s pieces of gum.
‘It’s nice to actually create something which evolves out of the environment rather than being imposed on the environment,’ he said.