Ben Wilson (English artist)

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Ben Wilson
Man lying on pavement, painting chewing gum
Wilson at work in Muswell Hill Broadway
Ben Wilson

1963 (age 60–61)
Cambridge, England
Known forPainting, found wood sculpture
MovementOutsider art, pavement art

Ben Wilson (born 1963) is an English wood carver and outsider artist. The son of an artist, Wilson grew up in a creative environment and attended art school. His distaste for industrial waste, cars and rubbish eventually turned into an art form. He creates tiny works of art by painting chewing gum stuck to the pavement. Initially, his work garnered him unwanted attention from the authorities, but because he is not defacing private property but merely painting rubbish, he was found to be breaking no law. In addition to the chewing gum art, Wilson paints and sculpts. He has exhibited his paintings and sculptures in England, the United States, Germany, Ireland, Finland, France and Serbia.[1]

Personal details[edit]

Wilson was born in Cambridge[2] and grew up in a family of artists[3] in Barnet,[4] in North London, England. His father is an artist who has painted, made ceramics and done performance art.[5]

He lives in Muswell Hill[6] with his family.[4]

Outsider artist[edit]

Wilson studied art at Middlesex University, but disliked the "overanalysing" in formal art education and dropped out.[5] He preferred to use found wood to create sculptures, as he had done as a child.[2][5]

Gum painted by Ben Wilson

An artist with a strong distaste for industrial waste, cars and rubbish, Wilson took to carving sculptures in wooded areas.[4] He would later find many of his carvings vandalized and destroyed.[4] He had already created collages that incorporated collected bits of litter and had painted over billboards and advertisements in an effort to beautify the urban environment, an effort that brought him trouble with the law.[4] He came on the idea of painting chewing gum, which required no gallery, bureaucracy, or permit[4] and was not defacing property, since the gum was already discarded. He began painting gum on Barnet High Street, intending to create a trail into the centre of London.[4]

Wilson does not confine himself to painting gum and has worked on large constructions in Finland,[6] Australia and the United States, where he was artist-in-residence at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and created a large sculpture in Baltimore, Maryland.[3] He also produces "normal-sized" paintings, which he occasionally sells.[3]

Wilson has exhibited at the Contemporary Folk Art Museum in Kaustinen, Finland, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the Lehniner Institut für Kunst und Handwerk near Berlin, the Musgrave-Kinley Outsider Art Collection at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin[5] and La Halle Saint Pierre in Paris.[2]

Wilson started experimenting with occasional chewing-gum paintings in 1998, and in October 2004 began working on them full-time.[4] He has created more than 10,000 of these works on pavements all over the UK and parts of Europe,[7] although most of his work is found in Muswell Hill.

Wilson first heats the gum with a small blow torch, then coats the gum with three layers of acrylic enamel. He uses special acrylic paints to paint his pictures, finishing each with a clear lacquer seal.[3] The paintings take from two hours to three days to produce.[8] Subject matter ranges from personal requests to animals, portraits[3] or whatever whimsy pops into his head,[6] such as "Gum Henge", a miniature painting of Stonehenge.[9]

Britain spends £150 million annually cleaning chewing gum from pavement.[10] Wilson was arrested in 2005 in Trafalgar Square[11] and once in 2009. However, he says that "technically, it is not criminal damage, because you are painting the gum, not the pavement."[11] Wilson does not consider himself to be a graffiti artist,[6] but has come to know graffiti writers through his work.[11]

Kids are not allowed to feel any connection with where they live ... They can't play in the streets because they are likely to get run over; then you have the national curriculum, and all this testing at school, and no opportunity to play or to make things, and everything you do outside is recorded on surveillance cameras. The only imagery that children see around them are billboards and TV; every part of their environment is out of bounds or sold off. That's why they don't care about their streets. This is a small way of connecting people.

— Ben Wilson, The Observer

Wilson has also secretly placed some 300-400 small black-and-white painted tiles at London tube stations, dated and numbered as part of a newer guerilla project, first written about in 2018.[12]

Community support[edit]

People crowd around Wilson when he works[3] and he has been praised by passersby.[6] He has become a local celebrity as his work has chronicled the changes in the neighborhood.[3] He has a large book where he keeps backlogged requests for paintings, such as births and deaths, marriages or some other personal commemoration.[11] He does not charge for gum painting requests, a word he prefers to use over "commissions".[5] When he was arrested in 2009 by the City of London Police on suspicion of criminal damage, the case was dropped after dozens of people wrote letters of support[3] a few months later. The Barnet police also came to his support, filing a witness statement on his behalf.[5]

Media attention[edit]

Wilson's work has been featured by the BBC, MyMuswell[13] This Is Local London,[6] Raw Vision,[4] The Daily Telegraph,[7] The New York Times[3] and in non-anglophone countries, such as Switzerland,[14] Germany[15] and Serbia.[1] Two short documentary films have also been made about Wilson, Ben Wilson, The Chewing Gum Man[16] and In My Blood. In 2015, Ben Wilson was also featured in the Erjia Guan show.

Ben Wilson: The Chewing Gum Artist: The Millennium Bridge Gum Trail is a crowdfunded book on Wilson and his art, due to be published in November 2019.[17]


  1. ^ a b "Painting on bubble gums" (in Serbian) B92 5 April 2011
  2. ^ a b c Ben Wilson England & Co. Retrieved 15 June 2011
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sarah Lyall, "Whimsical Works of Art, Found Sticking to the Sidewalk" The New York Times (14 June 2011). 15 June 2011
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Julia Elmore, "Art on Chewing Gum" Archived 5 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine Raw Vision #55 (Summer 2006). Retrieved 15 June 2011
  5. ^ a b c d e f "The WD Interview – Ben Wilson, Chewing Gum Artist" Archived 30 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine Wallflower Dispatches (22 January 2010). Retrieved 15 June 2011
  6. ^ a b c d e f Peter Stebbings, "Painting a gum trail" Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine This Is Local London (23 December 2004). Retrieved 15 June 2011
  7. ^ a b "Chewing gum art on the streets of Muswell Hill by Ben Wilson" The Daily Telegraph Gallery of nine images. Retrieved 15 June 2011
  8. ^ "Chewing gum artist: BBC Painting miniature masterpieces" BBC video and article (3 November 2010). Retrieved 15 June 2011
  9. ^ "Gum Henge, MusHill, UK" The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 June 2011
  10. ^ "Artist who paints on chewing gum" BBC/CBBC (19 January 2005). Retrieved 15 June 2011
  11. ^ a b c d Tim Adams, "This is a stick up" Archived 28 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine The Observer (3 July 2005). Retrieved 15 June 2011
  12. ^ "Chewing Gum Man’s new guerilla art project slips through the cracks on the London Underground Aliide Naylor, CityMetric (30 August 2018)
  13. ^ "By Gum! Artist Ben Wilson talks to MyMuswell" Archived 26 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine My Muswell (8 December 2011). Retrieved 8 December 2011
  14. ^ "Wie der Kaugummi-Mann London verschönert" Tages Anzeiger (12 November 2010). Retrieved 13 June 2011 (in German)
  15. ^ George Stavrakis, "Kunst auf Kaugummis" Archived 19 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine Stuttgarter Nachrichten (21 January 2009). Retrieved 15 June 2011 (in German)
  16. ^ Short documentary film on Ben Wilson A Trail of Pictures (2005). Retrieved 15 June 2011
  17. ^ "Seen Ben Wilson's Chewing Gum Paintings on Millennium Bridge?". 20 September 2019.

External links[edit]