THE CHEWING GUM MAN
Small insignificant spots on a small insignificant dot in an unimaginably vast universe. Chewing gum left on the street. Most people walk over it without a second thought as to the potential of a small, obtusely shaped white dot. Not Ben Wilson. He instead sees infinite possibility and an array of canvases and artworks yet to be created.
The effort to gentrify the streets of London started along time ago and in a way has extended to our very minds. Kids grow up unable to play in the streets in fear of being run over, without the ability to paint and create things around them due to the constant CCTV coverage. Bombarded with adverts and billboards, it’s as if this generation has grown up in some Dada version of John Carpenter’s film They Live.
Ben has the sunglasses firmly on. He started with the idea of painting onto billboards that he saw in an effort to create some beauty from them in lieu of the consumerist messages that they so garishly display. This got Wilson in trouble with old Johnny Law, so he began to think of a way in which he could circumvent this bureaucracy.
One day, perhaps it was a moment or a group of events that tied together, Ben decided (in quite a genius way, I may add) to paint on the chewing gum that littered the pavements of all cities. Suddenly there was an unlimited amount of canvases all over the world.
Wilson first heats the gum with a small blowtorch, then coats the gum with three layers of acrylic enamel. He uses special acrylic paints to paint his pictures, finishing each with a clear lacquer seal. The paintings take from two hours to three days to produce. Subject matter ranges from personal requests to animals, portraits or whatever whimsy pops into his head, such as Gum Henge, a miniature painting of Stonehenge.
However, in true They Live style, the authorities had a problem with Ben making our streets about more than just mere consumerism. The Chewing Gum Man was arrested twice, once in 2005 and again in 2009, for nothing more than trying to make London prettier—no good deed, huh.
Before we move on, it’s worth noting that Ben has never been arrested in any other nation for his activities in painting chewing gum, only in the U.K.
Wilson began his artistic creation in macro form, creating as he did as a child. Massive sculptures made in wooded areas; these were often forms of sleeping giants. The serene, peaceful-looking sculptures were a far cry from the micro direction his craft would take.
Ben would return to these anonymous sculptures to find that they had been vandalized. In a way, moving to chewing gum was away of not only moving from macro to micro, but also from degradable to fixed.