♦ Itty Bitty Art Committee ♦ Created by Sophie Ashcroft and Beverly Cottrell

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Incredible Gum Painting Man!

After another evening session of browsing the internet I came across a street artist who I remember seeing several years ago in the high street of Barnet, Greater London. It's the chewing gum painter man! Well, his name is actually Ben Wilson and he was a Barnet resident but his teeny chewing gum works are all over London. So far I've only seen the ones in Barnet. At first I thought they were colourful stickers... well at least it brightens up the grey concrete of London!

"I'm just going to keep going and see how far I get," said Mr Wilson, who started his quest at the Hadley end of High Street, Barnet. "I use acrylic paint and varnish, then I've got a little burner to dry it. I've done different pictures cups of tea, elephants, flowers I do requests as well. Often I just draw whatever takes me on that day." Ben Wilson, Painting a Gum Trail, 2004, thisislocallondon.co.uk

Flickr Images: flickr.com

His chewing gum paintings grab your attention, and because they are so small and on the ground you have to bend over to look at them, making the people following behind you stumble into you - I have to admit that has happened to me a couple of times! The gum paintings feature images of people, places (where the gum is painted), animals, local facilities and landmarks. You could even request a piece of gum to be painted for you and he will print your name, that's only if you were lucky to meet him! He is recognised as a local legend in Barnet, everyone that I met in Barnet know of him...

"‘I know a lot of the shopkeepers, road sweepers and local police. As I walk down the street, every few steps I think of a picture I have to do for someone. I have all this in my head, which make me feel closer to the place and the people.’ He hopes his work will encourage in others an awareness of their surroundings and give children a sense of connection with their local environment – something he believes fewer people have these days." Art On Chewing Gum, 2006, rawvision.com

He was known to the local police who accepted his unique street artwork. They even requested him to paint gum that featured their emblems!

Another Flickr Image: On the streets of Muswell Hill.
T.S.G. stands for Tactile Support Group. ie. The Police also make requests. Cool!

"I'm not defacing the pavement, it is more sensitive than that. I don't want to get in people's faces I'm not a graffiti artist. You get so many reactions from people, their reactions are so different, but rarely are they negative."Ben Wilson, Painting a Gum Trail, 2004, thisislocallondon.co.uk
However there has been information that Ben Wilson was apparently arrested for his street gum paintings. This is information from Flickr from people who seem to know Mr. Wilson that was posted 32 months ago. They claimed that his paints and kit were confiscated from him and he was released from custody. One comment said...
"..he has done pics for some police before now that have happened upon him in other parts of town so it's not like the Establishment is all jobsworth, it's just sad that some patrolling officers can't see that Ben is Added Value to a community and not a vandal or a threat."

If this news is true it is very unfortunate. He has been doing these gum paintings since 1998 and he made it clear to the authorities of what he was doing, and he also got the community of London involved, which I think is a great achievement! His works are colourful and a joy to see, he is certainly a great value to the community. I hope he's out there with his acrylic paints and blow torch creating more awesome gum paintings!

"We'll see," he said. "I'm just going to keep drawing and see where the momentum takes me." Ben Wilson, 2004.

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♦ Itty Bitty Art Committee ♦ Created by Sophie Ashcroft and Beverly Cottrell