I had the most amazing flashback a few days ago when I went to see the Post-war and Contemporary sale preview at Phillip’s, London. A very good friend of mine who works there dragged me over to a medium size, white canvas with De Kooning-like colorful lines and squiggles, and told me to get close and take a whiff of the work. Yes, she told me to smell it. This was a first for me, but just as I leaned in, a delicious breeze of tropical, sugary bubble gum entered my nose and I felt like I flew back in time to September 2010 in New York City, specifically to Gagosian’s Chelsea gallery, where a security guard was asking me to step away from the massive canvas as my face was almost pressed against it taking in all the bubblegum smell from a Dan Colen work. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like I got to lick the fruity wallpaper in Willy Wonka’s factory.
Not all of his ‘paintings’ are done with bubblegum but they certainly have the best story to tell. Apparently he used to chew all the gum himself in order to make it squishy. He would then take it out of his mouth and stick in on the canvas, quickly drying like acrylic paint. However, after an incredibly sore jaw and an entire year of only producing three works, Colen decided to heat up the gum instead. Revelation! The heat substituted the same process, sans gastric juices, but now he was able to do more (paintings) with less (pain). The end result is a colorful, texturized mix of pastel colors; though it’s also been known to resemble bird droppings/poop/shit in a very realistically disturbing way when the gum happens to be dark green… EWW.
My fondness for the work of this 34 year-old artist from New Jersey has expanded to new dimensions in the last few days as I’ve randomly come across it. It reminds me of Jackson Pollock’s action painting and the freedom with which paint – or in this case gum – was thrown around without knowing what the end result will look like. It also reminds of me of “El Arbol del Chicle” (the bubblegum tree) in Coyoacan, Mexico City. Technically it’s not an artwork, it’s just a tree trunk where everyone sticks their gum; but now that gum is a new art medium…
Going back to Colen’s work, its ephemerality is what scares me. Does gum rot? Should a ‘free restoration’ every five years be included in the purchase price? Will the gum peel off the canvas?
Think about it. Or not.
** Feature Image at Top: courtesy of seductionkills.blogspot.com