Artist Ben Wilson is the ‘Chewing Gum Man’. While he has produced many other artworks, it is his minute and detailed creations on discarded blobs of chewing gum that have brought him fame. And one of the best places to see them is on London’s Millennium Bridge.
Ben’s technique involves using a blowtorch to harden the gum, before applying layers of acrylic paint and lacquer to create these miniature works of art waiting to be discovered under our feet.
By painting only on to the gum he ensures that his work can’t be regarded as vandalism. No public property is damaged through his intervention; it is the original discarder of the gum who is the vandal.
Thousands of people cross this bridge every day, many of them on their way to the huge Tate Modern art gallery on the south side of the Thames. There are wonderful views of the river, the city, and nearby St Paul’s Cathedral.
But how many of these people know to look down too, and see the tiny artworks underfoot?
Apparently if you come across him at work he will take requests, creating a special piece to commemorate an anniversary, a birthday or the loss of a loved one. His is truly public art, subverting the authorities and the formal art world by focusing on something that the rest of the world would throw away without thought.
His work can be found elsewhere (in particular in Muswell Hill in North London, where he lives); but there’s a unique quality to the Millennium Bridge pieces as the ridges on the bridge both constrain and inspire his designs. In addition, their proximity to the great collections of Tate Modern gives them an added anti-establishment spark!
I’m sharing a selection of photos of his work there for this week’s Photographing Public Art challenge. When looking at them please bear in mind the scale, as demonstrated in my photo above. And as always, you can click on any photo to open a slideshow. It’s particularly worth doing for these images as you’ll almost certainly spot a detail you’d otherwise have missed. I love the tiny black and white cat on one and green duck on another!
These photos were taken on two separate visits to the bridge in May and July 2021