Painting a gum trail

Sticky situation: artist Ben Wilson at work painting discarded chewing gum in High Street, Barnet, this week

Sticky situation: artist Ben Wilson at work painting discarded chewing gum in High Street, Barnet, this week

First published in News by

Not many people know this but, at any one time, approximately 300,000 pieces of the stuff are stuck to the pavement in Oxford Street. Just cleaning it up would cost about £30,000, but now an artist has come up with a novel way of dealing with the problem by painting on it.

And Ben Wilson, 41, originally from Barnet, but now living in Muswell Hill, does not do things by halves.

He intends to paint pictures faces, animals, suns, name it and he will do it on pieces of discarded gum all the way from Barnet to the West End of London.

"I'm just going to keep going and see how far I get," said Mr Wilson, who started his quest at the Hadley end of High Street, Barnet. "I use acrylic paint and varnish, then I've got a little burner to dry it. I've done different pictures cups of tea, elephants, flowers I do requests as well. Often I just draw whatever takes me on that day."

Mr Wilson said he has had a number of people stop and look at his work and most have praised him for trying to beautify what is, ultimately, just rubbish on our pavements. He also denies accusations it draws attention to the gum.

"I'm not defacing the pavement, it is more sensitive than that. I don't want to get in people's faces I'm not a graffiti artist. You get so many reactions from people, their reactions are so different, but rarely are they negative."

Mr Wilson's idea to get down on his hands and knees to paint gum people have spat out on the floor is not just a bizarre manifestation of a mid-life crisis. He has already done the same thing in Holloway Road. Nor does he restrict himself to gum. He has spent time abroad in America and Finland doing what he calls large-scale construction' and has also done some sculpting (one of his works is proudly displayed outside his mother's house in Barnet).

More than a month after starting at the top end of High Street, Barnet, he has progressed less than a quarter-of-a-mile southwards, despite working more or less five days a week. So does he really think he can make it all the way into the centre of London?

"We'll see," he said. "I'm just going to keep drawing and see where the momentum takes me."

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