Art on gum on the sidewalk

August 1, 2017 • 2:45 pm

This post was drafted over six years ago; I have a gazillion posts in draft (the list is 59 pages long!), and most will never appear. Here’s the total posts from my dashboard:

As I’m busy doing Stuff this afternoon, I thought I’d dredge up a nearly completed early post, and found this one from mid-2011.


I thought I’d seen it all vis-à-vis modern art, but here’s a new twist. As The New York Times reports today [that’s June 14, 2011, folks], artist Ben Wilson has made a career out of painting squashed blobs of chewing gum on the London sidewalks.

. . .Mr. Wilson, 47, one of Britain’s best-known outsider artists, has for the last six years or so immersed himself in a peculiar passion all his own: he paints tiny pictures on flattened blobs of discarded chewing gum on the sidewalks of London. So familiar is he here, painting in any kind of weather, that he has become something of a local celebrity and mascot.

“He brings a lot of joy to a lot of people,” said Peter Kyriacou, who owns the local Snappy Snaps photography store, which has a number of Wilson works out front. . .

. . . His current project was inspired by a variety of concerns: the scourge of chewing gum on city sidewalks, people’s carelessness about the environment and how advertisements, not art, rule the urban landscape.

I actually like his work: it’s quirky, colorful, and amusing.  Here are a few “works”:

He developed a technique in which he softens the gum with a blowtorch, sprays it with lacquer and then applies three coats of acrylic enamel. He uses tiny brushes, quick-drying his work with a lighter as he goes along, and then seals it with clear lacquer. Each painting takes between a few hours and a few days, and can last several years if the conditions are right.

You can see a video clip of Wilson here.

11 thoughts on “Art on gum on the sidewalk

  1. Wowza! I thought I had a big list of drafts, I admire your dedication to post. I love hearing about this artist, although I don’t know much about him. Thanks for this post and I may have to do a little research.

  2. I love outdoor artists, and you’ve highlighted a couple on WEIT. I admire artists who paint the sidewalks, knowing it will all wash away with the next rain. But I prefer Ben Wilson’s approach; keeping the art viewable for as long as possible.

    Either way, the internet keeps the art alive in digital form.

  3. I think these are cool. What I generally detest are painted rocks. There are some that are quite nice, but in general I do not like “improving” on mother nature. The very features of the rocks that inspire the artistic flourishes are those that I like to appreciate unadorned. I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about this because a neighbor has an insane urge (no free will)to paint damned near every rock she sees and place them in strategic places all around our apartment garden, so that we cannot escape looking at them. She generally thinks that she’s Picasso and would paint every available surface if she could. She’s been told repeatedly to stop commandeering the garden, but to no avail. It drives me crazy. Maybe I’ll start collecting gum off the street, get out my acrylic paints and upstage her.

  4. Blobs of chewing gum on sidewalks are pretty much indestructible. Why don’t they just make the sidewalks out of chewing gum? They might last longer.

  5. Not on the same topic at all, but this reminded me of Pueblo Alto in Chaco Canyon, NM an Anasazi Indian complex. Archeologists uncovered Pueblo Alto, then mostly covered it back up to protect it from tourists. On the plateau, there are jillions of pottery shards from some ancient ceremony (I can’t remember what it might have been.) Tourists are asked not to remove the pottery shards. Instead, many people have displayed the patterned part of the shards on large rocks in the area. I find them very interesting and appreciate this as a form of art participated in by hundreds of people.

  6. I live in Muswell Hill in North London where ‘The Chewing Gum Man’ as he is often called, is still creating his art on the pavements (or sidewalks to our American friends). I used to think, when I saw him lying on the ground, that it was someone who had collapsed but I now know it is just the artist at work. Children are particularly interested in his paintings, perhaps partly because they are closer to them and can more easily appreciate the tiny details. You realise, when you see the little blobs of colour from an adult height, how many grey blobs of discarded gum there are underfoot. There is no danger of ‘The Chewing Gum Man’ running out of canvases.

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