chewing gum artist In the last 10 years, there have moments when I was as grey as London and I walked through the city with my eyes fixed on pavement. But when I saw a little dazzle of primary hue and it instantly positive and cheered me up. Ben Wilson, the city’s chewing gum artist, has been creating playful miniatures of the millions of gum blobs applied to the city’s paving stones since. Each of his paintings is unique; most are dedicated to the people who ask him to celebrate friendships, or to memorialise lost loved ones, or to say “I reside in this city”. I don’t know what you’d consider to be the best way to measure these things, but it’s my belief that no living artist gives more tiny moments of joy or peace to more Londoners on a daily basis than Wilson.

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In 2005, I got to meet him and he did a painting for me. Through the years, it was a little secret that they told their high street, and it was the cause of tears when they discovered “their” paver was being pulled up and replaced. Wilson has collected thousands of these pictures over the years. He keeps a photograph list of them, as do many of their admirers. He then returns to repair any areas that are scuffed or damaged. The result, to those who are aware of where to find them is an alternative path of blue (and green and yellow and red) plaques, not to the famous dead , but to the variety of the city that is alive.

The gum is first softened using a blowtorch, then sprays it with lacquer, and the next step is to apply three coats acrylic enamel

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Wilson may be visible creating his work when you’re lucky. He has regular haunts, the Edwardian streets of Muswell Hill and Crouch End close to where he lives. favorite spots in the city’s older parts located in Shoreditch and Hackney and the Millennium Bridge, where he has made a number of trails that include hundreds of chewing gum-based paintings which have resulted in art-related spies in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Wilson who is now 58 old, was renovating pictures in the outside of the Everyman cinema when I met him. A man of a tall stature, sporting an uncontrollable smile He was wearing, as ever, bright orange industrial overalls, adorned with layers of paint . He was lying flat out on the street on a piece of thick matting that he carries rolled up in a rucksack alongside his toolbox full of tools.

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This technique is extremely precise. The first step is to soften the gum that has been flattened using the aid of a blowtorch. Then spraying it with lacquer. Then , he applies three coats of acrylic enamel to the surface. The typical design is chosen from his latest book of ideas from people who crouche and speak. He employs small modellers’ brushes, quick-drying his work with a lighter flame as he works before sealing the work with lacquer. Each painting can take a few hours to complete and lasts for many years.

Wilson’s bizarre actions of daily creation become more natural when explained by him. He is enthralled by the concept of public spaces. Technicallyspeaking, when painting gum – as has been proven in the courts – he is not painting public property or commercially-owned real estate. The pictures he paints are intended to make a small stepping-stone landscape of common land throughout the city. He suggests that gum is the best consumable product. It is not nutritionally worth and is difficult to get rid of. “So there is some symbolism in turning something you’ve just thrown out into something more meaningful.”

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Wilson is keen on promoting the concept of local connection and in celebrating the communities. He’s currently cleaning and revising a picture that captures a tiny rumble of starlings in the air above Brighton Pier. “I always felt bad about this picture,” he says. The idea was on my wish list, but the person who asked it was too sick to complete the task before I could. I had a conversation with his son at a nearby cafe and the son asked me to do the picture in his memory. He was a fan of those murmurs so I decided to do it. He loves the picture.”

He meticulously cleans it, adding a little paint around the edge that has been damaged. He then walks about the others along the kerbsides nearby. “This is for a guy I see all the time – Ivan – he wanted Ivan the Terrible which is why I did this.” We walk over the road and into an area of shops. Wilson takes a photograph at the Ryman and reads the message. “This is for Nadia,” he said. The post office outside is a tiger in honor of a Sri Lankan postal worker. In celebration of the closure of the Woolworths a couple of years ago, Wilson managed to fit the names of every employee who was fired the gum as a constant reminder.