Design a site like this with
Get started

Pavement Picasso On the trail of the chewing

Gum artist from London. In the past 10 years, there’s been times when I felt as grey as London and was walking through the city with my eyes fixed on pavement. But, when I spotted a little dazzle of primary hue immediately, it made me feel better. The tiny spots of beautiful luminosity are the creation of the city’s “chewing gum artist” Ben Wilson, who, since 2004, has spent most days painting whimsical miniatures on some of the millions of flattened blobs of gum that spill out on the city’s paving stones. Every one of Wilson’s works is unique; most are dedicated to passersby who ask him to celebrate friendships, remember lost loves, or just to declare “I reside here”. I’m not sure how you would measure such things, but it’s my conviction that there is no living artist who gives more tiny moments of delight or comfort to a larger number of Londoners every day than Wilson.

junk for cars french truck coffee tinker food truck truck camper warehouse johhny pag motorcycles neon motorcycles 

I spoke to him back in 2005 and he ended up doing the painting for my younger daughters. It was something they kept secret with their high street friends for a long time. One day they found out that “their” pavement stones were removed and were replaced. Wilson has collected thousands of these pictures over the many years. He has a photograph collection of them, as well as many of their admirers. Then he goes back to repair any areas that are scuffed or damaged. For those who know how to locate them they will be able to create a kind alternative path of blue (and red and yellow) plaques that pays tribute not only to the dead, but also to the variety of the city.

Then, he softens the gum by blowing it with the blowtorch. After that the gum is sprayed with lacquer, and then applies three coats acrylic enamel.

If you’re lucky enough, you may see Wilson doing his thing and making his art. There are a variety of places where that he visits: the Edwardian streets near his home in Muswell Hill, Crouch End Hackney’s old parts and the Millennium Bridge. He has also created hundreds upon trails of chewing gum art, that have led to shady invasions of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. I caught up with Wilson who is now 58 on a Saturday morning in Muswell Hill, where he was renovating a few films outside the Everyman cinema. A tall man with an uncontrollable smile, he was wearing, as ever, vibrant orange industrial overalls that were adorned with layers of paint and lying flat out on the pavement on a thick matting which he packs rolled up in a rucksack, alongside his toolbox full filled with materials.

girls on motorcycles javelin boats vip boats rossiter boats dolphin boats winner aviation prairie aviation museum 

This technique is extremely precise. The first step is to soften the oval of flattened gum a little with the help of a blowtorch. He then sprays it with lacquer, and apply three coats acrylic enamel, often to a pattern from his latest book of requests that are made by people who stop and look down and talk. He applies tiny modellers’ brushes and then quickly drys his work by using lighter flame. He seals the work with more varnish. Each painting can take a few hours to complete and lasts for many years.

Wilson’s bizarre actions of daily creation become more natural the more explained by him. He is enthralled by the threatened idea of public spaces. Technically, in painting gum – as he’s established in the courts it is not painting public property or commercially owned real estate. His pictures aim to create a small mosaic of common land throughout the city. He suggests that gum is the most popular consumable product. It is of no nutritional significance and is hard to remove. There is some symbolism to transforming something that was thoughtlessly thrown out into something meaningful.

craigslist detroit spirit cars truck ranch zombie monster truck power rangers motorcycles hudson valley motorcycles sea born boats

Wilson is also keen to promote the concept of local intimacy and celebrating communities. He is currently cleaning up and revising a picture that captures a tiny rumble of stars in the air above Brighton Pier. “I always felt guilty about this picture,” he says. It was on my wish list but the guy who asked it was too sick to make it happen before I was able to. I happened to get talking to his son at an eatery near by, and he asked whether I would do it in memory of his dad. He was a fan of those murmurs and so I could do that. He also loves the photo.”

He meticulously cleans it, adding a little paint to the edge that has been damaged. He leads me through the other side kerbs. “This is for a guy I’ve seen around here – Ivan He wanted Ivan the Terrible and I decided to do this.” We walk over the road to the shops along the road. He snaps a picture outside the Ryman and reads the inscription. “This is in memory of Nadia,” he said. The post office outside is a tiger in honor of a Sri Lankan postal worker. Wilson was able to put all the names of Woolworths employees on a piece gum to commemorate the closing of Woolworths several years ago.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: