Photo by Hanna Liden The inspiration for my series of gum paintings first came to me when I was working on my papier-mâché boulders. It originated from me imagining “secret” places—in the woods, by the train tracks, in sewer ditches—where teenagers would congregate to get drunk, smoke weed, talk about the universe, and make out. So the boulders are all covered in spray paint and bird shit and chewed-up gum. I was using little pieces of acrylic medium to mimic real gum, and to help me figure out how to make it look realistic I would stick gum to pieces of foamcore to copy from. One day I looked at the foamcore and was like, oh, hey, that looks awesome. So I started making canvases of just the gum. The one on your cover is new and not titled yet. But the other gum paintings are titled stuff like: She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not; Life Partner; I’m a Dirty Little Bitch, One Day I Will Be Dead; and This Painting Will Fit Over Your Sofa. When I first started, the canvases were very sparse. Each one would have 20 or 30 pieces of chewed gum placed apart from each other randomly around the canvas. I took a break from making the gum paintings for a while, and when I picked them up again after a few months, I really went for it. It slowly developed into a more elaborate and involved process. I started adding a lot more gum to each canvas; I would put pieces down, pick them up again, move ’em around, stretch them out, mush ’em together, and mix flavors to create new colors.
Look familiar? It’s on our cover, brainiac. Pay attention!
I started using the gum like paint. Certain canvases would have gum stretched from the center outward, creating “hypnotic” spirals. I’ve also done a series of Bazooka Joe joke paintings, with the comics stuck to the gum. But most of the pieces are just about playing with the gum and building up layers until they finish themselves. They turn into a mess but remain beautiful (in my eyes). They sometimes remind me of Cecily Brown’s paintings. Not that I believe they capture a similar amount of intensity or beauty—it’s a more self-indulgent impulse. I’m a big fan of her work and my mind can’t help but stray there, but it’s only a fantasy and I do recognize that they are completely different things. Cecily is able to transform paint. I unfortunately have to be much more literal and actually use gum instead of paint.
I use so many different flavors of gum that I can’t even begin to list them. I shop around. My favorites are these ones called Trident Splash that have a hard shell with a gummy core and it’ll be like a raspberry-apple flavor or something. But I don’t really chew a lot of gum. For the early paintings I would chew it and have other people chew some too. It would build up very slowly, which is why the canvases were so sparse. But for these new ones we figured out other ways to get the gum into a chewed state without actually having to chew it, like by putting it in boiling water. It’s way quicker this way and gives me more options.
I’m in a special, or at least particular, place right now that allows me to be very playful with my work. I’ve decided to not accept any projects or shows for now. My conceptual development and working processes function differently without due dates—not for better or worse, just for a change of pace. Because of this situation these gum paintings were almost able to make themselves. I fell in love with them immediately.
DAN COLEN, AS TOLD TO AMY KELLNER
Can’t get enough Dan? See an exciting studio visit we did with him on Art Talk! on VBS.TV.