The end of World War II was the beginning of a cultural and sociopolitical era, with a global celebration that ignited heavy inspiration for an artistic revolution. In 1945, American soldiers introduced Europe to a pop-culture mania: gum chewing. This soon to become craze liberated an oral fixation among the masses, as young people across continents began to fervently slap, chew, and pop premium “American [Bubble] Gum.” By 1950, this non-food became an essential part of European culture, along with Coca-Cola and Nylon stockings. With a pink pigment as loud, vibrant, and rude as the act of chewing it, there is no doubt this amusing material quickly found its place in modern and contemporary art communities.
Artist Maurizio Savini, an Italian born sculptor based in Rome, was of the first to use the surprisingly malleable medium as a base for his animated artwork. After studying architecture at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” and working abroad for several years, Maurizio returned to his hometown to work on a new concept series: bubble gum sculpture. Although he got off to a rather slippery start, Maurizio’s designs are now on display and in demand around the globe. Telling the story of his very first show, Maurizio admits, “The first exhibition I had went really well, there was only one problem which was actually quite funny. The works I sold completely fell apart after three months as the high sugar content in the bubble gum had destroyed the foundation beneath – they were all sent back to the galleries! I had to give the money back, but I had already spent it!” At the age of 44, Maurizio now has nearly fifteen years of experience with the sticky substance, and has appeared in over 100 group and 50 solo exhibitions all over the word including London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, Edinburgh, New Dehli, and Berlin where his sculptures have sold for as high as £50,000 each. Maurizio’s body of work also includes stage settings for a number of theater productions and permanent installations, winning him awards in 2004 and 2005 from La Cite Internationale des Arts, in Paris.
With a process as unique as his aesthetic, Maurizio and his two assistants unwrap then apply heat to thousands of half white, half bright pink bubble gum squares without chewing a single piece, so they can easily be manipulated, cut with a knife, and applied to plaster mold like traditional clay. Maurizio notes, “The mold is crucial” – without it, his tacky sculptures would be far too unstable. After molding the chewing gum into his desired shapes, Maurizio fixes and preserves his sculptures with a mixture of formaldehyde and antibiotics, so his works will be in tact for generations of Romans to come. This labor-intensive process at times calls for nearly 3,000 individual pieces of bubble gum per sculpture.
Maurizio’s work often makes critical social and political statements, using strong colors to reinforce his messages. Maurizio’s fascination with the ultra pink chromatic began long before his chewy sculptures came to play; to him, “pink represents artificiality – when you see it, you associate it with a fake world.” In addition to his color theory and symbolism technique, Maurizio’s jaw dropping, 8-foot long crocodile, life size buffalo covered in international flags, suited businessmen suspended in gymnastics poses, a young soldier with life like hair, and a robot holding out a single prescription pill for his viewers provokes various “flavors” of reactions among his audience. Chewing gum is moreover known to cost businesses and taxpayers millions of dollars each year to clean up, if not properly disposed. As all of Maurizio’s pieces are made entirely of chewing gum, the sculptor’s artistry stretches the boundaries of environmental conscientiousness by demonstrating a creative way to repurpose a material that cannot typically be recycled or composted.
Art critic Mario Codognato from Pastificio Cerere Gallery, Italy vocalized his thoughts on Maurizio’s gum sculptures, noting “The sculptures embody the essence of youth, [further] reminding me of the sensual act of chewing, the voluptuous warmth of rebelling saliva, and the artificial and secretly aseptic fragrance which spreads from the mouth as a promise and missed kiss.” In this way, it is no doubt Maurizio Savini pushes the tangible and cognitive limits of our time, influencing collective awareness, advocacy, and activism.