The Royal Society of Chemistry is stuck in its attempts to reach a remarkable artist who paints miniatures on street chewing gum splodges and is now offering £117 to the first member of the public who can give the organisation his mobile telephone number.
The RSC, which shares London's Burlington House with the august Royal Academy of Arts, wants to discuss with Ben Wilson a commission to depict on hardened gum smears a selection of the 117 elements on the Periodic Table.
The RSC wants to have the elements depicted in miniature the Ben Wilson way to focus public attention upon the importance of the materials that make daily life possible and the need to cherish them.
Organic chemicals derived from carbon are sustainable because biomass is constantly being produced. However, when it comes to certain elements then the supplies are limited.
According to Harald Sverdrup of the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Lund, Sweden, this century we are likely to run out of helium, silver, gold, tin and zinc, assuming we continue to use them the way we now do, while platinum, lithium and gallium will run out in the next century.
Even aluminium might eventually become scarce as the workable deposits are used up, and supplies of uranium ore are also becoming depleted.
Ben Wilson was spotted painting painstakingly last week on a flattened chewing gum pat on the Piccadilly pavement outside the Royal Academy gallery last week yards from lengthy queues for the popular Van Gogh exhibition. He had already painted in previous weeks two miniatures on gum patches opposite Fortnum & Mason.
"We think that a commission to depict the elements the Ben Wilson way would be novel and memorable," said Jon Edwards of the Royal Society of Chemistry. "If Ben could produce images of the elements for us in miniature on the gum I am sure they would attract attention widely. I would add that we do not support people dropping their gum on the pavement. In fact there has been work performed in the UK by chemists to combat the problem.
"While I was talking to Ben as he lay on the pavement painting he was approached by an Italian tourist who asked to shake his hand as he and his work had featured on television in her home country.
I asked for his telephone number and he scrawled it on a torn-off corner of paper. But when we tried the number, hoping to discuss a possible commission, it did not work.
"We have trawled the web seeking his email or telephone contacts but we are stuck. So our only way of reaching him is to ask the public where he is painting currently or in the coming few days. The police may be able to help, as Mr Wilson said that they had often challenged him as he painted on the hardened gum."