Street art

Chewing gum: the hidden street art under your feet

17 November, 2016

The next time you’re in London and you want to check out some street art: Look down. You might find hidden artwork under your feet.

A blue bird created by Ben Wilson out of chewing gum, found on Millennium Bridge

These tiny masterpieces are the creation of Ben Wilson, AKA The Chewing Gum Man. And yes, those are gobbed out pieces of chewing gum, moulded, painted and transformed into something beautiful. There are more than 10,000 of them dotted around the UK and mainland Europe.

Chewing gum art painted yellow, blue and pink with the word London

Taking around 2-3 hours to produce, the process starts by heating the gum with a blowtorch before three layers of acrylic enamel are added, and then it’s painted and sealed with clear lacquer.

Chewing gum art with the names Jack, Ellie, Sienna and Paris

And once you get over the initial weirdness of having to get up close to something a bit gross (Ew! Germs!) they really are quite astonishing. Just look at the level of detail in this one:

Detailed painting of a street and car service shop in Archway, London

What I love about this is that it goes much deeper than simply recycling gum into art: it’s about drawing attention to the wider discontent that lies beneath the act of spitting gum onto the streets.

As Ben himself said in this 2015 interview for Human Nature:

“I am upset by all the garbage and sense of disconnectedness where people just affect things in a slightly detached way. When people detach from the environment, that’s when the environment gets destroyed and that’s also when people destroy each other.”

“When a person throws chewing gum, it’s a thoughtless action. I’m turning that around. People think they don’t have an effect. But all the people that chew gum and throw it on the street, they created that. Once painted, it suddenly takes on new meaning and has been given the kind of worth that would otherwise be unthinkable.”

I might be reading too far into this (thanks to Brexit, Trump and the whole of 2016), but I think this statement is now more relevant than ever: people are feeling detached, wanting to destroy each other, throwing their metaphorical gum onto the floor.

Red, yellow, blue and green painting on chewing gum created by Ben Wilson, Muswell Hill

I’m holding out for a political Ben Wilson to turn that gum into something meaningful. But for now, the real artwork will have to do.

Tiny portrait made from chewing gum

If you’re keen to do some gum-spotting of your own, two of the most concentrated patches can be found across Millennium Bridge and Muswell Hill, but they’re dotted all over London – we found the one above on our Alternative LDN Street Art Tour in the East End – so it pays to keep an eye out!

Chewing gum art painted blue, red and yellow and the name's Becca, Livey, Ruby and You're So Vain

What’s more, I believe the artist takes requests, so if you see a guy covered in paint blotches lying in the street (and it actually turns out to be Ben Wilson, rather than some random guy lying the street) be sure to say hello – you too could be immortalised in gum on the streets of London. How awesome would that be?

Happy hunting!

Find out more:

Watch the 20-minute Chewing Gum Man documentary

Discover more examples of his work in this Flickr group

Read Ben Wilson’s Wikipedia page

Image credits: Graham C99 and Salim Fadhley

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