His path demonstrates that passion and curiosity can go a long way. He studied sciences and came to art later in life. He learnt about art by visiting art shows and learning little by little. This got him to be referred to as ‘the people’s art critic’ by his colleagues at Londonist and he shares that “I can observe, critique and write about the art world with one foot firmly outside it”. Tabish is a true supporter of artists through his writings and as a trustee of ArtCan, a non-profit arts organisation that supports artists through profile raising activities and exhibitions. He is now frequently solicited to be a judge for art prizes such as the Curious Duke Gallery Secret Art Prize or Art Rooms.
Recently, I had the chance to be invited by Repaint History to a webinar where Tabish was a guest speaker, sharing tips with emerging artists. I reached out to him and I’m grateful he agreed to share with me about his path and views on the art world in general and the role of an art critic.
Street artist Ben Wilson is unique. While his medium is acrylic his canvas is chewing gum. He’s become known as The Chewing Gum Man for the miniature gum paintings that you can find dotted around the globe.
“Chewing gum art evolves out of the environment rather than imposing the image on the environment,” says Ben. “It’s determined by the shape, or the human context – any people I encounter when I’m working.” They stop to observe, curious as to why he is lying on the ground painting. Some ask questions, “what are you doing?”, “why are you doing that?”. Ben is happy to chat and explain what and why. One of those reasons is to give a little space back to people in an environment dominated by advertising and other messaging that we have no say over. “On the bridge, things are happening on a different scale” he says. “There isn’t the fractiousness of traffic and noise. It’s an area where people from all around the world meet – the chewing gum paintings become a celebration of everyday life and people – their nationalities, religions and their belief systems.”
Often people come around to telling Ben their own story and ask him if he’ll paint a picture for them. They’re all carrying thoughts, burdens, mysteries, hopes – which Ben transforms to leave a long-lasting mark of remembrance or celebration on a meticulously worked chewing gum splat. And why chewing gum? Ben wants to turn a thoughtless action, something that is casually spat out and trodden into the ground, into a thoughtful one.
Ben’s work sits in the public domain like few other artists; if you were to visit his Millennium Bridge gallery it might take more than a day to take in the 600+ of his paintings – the accident of shape, environment and the thoughts of hundreds of passers-by, brought together and translated into miniature art works.
Ben is an activist, beyond the legalities governing painting within a public space (the chewing gums remain under the ownership of the people who spat them out). He’s also been discretely placing his art works within the Tate Modern. Gallery spaces worldwide define what is, and isn’t, accepted and recognised as art – what belongs and what doesn’t. Ben believes his work has just as much a right to be in these curated spaces, as anywhere else. “Chewing gum art celebrates diversity of thought and diversity of action. Hopefully through my work I can promote more direct action on a grass roots level. More and more people feel out of control and I’m saying we can find creative solutions to make things happen in different ways.”