The first time I took him to Tate we crossed the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's and he ran in front all the way, zigzagging and peering into the metal rails. Half way over, he pointed out tiny little pictures in the structure of the bridge. By the time we got to the St. Paul's side, we must've counted 50. An artyfarty treasure hunt for kids - "how very Tate" - I thought.
Every time I cross that bridge now, I look for the pictures and they make me smile. Little pops of colour that, once you see one, they start popping up everywhere.
"Ben Wilson, Chewing Gum Man, pleased to meet you." I nearly toppled off my bike!
Ben Wilson is an artist who paints on chewing gum splats. His work has graced the streets of London and the pages of the New York Times. He's passionate about the environment and thinks chewing gum's disgusting. We swallow the messages of huge corporations, chewing petrochemicals laced with sugar and then we spew it out, defacing streets and bridges. So he pretties it up and makes people smile.
As he painted his latest little masterpiece, Ben filled me in on his pursuit of creating beauty from the beastly and his brushes with the law. Seriously - he beautifies our litter and he's the one who gets in trouble for it? Twisted. Turns out, he has nothing to do with Tate, although from time to time he leaves a hidden art trail in there for people to discover (Banksy, eat your heart out).
Ben softens the gum with a blowtorch, sprays it with some kind of lacquer and then applies three coats of acrylic enamel. He uses tiny brushes and his paint "muffin", quick-drying his work with a lighter as he goes along, and then seals it with clear lacquer to 'fix' it.
The Boychild's going to get the surprise of his life next time we cross that bridge.
The Arts Crusader ⚡️
P.S. Join my crusade on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest and give yourself a #KickUpTheArts
P.S. You can commission Ben to create a painting for you - miniature or life size, by emailing him. Or catch him on the bridge if you can. What a gent.