Style Weekly Paper
Sticky Subjects - Who says chewed-up bubble gum is a nuisance?
by Elizabeth Cogar
Walking into Jamie Marraccini's tiny apartment, one is struck by a very distinct scent. Is it wild cherry, goofy grape or wintergreen?
Whatever it is, it's gum. No doubt about it. And hanging on his wall is the proof: an impromptu gallery of Marraccini's chewing-gum art, the surprisingly pleasing result of thousands of hours of chewing.
Gum has strange and mysterious properties perhaps known only to Marraccini. "I am a student of gum," he says. "I have loved gum all my life, but now it's kind of a job for me."
This week, Marraccini's art goes on display at MCV's "arts in the Hospitals" gallery space in the Main Hospital.
"I've being doing it for eight or nine years," says second-year medical student Marraccini, 27, of his already-been-chewed aesthetics. "It started in high school. I'd stick my chewed gum in my locker and at the end of the year I'd have a locker full of gum. In my freshman year at college, at VPI, I spread it on the wall. The next year I put my first board up on a wall. I'd chew one piece at a time and put it up there and it would form these designs. Soon I was spending hundreds of dollars on gum."
This semester he figures he's spent $300 on gum. "I buy it wholsale - eight or nine boxes at a time - through the Ukrop's guys. They all think it's very funny. I take some of the gum to the study area at school and friends chew it and leave it behind."
In a previous incarnation, as an electrical engineer for General Electric, Marraccini distributed free gum and laminated sheets of paper for co-workers to use as a repository for gum they chewed. "They'd keep it in their top desk drawers and I'd just go around and collect it every now and then."
By now, you're probably thinking, "Gross!" if you have a thing about chewed up gum, especially someone else's.
"It's true," he conceded of the disgust factor, "but by the time I collect it it's been sitting for two or three days. I warm it up under hot water, and my hands don't go near my mouth."
After years of jaw aerobics, he now outsources most of the chewing and chews only a piece or two a day himself. But has to be careful that the gum is chewed properly.
"A lot of people just chew gum for 10 minutes and then the sugar will ooze," he says. "I have to throw out a lot. I get about an 80-percent return rate [from freelance chewers] and then I throw out about 5 to 10 percent of that.
"Unlike most artists, Marraccini's palette is limited to the colors of bubble gum. His brand of choice? Bubblicious," he answers without a moment's hesitation, citing the brightness of its colors.
"Now if I need pastels, I go with Fruit Stripe. For really nice ocean blue, there's Wrigley's Winterfresh. For a true, true white, I like Carefree Peppermint."
One color he hoards shamelessly is a dark green available only from Snappin' Apple, a flavor Bubblicious quit making four years ago. And he's gaining proficiency in mixing colors together. A checkerboard linoleum floor in a piece called "The Operating Room" has a marblized effect created by swirling three colors of gum together.
Though his production rate is slow - two or three pieces (of artwork, not gum) in the past nine months, Marraccini's mind is always chewing away at ideas. A three-dimensional project features eyeballs, hands, feet and mouths all made of gum, wire and pingpong balls with a Dr Pepper bottle as a hidden interior base. Every component has significance. He loves table tennis and Dr Pepper, and the art work's six feet, four hands, seven mouths and seven eyes are a tribute to his native Roanoke street address: 6477.
So far, Marraccini has been unwilling to part with any works for money, though he has handed out a few for love. Family members are the only recipients. Putting a price on something that cost him hundreds of dollars in gum and hundreds of hours in chewing is difficult.
Plus, some chewing was done in the dark of night. "When I was traveling in Singapore, I had to chew under duress because [there] gum is illegal."
For now, the public will have to settle for a monthlong glimpse at MCV of what may be the only bubble-gum art in the world.