The Progress Index-Lifestyles
Pop Art - Student expressed himself with bubble gum
by Dan Drummond
Richmond - Remember when the teacher told you to spit out your gum? You wanted to refuse and be rebellious, but the thought of being stuck in detention made you succumb to dishing out that wondrous chew.
Jamie Marraccini, 27, knows all too well the wrath of teachers who decreed that gum was to be an eighth deadly sin. Since his high school days in Roanoke, the second-year medical student at the Medical College of Virginia has been blowing bubbles and absorbing detentions, all in the name of art.
Instead of oil paints or marble, Marraccini sculpts and paints his art using gum. For eight years, Marraccini has been making what he calls "GumArt."
His work is on display in the lobby of MCV's main hospital until Friday.
"I have always loved bubble gum," he said. "All through elementary and middle school, I always had a piece of gum in my mouth."
Marraccini's fascination with gum is so ingrained in his psyche that he even wrote a story, "The Makings of a Great Gum" when he was in fifth grade.
His love for gum found him disposing of the sticky-sweet substance in just about any place. Starting in elementary school with the typical under-the-desk placement, Marraccini's technique continued to spreading the once (sometime twice) chewed gum in his locker at high school and letting it harden, so that by the end of the year he would be forced to scrape the colorful decor out of his locker and into a collection jar (which he still proudly displays at art shows).
When he first started his journey into the art world, Marraccini wasn't really trying to emphasize color as he does now. "I wasn't searching for color, just searching for gum." He said with a smile.
After his second year at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the self-taught artist brought pieces of paper board into his dorm room so he wouldn't be forced to scrape off the work as he had done the year before, since it was done on the school's concrete walls.
Soon, Marraccini was making a name for himself; not so much for the work's aesthetic appeal, but more for the material it was made from. "They were random splatterings," he said of his first poster-boarded works.
Towards the end of his college days, Marraccini said he began to get serious about his work, turning to the colors that became the primary focus of his art.
And getting color out of gum isn't easy. He said. "Only 20 (percent) to 25 percent of gum can be used," he pointed out. "Not all grapes age well," he noted, while pink-colored gums can turn to a magnificent red, but only with proper chewing. Marraccini said that getting the right colors was all in the chewing technique and the individual chewer.
No gum is safe from the mouth of Marraccini. Every flavor is like a paint or a piece of clay to him, and after using an estimated 11,000 pieces of Bubbalicious, Juicy-Fruit and Double-Mint gum to create his rare art, Marraccini says he's ready to branch out.
Jeff Baum of Bubbalicious Gum Inc. said he hadn't seen or heard of the nouveau art, but he was more than elated that flavors such as Bubbalicious Grape and Tangy Tango were the artist's "colors" of choice.
"It's fine with us," he said, laughing at the idea that someone was making art out of gum, even giving a plug for his popular chew. "It makes sense to use the number-one sugared gum."
Jacquelyn Serwer, chief curator of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., called Marraccini's approach to art refreshing and popular.
"Nothing is really off-limits," she said, in terms of the materials artisans have at their disposal. "(Gum is) just one of the myriad options available to artists.
Other off-the-wall media used for art she's seen have included chocolate and lipstick. "There's sort of a trend to using semiedible material," she said.
The titles of Marraccini's work may give the untrained eye an idea of how the Jerry Seinfeld look-alike thinks. A sculpture simply labeled "Seafood" has nothing to do with either the sea or food. No social commentary here - just gum-based eyeballs attached to what looks like Twizzlers dangling from a pedestal of feet that seem to walk in every direction. The piece could be defined as "sensory overload."
Marraccini's "paintings" have all been raised-relief works that continue his abstract and somewhat warped sense of the world. Pop-art pieces such as "Heads and Hands" and "Bordering on Reality" provide the viewer with a glimpse of what childhood would be like if the teacher had taught us to finger paint outside of the lines. "I can't draw, I can't color. It seems the only thing I can do is work with bubble gum," he said, and working with the gooey stuff ain't easy, either. "Gum is the worst thing in the world to work with."
Wherever his work was displayed, comments such as, "Gee, it smells" would be uttered by everyone who paid homage to the xanathan-based paintings and sculptures.
"I've been accused of being an artist," he said, but up until when he began showing off his Technicolored creations recently, the thought of himself as an "artist" never crossed his mind.
Now, he revels in the sheer thought of being considered an artist, but with some hesitation about being labeled so plainly. "I feel I'm more of an entertainer," he said.
As Marraccini matures, the artistic element in his work is becoming more important to him than the novelty of the gum.
This past year, to speed up his production rate (which is currently about one work a year), Marraccini put out packs of bubble gum in the lobby of MCV's classrooms and asked people to chew the gum till all the sugar was gone and then spit it out . Take as much as you'd like and chew as hard as you wish, he'd say - just bring back the chewed up gum.
A student at MCV, Becky Burgess gazed in amazement last week at the fruity creations that were on display at MCV, "It's pretty cool," she said. "It reminds me of all the gum he's chewed."
Marraccini hasn't sold any of his works yet, citing personal reasons - but that doesn't mean he's not considering "GumArt" as a way to make a living. In pursuit of his dream as a gum artist, he would like to be sponsored by one of the world's many gum-making companies, he said. Chewing gum for art's sake is expensive. Just since January, he has spent $450 in the production of his current work.
Sponsor or no sponsor, Marraccini is pressing on. He is hopeful that recent newspaper articles and television appearances will boost his chances of pop stardom. "I would like to turn it into a profession," he said.
"I'm looking for a little exposure, where the art collector who likes the art would buy a piece," he said. "it doesn't really become an art form until it's sold."