A decade of chewing gum art is about to disappear forever

Chewing gum art
(Image credit: Ben Wilson)

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.

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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.

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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.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.