Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Cross that bridge when you come to it - Ben Wilson, Chewing Gum Man

Like many parents, I encourage my kids to look UP - so they don't miss out on beauty and because it's a proven mood enhancing technique. Despite my entreaties, the Boychild still spends a lot of time looking down. At his white patent leather shoes, at the ground, in kerb corners, down drains, counting dog poos, finding chewing gum splats... anything ground-level and manky fascinates him.

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.

Yesterday, I crossed the bridge and saw a smiling man in a high viz jacket speaking to a Japanese journalist (she had a camera and a surgical mask...). His jacket was daubed with paint and they were talking about the little pictures.

"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.
By the time he was done with his latest piece - a commission by me with my kids' names on - it was school pick up time and I left him amid a swarm of tourists, all eager to chat and commission his next work.

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.


  1. Love it love it love it on soo many levels... New motto... Look up AND down!!!

  2. Love it love it love it on soo many levels... New motto... Look up AND down!!!

  3. nice one Angie for having your finger on the pulse ... giving us the word on the street and telling us of the artgum on the ground !
    go crusader !