The artist Ben Wilson has is known as the 'chewing gum man' because of his tiny pieces of art painstakingly painted onto discarded chewing gum on London's Millennium Bridge. Just steps away from the Tate Modern art gallery, his miniature pieces vie for tourists' attention with works by the likes of Dali and Warhol.
His work has seen him involved in brushes with the police before (and indeed Tate Modern security have also asked him to move on occasion). But now it seems his open-air gallery is to be washed away this weekend (see our pick of the best street art for more inspiration).
Wilson, from Barnet, north London, began turning dropped chewing gum into art in London in around 2003. In 2004, he began working a trail across London creating gum paintings on the way. He's since become something of a fixture on the Millennium Bridge, making the landmark famous for something other than it being wobbly.
He became popular with tourists from around the world, who would ask him to do pieces for them with messages, from declarations of love to references to their home cities." But there are plans to remove his work as part of a deep clean of the bridge this weekend. Artists and fans of Wilson's signed petitions calling for Southwark Council to reverse its decision to remove the chewing gum paintings. At the time of publication, Wilson had been told that he could choose 75 pieces that would be spared from the cleaning process.
Met London's Chewing Gum Man aka Ben Wilson last summer turning the overlooked into marvels. We support Ben and all artists in our city. But a deep clean endangers this treasure @southwarkcouncil So sign the petition 🎨✨ #SaveLondonArt #ChewingGumManArthttps://t.co/PWS9O7Fns7 pic.twitter.com/CCm66LVZR7October 12, 2023
Wilson insists that his work isn't vandalism and that he's merely turning litter that had already been dropped into something beautiful. "I'm taking something that's literally thrown away and disgusting, taking 'urgh' and making it into 'hmm'," he told the BBC. "They're killjoys'" he added. "It's a poignant message: let's transform rubbish into art."
Groups of artists such as Muswell Hill Creatives have criticised the decision to remove the pieces, and Wilson has been inundated with messages of support on social media from people who like to spot his work. One person writing on Instagram said seeing Wilson's work was "more exciting than anything in the Tate Modern". Perhaps the museum could try to relocate some of the pieces.
Something my kids and I love to do if we're in London is spot the chewing gum art on Millennium Bridge. These tiny pieces of unusual art are by Ben Wilson the self-styled Chewing Gum Man, who has been painstakingly painting mini artworks on discarded pieces of gum since 2004. pic.twitter.com/H3CtnL3uQ3October 6, 2023
Tomorrow please come along at 9am to #milleniumbridge north side as Ben (the chewing gum man) selects the 75 pictures he has painted out of the thousands to survive during refurb. Here's my coat of arms on the south side... #londonart #streetart #thames #chewinggumman pic.twitter.com/2GIWuy9cMGOctober 12, 2023
Ben Wilson, affectionately known as the chewing gum man, has been a treasured part of the #MuswellHill community for many years. His art trail on Millennium Bridge is under threat. Please sign the petition here to stop it being removed.#London https://t.co/9A8lQOMxYm pic.twitter.com/xA0mA0AE3gOctober 3, 2023
Wilson has, however, been taking his art to other locations, including the creation of a small trail in Fife. You can see some of his process in the post below.
See our pick of the best acrylic paints if you're inspired by Wilson's art. You can also see the best prices in your region below.