Ever wonder what happened to that bubblegum wrapper little Timmy left in the park? If yes, then you have got to meet Mariah Reading. Apart from being an incredible artist, she is a warm and passionate person keen on increasing environmental awareness. Mariah has started a series in which she paints liter into the landscapes they were found. The collection highlights the unseen life of our products long after we discard of them. Many of the materials ,used for mere minutes, remain in nature a lifetime. By using these materials as a canvas, she coerces the viewer to contemplate the immortality of our goods. Personally, when I look at Mariah’s art, I see a redemptive process. It’s as if these small pieces of rubbish get a second chance. And this time around, they reflect the stunning places in which they were found.
With art this cool, I just had to know what inspired Mariah to start this artistic project.
What inspired you to make art out of trash?
In college, I witnessed the unreal amount of waste accumulated within the arts. I took a sculpture class based on mold-making that really alerted me to this issue. From there, I decided to reframe basically all of my senior projects around the idea of using the old tools of my art-making process as a canvas on which to paint. At this time, these pieces were made to express the extensive process behind the art and not yet created to highlight the waste produced. I wanted viewers to be confronted with the idea that painting was far more than the end result. However, when all of my projects were finally complete and I was about to graduate, I had an actual dream where I collected litter and used it as a surface on which to paint. I had a very clear vision in my mind, but it was difficult to articulate and at that point, there was no time left in school to bring it to life.
After graduating I got a teaching job in southern California, so I planned a road trip to move out. That summer happened to be the 2016 National Park Centennial, so I became very focused on the motto of preserving and protecting the unique landscapes within the United States. On a day trip in June, I went to Acadia National Park and collected as much trash as I could find on the rocky shoreline. Similarly to my paintbrush project, I sculpted the buoys, fishing line, and plastic water bottles together to form a canvas to paint Acadia National Park. I continued this process with the help of my dad throughout the duration of the road trip. We collected debris in Rocky Mountain, Arches, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks. At that point, I was hooked on the method of hiking, cleaning, and painting. I still cannot shake the fact that materials I use when creating landscapes end up feeding landfills that were once pristine spaces. We have a severe waste problem on this Earth, and I hope through my art people can recognize the ever presence of litter and are inspired to mitigate the impact of their own footprint.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced while doing this project?
I have struggled painting on site. Ideally, my vision for this project is to pick up a piece of trash and sit down then and there in order to paint where it was found. However, much of the time this is unable to happen due to time constraints, windy or unideal weather, or not having my paints with me. In cases like these, my process has been to take the trash back to my studio with a source image from the landscape. A stagnant photo makes it difficult to grasp the subtle details of a constantly changing landscape in the field. This unideal system has also has made it tricky to seamlessly photograph the painted trash aligned with the landscape. En Plein air, I am able to roll with the punches and mold my painting as the colors shift throughout the day. But when I leave and return to the landscape there is no telling what changes, especially in the sky, the landscape has undergone. But I must say, this method makes for an exciting way to improvise and think creatively. This fall, I painted El Capitan on a hubcap found in Yosemite National Park. I was chaperoning a 7th-grade trip, so there was no time to paint. This upcoming weekend I finally am getting to return to the park to attempt to photograph the piece!
What has been the most rewarding part of this project?
An essential part of this project has been sharing it with others. Because of this project, I have gotten the opportunity to teach eco-art workshops within National Parks, at the school I teach at, and also with friends. It has been incredibly rewarding to see students’ views of what art should look like shift when presented with trash to paint on as opposed to traditional art supplies. I am only able to collect so much trash on my own. I hope introducing the tools needed to sustainably create to a wider audience will lead to a cleaner future. Plus, sharing the process is inspiring because naturally, every person’s approach is vastly different from the next. Eco-art can be applied in a great array of ways depending on what each artist is passionate about. It has been a treat to witness this process while meditating in a beautiful environment with new and old friends!
Please take a look at Mariah’s Instagram! There are so many more spectacular pieces! I can not recommend it enough!