- In Pictures
- Meat Market
- Union Square
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | As bargoers rambled along the sidewalk and piled into and out of taxis at Fourth St. and Cooper Square around midnight last Friday, a lone figure, oblivious to it all, was hunched in concentration over a piece of paper on the ground at the street corner.
“This is just an experiment,” he explained, as he wielded a small spray bottle. “It’s Garnier Fructis Brilliantine Shine — and I put a little pigment in it, just so I can see it.”
He shifted his position on his haunches, sprayed some more.
“What works best is Jello — it presses in. Tapioca works, too. …
“The Fructis, I’ve used, but here with the iodine — I wanted to see if I reduced the alcohol… .” His voice trailed off as he spritzed, spritzed…spritzed. …
The man, James Wechsler, wasn’t concocting some radical new hairstyling gel, though he was definitely focused on making a good impression — an impression of gum spots on the sidewalk, that is.
An East Village resident and School of Visual Arts graduate, Wechsler, a very young-looking 48, has been stuck on sidewalk gum spots since last spring. He took a break over the winter because his technique didn’t work well in cold weather.
He also puts a little wax on the paper on top of the trampled Trident, then rubs over the bumps with different implements. Last Friday, he was using a chopstick.
“I have a metal door handle that works too,” he added. He vigorously scraped the stick over the paper over a blackened wad of what could well have been Juicy Fruit, Chiclets or quite possibly Bubblicious.
Sometimes, to get the right resolution, he stamps down on the paper with his shoes.
Finances are a bit tight right now, so he tries to use found paper.
This sidewalk was only a year or so old, so these unwanted wads weren’t spat out by a member of the Greatest Generation or a 1960s hippie or even a CBGB punk.
“It’s got to be fresh gum,” Wechsler explained.
Strangely, despite his gum fixation, he noted, “I’ve never actually seen anyone spit their gum out.”
The best sidewalks to go hunting for Hubba Bubba, according to him, are in front of churches, synagogues, museums and schools, since everyone spits out their particular chew of choice there.
He’s found that, for public schools, it’s best not to do his Bazooka bas-reliefs during the day.
“I have to do it at night,” he said, “otherwise people think I’m weird.”
The reason he was out “gumshoeing” last Friday evening was because his 4-year-old son, Simón, had been forcing him to play with him and refusing to go to bed.
The struggle to get his son to sleep has actually been getting better, yet Wechsler is still struggling to find a gallery that will represent his latest “Debris” series of bubblegum blobs. In the series, he depicts the downtrodden, rubbery rejects as sparkling stars in the heavens.
“Really, what it is is the highest dignity,” he explained of elevating the expelled gobs of Orbit into orbit.
He noted that Mayor Bloomberg has groused about the black spots on the sidewalks during his radio show, saying something to the effect of, “That’s gum, but nobody realizes it! This is the financial capital — we have to clean it up!”
While Wechsler now finds himself unable to pull away from the sticky splotches and the constellations they form, he previously focused on another type of pattern — one that he saw in the redacted parts of files on artists that the F.B.I. had under surveillance, such as Ben Shaw.
It surely takes gumption to do this kind of gum art. Sometimes people make rude comments as Wechsler is making the impressions, or even step on his paper by accident.
But he’s stuck on one thought.
He’s chewing it over incessantly.
It’s his dream — and no one is going to burst his bubble.
“I have to get a gallery interested,” he said.