Something to Chew On:
Jason Kronenwald

There have been many great portraits in the history of art: the Mona LisaWhistler’s Mother, and of course Britney Spears rendered in chewed bubblegum. Toronto-based artist Jason Kronenwald makes portraits of blond celebrities out of used chewing gum. Jayson took some time out of his schedule to discuss his favorite documentary movies, his artistic method and Justin Timberlake.

When did you first want to become an artist?
I’ve wanted to make art since I was a little kid. I used to do pencil drawings of my favorite celebrities.

For those who haven’t seen your work, how would you describe it? 
I make portraits of celebrities out of chewed bubblegum.

What are your hobbies outside of art? 
I enjoy rebuilding and refinishing old wood furniture that I find in the garbage or a junk shop.  For exercise and fun I play a weekly game of outdoor ball hockey.  In terms of movies, I most enjoy documentaries. There have been so many good ones lately such as Capturing the FriedmansParadise LostSpellboundDark DaysStevieThe Corporation, not to mention Bowling for Columbine.

Why do you enjoy using gum as a medium? 
Gum has great potential as an art material because it is colorful and sculptural, resembling various other art materials, and yet destined to be thrown in the garbage.  Personally, I enjoy the challenges of using unconventional materials in my work.  Since I started to work with gum I have had to create a process that suits the medium.  This process has evolved quite a bit over the years and continues to evolve as I make more pieces. I believe that in the right hands there are ways to take any material and turn it into something new and beautiful.  I most appreciate when materials that are generally considered ugly or grotesque (or simply unaesthetic) can become something attractive.

When did you first decide to use chewing gum to create portraits?
I made my first Gum Blonde (Gum Blonde I on my website) in 1996 while I was working on my Bachelor of Fine Arts at Queen’s University.  I also made a self-portrait out of chewing gum at this time.

What is your technique for creating these portraits? 
I collect chewed gum from people I work with, my family and friends, and whoever else.  When I bring it into my studio I separate it based on color.  The rest is pretty much done with my hands, a Swiss army knife, and a small plastic roller.  It might seem messy, but other than separating the moist wads into color piles, my process is relatively clean.

Have you ever been commissioned to create a portrait of someone?
I have done various commissioned pieces.  Most recently, the television programInside Edition commissioned me to do a portrait of the host, Deborah Norville.

What were you like in high school?
I was very active in high school.  I was on the cross-country running team and on the student council.  I was also very involved in violence awareness and prevention.  At the time, I was making Dali-inspired acrylic paintings and just starting to explore different ways to make my paintings more sculptural.

What artists have influenced you?
Mainly, I’m influenced by artists who have worked in portraiture in new and distinct ways.  Andy Warhol, of course is one of these artists as well as Chuck Close.  One artist who I see as an historical influence is Guiseppe Arcimboldo, an Italian Renaissance painter who produced a series of “Composite Head” paintings. The most recognizable of his works is a portrait made up of vegetables.

Have you heard any critics’ reactions to your work?
I try to avoid people who call themselves critics.

Do you have a favorite portrait that you have done?
I generally think that the piece I am currently working on is better than the previous piece. This approach really doesn’t allow me to have a favorite.  However, if I had to choose my overall favorite it would be Gum Blonde X (Brigitte Bardot) because it is the first time I left some of the plywood backing exposed.

Have you ever met any of your subjects?
Not yet.

Who would you love to render in gum?
My next subjects include Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton.

Why no brunettes or redheads?
Gum Blondes is only the title of the series, but I consider Gum Blonde XII really more of a brunette than a blonde. The series will eventually include many more blondes, brunettes, redheads, and men as well. Justin Timberlake is a perfect Gum Blonde.

What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent on a portrait?
I spent approximately 50 hours working on Gum Blonde IX (Britney Spears).

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Try to recognize beauty in everything around you. Often something that initially appears ugly turns out to be something incredibly beautiful upon further inspection. Also, travel and see the world as much as you can.

Are you working on any new projects?
For now I’m focused on continually improving my Gum Blondes.

To see Jason’s artwork, please check out his website: www.gumblondes.com

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