First published: Spring 2022
An extract from a recent interview gives an insight into the life and work of London-based artist Ben Wilson, aka ‘The Chewing Gum Man’
DC: How did you start making art?
BW: Both my father and mother were artists, so it’s in my blood. They encouraged me and my brothers and sisters to make art and take risks. I’d made huge clay pots at home since I was three. I'd used blocks of clay up to my waist. I loved the excitement of the activity – the life of it – pull it apart, put that bit on, see what happened. Then I got to school and they gave us a little bit of clay and said, “This is how you make a coil pot.” From that day at school, I was at odds with the education system.
Wilson in his home studio with his tile paintings in 2021, photo: Thierry Bal
Why did you decide to go to art school?
It seemed a nice thing to do, and it was just up the road [in Barnet, North London]. I started a foundation course, but soon started making art next door in the grounds of an old theological college. Using materials I could find in the woods, I built an art environment. A huge wooden chair, a tower, a giant male figure, and a table about ten feet high, with a walkway connecting the various parts. No-one knew I was doing it – I was trying to let the work evolve out of the place. The head caretaker found me one weekend and there was mayhem. Eventually, the college decided enough was enough. Part of the reason my work survived there for so long was that it was hidden, though people discovered it and enjoyed it, children played on it. Over time, some people vandalised and burned it, though some of the work lasted for years. I planted some new trees and it became a natural environment once more.
Wilson with one of his huge wooden sculptures in Muswell Hill, London, in 2021, photo: David Clegg
Is there a philosophy behind your art making?
I made a considered choice to work outside the system. I had friends who were into punk rock and I understood that – the anarchy movement, punk fanzines. That was a big movement, and I identified with it. Direct action is part of that, and I just wanted to make art. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of creating art as a product – although, of course, that can create financial problems. I wanted to make art that had a social function. Something for and about people that was accessible and understandable without lots of heavy theory. I liked that people discover the work, but it wasn’t up to me to say what they should make out of it. The next space I worked in was Hadley Wood in Barnet. Hadley Wood is ‘common ground’ so I didn’t have to get permission to work there. I could make sculptures and environments in the wood that people could just come across.
Wilson’s tile paintings and mosaics, photo: Thierry Bal
by DAVID CLEGG
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #110