The Chewing Gum Man Paints a Trail of 400 Mini-Artworks on the Millenium Bridge

We are on the millennium bridge, St. Pauls dominating one end and the tower of the Tate Modern the other.  In the middle of the bridge lays Ben Wilson the Chewing Gum man. A regular sight on the bridge over the past seven months. During this time he has created over 400 mini pieces of art.

It’s not the sort of thing you expect to see in the middle of this busy thoroughfare.  Ben is painting onto discarded chewing gum. “It’s not criminal damage” he tells me. “The chewing gum is already there. I’m just transforming it into something beautiful that people would like to look at.”

Ben Wilson the Chewing Gum Man photographed on the Millenium Bridge
Ben has created over 400 pieces of chewing gum art on the millenium bridge

Chewing Gum Art

Judging by the responses of passers-by who stop to chat the Chewing Gum Man is a popular sight.  Kids in particular are intrigued and react excitedly to what is going on.  People stop and ask for their photo with him. Once they spot the chewing gum art you can see them searching for more.  What’s more much of the work Ben creates are requests. “A lot of the pieces are valuable to someone, it means something to them” he explains. Not all requests he can make. Sometimes it could take up to 3 hours to create a piece. He speaks to a lot of people in that time. But he has a book where he records them just in case he gets a chance in the future.

It’s the tread of the bridge that holds the appeal. The thrown away chewing gum gets stuck in-between and then trampled on. Clearing the gum from the tread but retaining it in the groove.  It’s the endless possibility of patterns that seems to excite Ben’s creative mind. As Ben explains, “sometimes I can look at the shape and I can see what I want to create. The gum gets stuck between the tread and takes on an echo or a form of the bridge.”

Close up of Ben Wilson the Chewing Gum Man painting chewing gum on the millenium bridge
Ben’s work is fine art in miniature on a surface he has made his own

Painting on the Millenium Bridge

A woodcarver by trade. Ben became the chewing gum man by painting discarded chewing gum for over 10 years and he’s become well known.  One woman, recognising him immediately stopped to ask when he was coming back to Barnet. This was a place he last painted gum on the street 10 years ago.  “The council  have replaced all the paving slabs there now” he sighs. To be fair as he lays there today restoring one of his previous works, he seems happy where he is.

Getting across the bridge is easier said than done.  He takes myself and street art photographer Claude Crommelin on a bit of a tour.  He remembers the stories of each and every one and it’s clear that he also has his favourites.  On a couple of occasions he drops his rucksack gets out. He paints and completes a restoration job on a piece that might have been trampled a little too much.  It means a 20 minute stop in the middle of the bridge each time. It’s a delay which prevents our passage to the end. There the prize is a cup of coffee in Ben’s favourite patisserie.

Ben Wilson the chewing gum man on the Millenium bridge
Getting ready to pack up and move on to the next piece

Discarded Chewing Gum to Street Art

One piece in particular which he seems proud of is his tribute to a victim of the Japanese Tsunami. Written in Japanese it was requested by one of the relatives.  It’s a nice touch. It would have meant a lot to the person asking. It’s really this sort of interaction that goes to the heart of Ben’s work.

The chewing gum is discarded, out of sight and out of mind, seen as disgusting by many.  Yet here we have it. Transformed time and time again from something horrid to something that means a lot to the person requesting it.  It suddenly takes on new meaning and has been given the kind of worth that would otherwise be unthinkable.

Ben likes to create art that means something to the people who ask for it.  This was a tribute to the area where the Tsunami hit in Japan, a rememberance piece
Ben likes to create art that means something to the people who ask for it. This was a tribute to victims of the Japanese Tsunami

The Chewing Gum Man

“I didn’t know that this would happen” explains Ben. I’d asked if he’d considered seven months ago that he’d be sitting here having created such a body of work. “I just wanted to see where it would go”. It seems there is perhaps something about the cosmopolitan nature of the people crossing the bridge that he likes. “The pictures are for people from all around the world. I’m making links between people, because we’re just all the same. We’re human beings and we have a right to live. It’s a way for me to acknowledge that as an artist” he says.

So for the time being he will continue to work on the bridge. Perhaps even trying to work towards the Tate Modern at some point. What’s certainly true is that the possibilities of his work are endless. So long as people spit out Chewing Gum and so long as people remain naturally inquisitive. It’s the idea of transforming something unwanted. Combined with a genuine need for interaction with others that seems to drive Ben. Long may his unique form of art continue.

Ben Wilson, the Chewing Gum Man, was interviewed on the Millenium Bridge on Monday 14th April 2014. The bridge is a pedestrian walkway linking St. Pauls with the Tate Modern on either side of the River Thames.

Ben Wilson Gallery

A popular sight on the bridge Ben was asked often to pose for photos with tourists
A popular sight on the bridge Ben was asked often to pose for photos with tourists
The Chewing Gum Man laying in the middle of the millenium bridge painting chewing gum
Ben in the middle of the bridge
Ben with street art photographer Claude Crommelin taking snaps of chewing gum
Ben with street art photographer Claude Crommelin taking snaps of chewing gum
Ben Wilson the Chewing Gum Man painting chewing gum on the millenium bridge
Working on a new piece of art
Chewing gum art on the millenium bridge
If you don’t look hard enough you won’t see it
Ben Wilson painting chewing gum on the millenium bridge
Ben often reinvigorates existing pieces

Chewing Gum Gallery on the Millenium Bridge

chewing gum art on the millenium bridge
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Other links

Little London Observationist – Interview with Ben Wilson
The Telegraph – Chewing Gum Art on the Streets of Muswell Hill
New York Times – Whimsical Works of Art found sticking to the sidewalk

47 Comments

  1. Hi Stuart Another fab article and great photos – I must visit the wobbly bridge someday soon! I remember when I first met Ben a couple of years ago and he told me how to discover one of his pieces actually inside Tate Modern… I wonder if it’s still there? Thanks for such an informative article (with no dodgy apostrophes!) – I bet you were panicking when you saw I’d replied… Cheers mate, Paul Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:04:55 +0000 To: pauln53@hotmail.com

    1. haha thanks Paul yes I did a bit lol :p It’s really cool actually there are just so many of the little pieces you could spend all day on there trying to spot them all 😀

    1. hey, thanks for reading the blog 🙂 I’m not sure that many people even really consider why they drop gum if they give it any thought at all. If anything the chewing gum art might just highlight the sheer volume of gum that gets discarded and maybe that will get people to stop and think

  2. Had a group tutorial and practical lesson at Phoenix art group at Stockton on tees by the chewing gum artist Ben Wilson thought he was a really down to the ground (pardon the pun) good bloke. He gives you and the other participants to create a chewing gum painting he also tells some interesting stories about the troubles hes got into doing the chewing gum paintings in city streets and shopping centers. He does practical lessons all over the UK. So if you get the chance hire him for one of his lessons do it, we all found it a really lot of fun.
    your sincerely david withdrawn (artist)

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