Interview with the Chewing Gum Man Ben Wilson

A crowd has gathered on the pavement outside ‘The Arthouse’.   The culmination of the ‘Baroque the Streets’ festival in Dulwich showcasing artists from around the world has seen the house on 265 Lordship Lane completely taken over with every inch of space covered in art.  It’s not just the house though, the pavement on the street outside is also in the process of getting a makeover.  The sort of makeover which turns discarded chewing gum into works of art in their own right.  

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Ben working on the pavement outside the arthouse

Artist Ben Wilson is the chewing gum man and he has been asked to take part in the festival.  Inside the house he has already recreated works of art contained in the nearby ‘Dulwich Picture Gallery’ on small pieces of gum.  The pavement work is different though, this art is in-situ taking inspiration from the environment around him and taking requests from the people who stop to talk to him.  

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The 'Old Walton Bridge over the Thames' by Canaletto reimagined on chewing gum

Some children are enraptured, the father of one remarks that he wished he could keep them so quiet for so long.  Wilson is working on a discarded piece of gum.   He has heated it with a blowtorch and applied a laqueur prior to turning it into a mini masterpiece.  Speaking about why he works in this way Ben says that he loves the idea of “taking something that is thrown away and transforming it”.   The kids imagination has certainly been captured, the work he is creating has been specially requested by them.  Art has come into the here and now, this is for them, they own the creation!  

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Original creations are part of the appeal

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Wilson thrives on requests and often creates bespoke pieces

Ben speaks passionately about the importance of his art fitting into the environment around him.  He only works on discarded gum which was, at the time, utterly unwanted and spat out.  He says that technically it’s not criminal damage so he can’t be arrested, the gum is already there, it’s part of the environment and he is just giving it a different meaning.  Describing his motivations he explains that he loves the idea of taking something that has been “thrown away and rejected in this consumerist society” and transforming it, transforming the very thing that prior to his intervention people would have found disgusting.  

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Ben says that he likes the idea of taking something that people find disgusting and turning it into something amazing

And his creations are often colourful “People respond to colour” he says giving a bit more of an insight into his style.  “Colour in itself is almost like medicine, it has an effect and it’s bright, it’s something real almost spiritual.”  He once again draws inspiration from his environment, “it’s alive, like nature itself” he says.  

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Ben says colour is important

Ben boasts that because of his chosen canvas he is able to work anywhere he likes “It’s actually a celebration of spontaneity and creativity!”  As a result art is able to happen in a random way.  Ben says that’s important “if you know what you’re going to do and it’s all too proscribed then why do it” he asks.  

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This fried egg was once a discarded piece of Gum

Speaking to Ben whilst at work, it’s clear that the environment is a true inspiration to him.  Formerly a woodland sculptor he spent a lot of his time outside creating art within nature.  “Inspiration comes out of silence” he says.   “Out of stillness really, you make something and you don’t impose a thing on the place but it comes out of the place, you have a sense of belonging of the place and you do something that hopefully fills some need in that place in which you’re working.”   

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The Chewing Gum man

Judging from the entranced children watching him work on the pavement that place has changed, from walkway to canvas, from discarded gum to a child’s very own work of art!

For more bits on the web about the chewing gum art of Ben Wilson, have a look at the following links:

Little London Observationist – Ben Wilson Chewing Gum Art
BerlinLondon – Interview: Chewing Gum Artist Ben Wilson

For more on the ‘Baroque the Streets’ festival in Dulwich try this link here.