A tiny St Paul’s Cathedral, an ant carrying an umbrella and what looks like a tree full of people – all things you’ve probably walked past if you’ve ever crossed London’s Millennium Bridge. See, there are a hundreds of tiny paintings stuck on London’s Millennium Bridge all painted on the chewing gum people drop there.
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Hunting for the Hidden Paintings on the Millennium Bridge
I was a goth in the 80s so I’m used to people staring at me – but as I’m virtually lying on the floor of London’s Millennium Bridge trying to get a picture of a piece of tiny painted chewing gum with the Shard in the background, I’m getting a LOT of attention.
Soon though the people looking at me with suspicion start to smile, they’ve spotted what I’m photographing and they’re as amazed as I am – dotted across the bridges metal surface are hundreds of tiny paintings created by the artist Ben Wilson, now known as ‘The Chewing Gum Man.’
How I Found the Chewing Gum Art
Despite the fact that he’s been creating art this way for over ten years, I only heard about Wilson that morning, when I’d gone on the excellent street art tour of Shoreditch with Alternative London.
We’d met at Old Street Roundabout, and one of the first pieces of art we were shown was on a piece of pavement I’d traversed three times that week already without spotting a thing.
Guide Emilie pointed out two coloured circles on the ground that only reveal their secret once you stop and look closely at them. She then told us a bit about Wilson’s idea of bringing people’s attention to how they disregard our environment by creating art from what they drop.
I loved the whole concept and as soon as she mentioned the project that was started in 2013, where Wilson had aimed to paint every piece of chewing gum on the Millennium Bridge that stretches between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern, I had to go see it…so that’s how I found myself, sprawled across a bit of dirty London walkway on a Saturday afternoon trying not to get stepped on!
How do you Paint on Chewing Gum?
Carefully is the answer! It’s melted, then painted then varnished apparently. Interviews with Wilson explain that he decides what he’s going to paint sometimes by the shape of the gum, sometimes by what’s around him and sometimes by listening to stories of passers-by.
In an interview with art blog Inspiring City about his work on the bridge, he points out a memorial to someone who died in the Japanese tsunami created after a member of their family walked past him at work and they got chatting.
Over the years he’s also painted marriage proposals, apologies and tributes to the local postie. Each tiny piece of chewing gum art can take three or more hours to create – and, because he’s painting on gum, not the pavement itself, it’s technically not illegal.
I think it’s funny that so many of the people walking on the Millennium Bridge are going, or have just left, the Tate Modern, one of the world’s temples for creativity, and yet there’s a tiny art project under their feet that most have no idea is there. I’m really glad I got the chance to find out about it.
Check it out next time you walk past – just be warned, once you find one bit of chewing gum art, searching for more becomes addictive so you might want to let anyone meeting you on the other side of the bridge know you’ll be late!
The Chewing Gum art is only one example of some of the cool hidden sights in London – find some other favourites, like the hidden Lighthouse and the overgrown church in our longer post on Hidden London sights.
Where Else to Find Chewing Gum Art in London?
You’ll also find Wilson’s work at Old Street roundabout (close to 99 City Road) and in Muswell Hill in London where he lives. Oh, and I also definitely recommend the Alternative London Street Art tour too – I learned heaps about the Shoreditch Art scene and street art in general.
What to Read Next
If you’re heading to check out the chewing gum art, you’re going to be close to London’s Southbank – in which case you probably want to check out our guide to all the quirky things you can find along the Southbank.
If you’re into street art, then you’ve probably got Shoreditch on your list of places to visit – but what about Penge? Located in South London it’s quickly becoming one of London’s most interesting street art areas. See our guide from a local here.
Lastly, if you’re looking for something else fun to add to your London trip, why not consider booking a Mystery Picnic. It sees you solving clues to pick up all your picnic ingredients and we had a great time when we tried one in Camden on our last trip. See more about that here.
Where I Stayed in London
I actually checked out a few hotels on my trip as I wanted to try some of the emerging trend for mid-range ‘no frills’ hotel in London – normally a city where hotels fall into the categories ‘lovely but you need to sell a limb to afford it’ or ‘cheap, but slightly frightening’.
For checking out the Southbank and the art scene in Shoreditch though, the best of the three I stayed in has to be Motel One in Minories near Tower Hill/Aldgate.
It cost an incredibly cheap – for London anyway – £98 a night and the room was large, clean and had everything I needed – private bathroom, huge bed, kettle, storage space (and don’t believe the reviews that say there’s nowhere to hang clothes – the clothes rail is just cleverly hidden!).
I’d booked a double room for one person and thought it was amazing. Of the three hotels I tried, it’s the one I’ll definitely go back to (as I update this post in Dec 2022 I’ve actually stayed there three times now!) – in fact, I really don’t want to tell anyone about it so it’s not booked out next time I go.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.
Sharing is Caring
So, what’s the most interesting piece of street art you’ve spotted? Or, what other hidden secrets have you found in London? Let me know in the comments – and, check out our UK section for other quirky things to do on your trip to London, or a few other sites around Britain.
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