Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Chewing Gum Artist.

I have been dying to come across Ben Wilson for years. He's the chewing gum artist. His mission is to paint over the flattened splodges of gum which have been spat out all over our London streets. So I was delighted to almost trip over Ben as he crouched outside the Royal Academy last Monday lunchtime, in the freezing March wind, painting a beautiful scene on a grotty lump of gum.

Ben Wilson started painting over gum five years ago. He lives in Muswell Hill and his aim is to paint on gum all the way from Barnet to the West End. He has very nearly reached his goal. His miniature works of art have been filmed, photgraphed and featured in newspapers. Living in Barnet myself, I first read about him in my local newspaper and then I saw Ben's art featured on the BBC London Today news.

Ben uses acrylic paints and then he showed me how he makes sure the paintings don't get worn away. He got out his lighter and literally heated the painting, ensuring that the paint survived the worst weathering on London's streets. "Gangs stop me and ask me to do their tags," he says. "I'm happy to take any requests."

Ben doesn't really have an agenda, he paints whatever takes his fancy on the day. But he certainly draws attention to the amount of gum squashed on the pavements and how unsightly it is. There are hundreds of thousands of pieces of gum spat onto Oxford Street alone each year and it costs tens of thousand of pounds to clear it up. At least Ben is creating something beautiful and exciting. he's attracted so much attention you can view a lot of examples on the net.

Meeting Ben just after seeing the Van Gogh exhibition I was struck by the fact that here were two artists who would happily sit outside in all weathers in pursuit of their art. Both had found extraordinary ways of mark making which surprise and delight the eye.

Finding Ben and watching him paint on London's paved streets was pure gold, like a found poem. For Ben, his art is completely portable, carried about like part of his life.
For me as a writer, this has always been one of the wonderful things about writing. All I need is a pen and a piece of paper and I can create.
All Ben needs is the pavement and his paints and brushes. And of course a piece of gum.
No shortage of that on the road from Barnet to the Royal Academy.


  1. Fascinating blog. What an unusual thing to do. Like you say, every bit as creative as a writer, but he's turning eyesores into something inspiring. Don't think there's anything like that happening in Leicester.

  2. Crazy, I'll be watching out for them now!

  3. Maybe you can invite him to Leicester, Ros, Glad you both liked the blog.

  4. My god, how bizarre, Miriam. I'd bever heard of this artist before yesterday, when I was in Muswell Hill for a couple of school visits, and had several of these miniature artworks pointed out to me as we waited for the lights at a pelican crossing. I'm getting the shivers down my spine at the weirdness of coincidence!

  5. Don't you just love coincidences, Kath! Glad you know what they are now.

  6. what a delightful story! I hadn'y heard of him before but i wish more of us took the time to decorate and beautify our public spaces. Good job! Alex W x

  7. Thanks for sharing this Miriam - it's a great story. If you see him again please send him south as Croydon is full of blank canvases!

  8. Helen : I'll let him know next time I trip over him!

  9. What a brilliant thing for him to do and how lucky for you to have found him. I'll have to keen an eye out!

  10. ----- Original Message -----
    From: fiona woof
    To: miriam
    Sent: Thursday, March 11, 2010 3:36 PM
    Subject: Re: The Chewing Gum artist, from Miriam Halahmy

    Hi Miriam
    Funny you should mention him - I was in Muswell Hill last week (a first) and almost tripped over a bloke in grimy pain-splattered overalls, prostrate on the pavement, nose to the ground in deep contemplation. It was Ben checking a finished piece of work. I stopped to chat with him, too. I like his work. Very simple, very inspired stuff!
    See you soon.Happy writing

  11. I'm glad Ben is getting the recognition he deserves now - he has been famous locally for quite a while & I always feel pleased to see him working when I'm in the Broadway.
    Ruth, an inhabitant of Muswell Hill for 75 years!


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