Eco Artist, Mariah Reading Turns Litter Into Landscape Paintings
Mariah Reading, eco-artist and hiking enthusiast turns trash into treasure. For the past four years, she's painted landscapes on over 100 pieces of trash found while hiking, climbing or paddling through 29 national parks. We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Mariah to learn how this type of art came about and what she envisions for the future of her canvases.
How did this process start? What was the catalyst behind this work of art?
Mariah: I was always a landscape painter. I went to college to study Visual Arts and was really drawn to landscapes. At that point, I was doing oil paintings and by the end of college, I started to see the amount of waste that was accumulating within the art studios. At the end of the semester, we would make these huge installations and then they would get torn down and thrown away and I thought what the heck? So, I gathered up all of the crusty paintbrushes and debris found around my studio space and made a collective canvas with them. That was the start of it, back in 2016.
I was moving from Maine to California so I was weaving through a bunch of different national parks and I had this dream that I'll pick up trash along the way and use that as my canvas. And especially being a poor college student in crippling debt, using trash for free, is a lot nicer than using hugely expensive stretched canvases.
"I had this dream that I'll pick up trash along the way and use that as my canvas."
What does the process look like? How do you figure out where/what you want to paint? Is there a strategy behind it all?
Mariah: Originally, I started as plain air paintings, paintings that are outside. I'm a big hiker and backpacker, so I brought with me a little art paint kit. If I found a piece of trash on the grounds, I’d paint the scene right where I found the trash. They're more wisps of the landscape as opposed to focusing highly on details.
Other times, if the sun is about to set or conditions aren’t great, or I don’t have my paints with me, I'll photograph where I found the trash, bring it back to the studio to paint, and then hike it back out to where it was found in order to capture it.
What does the future look like with your art? Where are you hoping to go with this?
Mariah: I am hoping to do more like larger-scale works that are permanent installations. Perhaps working with local nonprofits, specifically coastal nonprofits. I also think it is important to stay fresh and more impromptu. Like the other day, I was kayaking, I came across a metal folding chair that was stuck in the mud along the riverbank. I yanked it up and kayaked back with it. You never know when you’re going to find works of art. I'm just kind of a go-with-the-flow artist.
"Like the other day, I was kayaking, I came across a metal folding chair that was stuck in the mud along the riverbank. I yanked it up and kayaked back with it. You never know when you’re going to find works of art."
How could people support you and your art?
I do sell my work and I have some merchandise that is at a lower price point. That is a really meaningful way to support me. You can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook. And then also the point of my work is to make small changes in my life, to be more sustainable. So, even if that's making small changes in your life or adjusting your habits. Make art with a leftover pizza box, which allows for art to be more accessible to all. You don’t have to have a fancy canvas to be an artist. I would love for others to send me pictures of art that they made with trash!
To learn more, purchase her work or follow her on social media:
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