7 November 2010

Ben Wilson – Chewing Gum Artist and Modern Day Womble

Do you remember the Wombles? Artist Ben Wilson must do – for he seems to represent the epitome of their mantra. Before the beginning of each and every five minutes of animated environmentalism they would sing Making good use of the things that we find, Things that the everyday folks leave behind. That is what Ben Wilson does – with something of a twist.

Wilson seems to have only one objective in terms of the things that he wants to find – and that is gum. Chewing gum. For the last six years he has scoured the street of London with one thing of his mind – to transform the gum that the everyday folks leave behind in to art.

It might be over icing the cake to say that out of every great evil some great good must come but it has to be acknowledged that many of the good citizens of London think nothing of the act of gum laden expectoration. The streets of England’s capital are a testament to their inclination to spit rather than to swallow or even use a hanky, the dirty blighters.

So, along comes Ben with his specially adapted paint kit and he sets to work changing the eyesore that is the gum spattered streets in to something much more attractive to the eye. The process is one which took a while to master but he has it down to a fine art now.

First he finds a piece of gum (not too hard in London) which is obviously old and has little moisture left inside it. He heats it up with a burner and then lacquers it, which hardens the gum and creates a suitable surface for his acrylic paint. His special treatment ensures that the gum and paint come together in a way which gives his art something approaching permanent street presence.

The work is colorful and intricate and each piece can take a whole day to complete from start to finish.

Occasionally he will sign his work the chewing gum man but sometimes there is no room and you will mostly see his initials BW instead.. He estimates that he has painted something approaching eight thousand small but perfectly painted works of art in this manner.

There have been a few issues with the police who have twice arrested him for criminal damage. However, unlike the gum the charges did not stick as the act of spitting the gum on to the ground was the damage, not the painting of it afterwards.

He produces his own work but gladly takes commission from people and organisation – sometimes from unexpected sources. Recently the Royal Society of Chemistry asked him to create 118 paintings – one for each of the know elements.

One can only imagine whether the Ben Wilson’s work discourages people from leaving gum on the streets or, whether they do it more often purposefully to provide the artist with a wealth of new canvases, as it were.