|Commonwealth Times Paper
Paging Dr. Gum Artist
By Lynn Hafer
Jamie Marraccini, a second-year medical student at MCV planning on a career in pediatrics or family practice, has always loved gum.
"I think I was chewing gum before I was potty-trained and in the fourth grade I wrote a story titled, "The Making of a Great Gum," he said of his passion.
This passion and his sensitive artistic nature led him to become a gum artist in 1989, while he was studying electrical engineering at Virginia Tech. He said that at first it was not intended to be art, but that he always chewed gum and always saved it.
"I always had a big wad of gum jammed somewhere. At Tech, I did the same thing. Once, I placed it on the wall and spread it out," Marraccini said.
"Friends starting noticing things in it - designs, shapes, objects. It was like looking at constellations."
Having no formal art training, he did not consider the work art until his parents' friends began expressing real interest in his work.
Born in Roanoke on St. Patrick/s Day in 1970, Marraccini admits that engineering, medical school and gum art are an odd mix.
And to make the situation even stranger, Marraccini recently decided to put all his belongings (including his art work) in storage and discontinue having a residence.
Though motivated by the loss of an important relationship, Marraccini said his choice to be homeless is an attempt to grow and to have an "emotional and spiritual catharsis."
He said that he is not a street person but that he spends much time in the MCV study lounges, on roof tops or occasionally at friends' houses. He keeps his clothes in his car and showers daily at the MCV gym.
"My classmates look out for me," he explained. "They think I've lost it, but that what I'm doing is a good experience - that I'll be understanding of all people."
Saying he is the only gum artist he has ever heard of, Marraccini really knows his gum.
"Only 10 to 20 percent of gum can be used for art," he said. "It's about how it ages. Some turns a dingy, ugly color. Some dries darker and some lighter."
Marraccini said for "untested gums" he lets them age six months before using them in a work in order to be sure of their final color.
"The only true white is Carefree peppermint and I use Fruit Striped bubble gum for pastels."
He also explained that Gonzo Grape Bubblicious turns black and that he is experiencing a color crisis due to the discontinuation of Snappin Apple Bubblicious that he said is the only forest green available. He also said he enjoys blending the gums to create new colors.
Marraccini's use of color is remarkable. He said people are always amazed to find out that his work is made from gum because of the bright, vivid colors he uses. And though he said that there is always some revulsion about the used chewing gum, people are surprised by the detail he creates.
"The gum justifies the art," Marraccini explained. "The fun is in the chewing and the art is the regurgitated expression of the fun. I think it shows that thrown-away things still have shape and meaning."
Marraccini currently has completed ten gum art works including a series of two pieces entitled "Heads and Hands" that are interesting multi-color creations of tiny heads on contrasting color hand background. The detailed teeth, lips, hair and distinguishing characteristics of each is amazing.
Marraccini said that a small work takes approximately 40 or 50 hours to complete and a large work takes up to one year to complete. He also said that 24 inches by 48 inches work contains up to 3,500 pieces of gum.
After the gum has aged, he softens it with a mixture of two parts saliva and one part warm water. He spreads the gum on the board and uses a pocket knife to help sculpt the details.
Marraccini would like to attract national attention for his work and plans to contact the gum companies about a sponsorship or commercial use of his art. He also plans o trying to get an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman' and joked about a "Friends" episode based on his unusual craft.
Fortunately for Richmonders, they will not have to wait Marraccini to gain national fame. His remarkable works will be on display in April at the MCV Main Hospital.