Your Space Or Mine
Ben Wilson aka Chewing Gum Man
We take a miniature personal tour of the city with artist Ben Wilson, the man who turns thoughtless acts into visual gems.
“What’s that man doing lying down there dad?” So piped up a young lad on seeing Ben Wilson sprawled across the ribbed metal floor of London’s Millennium Footbridge. Despite the fact that Wilson was wielding a tiny brush and surrounded by pots of acrylic enamel paint the kid could be forgiven for asking the question because the work itself was so small you had to get on your hands and knees to focus on the teeny-weeny figure! “Good on yer Ben. You’re a star. Your stuff’s better than half of what they’ve got going on over there,” bugled another enthusiastic passerby waving her arm breezily towards Tate Modern.
Suffice to say that Wilson’s trademark paintings on splats of disregarded gum are true crowd pleasers. He can spend hours on a single work. The paintings range in styles. There are black and white calligraphic designs with whirling lines and forms that reveal worlds within worlds. Sometimes he’ll opt for a meticulous painterly representation of people and places that he can see from the site where the gum is found. On other occasions he creates fabulous tiny abstract designs that incorporate dedications to folk, texts painted seemingly with a single brush hair that celebrate or commemorate persons, places or events dear to Wilson or are suggested by people who happen across him at work.
Asked what artists he likes Wilson rattles off various names that suggest the range of his own creative past, “Oh, Jackson Pollock, Andy Goldsworthy, Dave Nash, Andy Warhol, Stik, outsider artists…” Wilson has previously built beautifully crafted wooden sculptures and environments, painted billboards, created assemblages out of litter found in the streets, filled numerous sketchbooks with observational drawing, made ceramic tiles, established trails above the arctic circle and elsewhere across the world. He added, “And the painter printmaker Peter Green was very supportive when I was younger. I like all artists. What’s really most important to me is the immensity of human creativity.”