Gum pictures

Painting gum on the Millennium Bridge, London

Ben Wilson’s miniature paintings on discarded chewing gum comprise his most well-known and celebrated body of work spanning almost two decades and numerous locations in Britain and beyond. A form of urban land art and social intervention, the work has earned him the name ‘chewing gum man’ and many accolades in the national and international media.

Ben paints his tiny pictures on pieces of gum found on public walkways, transforming them from worthless litter into beautiful, meaningful works of art. The work is influenced by the physical environment as well as by Ben’s interactions with passers-by, who often make requests. Executed on the surface of the flattened gum using acrylic enamel and the thinnest of brushes, his paintings may be landscapes, portraits, marriage proposals, love tokens, memorials to lost loved ones and personal symbols, as well as vivid abstract and figurative patterns.

Once you’ve seen the brightly coloured discs of lacquered chewing gum hiding in plain sight beneath your feet, your eyes are drawn to follow their trail. From the pavements of North London to the metal treads of the Millennium Bridge by Tate Modern, from the streets of European cities, to rocks in Senja in Norway, north of the arctic circle, Ben’s chewing gum art responds to and transforms the environment in which it is created. It gives expression to individual meaning and at the same time becomes part of the collective experience. Treating thoughtlessly discarded litter as a canvas for fine art, the chewing gum paintings question the boundaries between the private and public, the worthless and the precious. They champion the excluded — quite literally the “chewed up and spat out.”

Video (3 minutes)

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