Ben’s Alchemical Process

I met Ben today.  He’s about forty-five and I guess you could call him a street artist.  Ben paints over discarded pieces of chewing/bubble gum.  It doesn’t seem so much a statement as a love of pretty little designs.  But there were a couple of points he tried to make when I spoke to him.

“I’m turning something ugly, something someone has littered, into something more appealing,” he told me.

“A bit like alchemy then?” I asked, “in the sense that you’re turning base matter into gold?!”

“Exactly,” he said without pausing in his work.

He was creating these little floor sculptures outside the Halifax bank in Muswell Hill, London but told me that he does the same thing on the streets of Paris, Belgrade and other major towns overseas.

“Do the police ever try to move you on?” I inquired.

“I’m not doing anything illegal as long as I paint over the gum and not on the pavement itself,” he informed me.

“How do you choose those cute patterns and what are those names you’ve inscribed?”

“Oh I take requests – this one’s for a mother and two daughters – you can see their names here.”

I watched him at work, in a meditative state.  It started to become clearer.  This was living art/street art: something for people to enjoy, in the moment, for as long as it lasted.  It could be a political statement too, perhaps.  Was he recycling something that had been waste matter?  Was he strongly anti-litter?

“How do you do it Ben?  It looks a bit shiny,” I asked.

“Well I paint first then I glaze then I use a blow torch.  I’ve got quite a few more just near where you’re standing.”

I walked a couple of paces further then noticed them glistening, only a couple of inches in diameter at most but clear as anything.  I wondered what else might be going on, in miniature form, all around me…

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