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.