Mariah Reading’s art reflects the beautiful landscapes that inspire her on a daily basis.
As an artist, she uses the most unlikely of mediums as her canvas - a collection of discarded items and trash she finds along nature's trails and walkways. Hubcaps, water bottles, diving goggles, shin guards, hiking boots and beer cans.
Mariah's mission is to draw attention to the discarded items she finds and encourage her audience to ask ourselves how and why they ended up there.
Trek Light Gear recently had the chance to interview Mariah and ask her about her process and where she finds her inspiration.
Where did your interest in art first begin?
My parents instilled in me a deep appreciation for the discipline of art. I remember listening to my dad tell glorious art school stories about pulling deadline crunch all-nighters and having the opportunity to be creative on a daily basis. It was these talks and my parent’s encouragement that lead me to pursue art seriously. Early on, my brother (who is an incredibly dedicated artist/muralist!) and I were sent on a yellow school bus to a summer camp called Windover Art Center. From the age of five to fifteen, we spent our summers creating in the lush rolling green hills of Newburgh, Maine. Recently, I have reflected on my experience there and realized the monumental effect this outdoor arts school had on the artist I am today. Classes ranged from pottery on the wheel to 35mm photography and blow-torched glass beads. This freedom to explore media while being outside directly informed my interests and passions. The director of the camp, Mari Abercrombie, told us about her dream of starting an art school in the mountains of Maine. Lo and behold that is exactly what she did! Along with having supportive parents, witnessing the success of this strong female artist impacted my desire to create as well as my love of the natural landscape.
Do you have a favorite particular piece? What’s the story behind it?
My favorite piece is “El (Hub)Capitan” because it started the current trajectory of my Recycled Landscapes project. I created this piece while an Arts in the Parks Volunteer at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas. Before I found this one particular piece of trash, I had been creating my own canvases from multiple pieces of debris. However, when I found this hubcap I was struck by the way it had cracked off in the perfect place to form the unique, jagged mountain range of the Guadalupe Mountains. I realized then that I had to leave this piece of litter as it was. This led me to the pun of painting El Capitan on the hubcap, and further photographing the hubcap aligned with the landscape. The way an individual piece of trash can stand on its own continues to fuel the inspiration behind this project.
What do you hope people take away from your art?
I hope that my work helps viewers to see that art is accessible to all and purchasing expensive materials is not essential in the creative process. You can truly make art from anything, including debris. The objective of my art is to make the world a more beautiful place. By using trash as a surface to paint on, I hope viewers are encouraged to clean up their own cherished landscapes and think more deeply about leaving no trace.
You use such an amazing variety of mediums, which is your favorite to use and why?
I have always had a soft spot for painting. Applying paint to anything is a meditative process that is essential for me in maintaining a balanced life. In college, I was a hardcore oil paints gal because I loved the textured and sculptural quality they offered. But recently, I have learned to appreciate the fast-drying effects of acrylics. They make layering colors easier in the field and have allowed me to capture more precisely the ever-changing details of an active landscape, which is becoming a more integrated ingredient in my practice.
Who are your current favorite artists?
My favorite artist right now is Sean Yoro (Hula)! I am moved by his work because it combines portraiture with land art to shed light on the ways humans impact the landscape. One of my favorite pieces he has done was a portrait on actual ice in Iqaluit, Nunavut to display the way climate change has contributed to the increasing loss of glaciers and arctic ice. Once the ice melted, the painting was gone.
Another one of my favorites is Andrew Faris, who creates large color block paintings and then photographs them interacting within a landscape. Liu Bolin and Alexa Meade have also been two artists who I have closely followed for some time. I wrote a paper comparing them in college, as they both paint directly onto humans. Bolin paints on himself to blend into the environment, and Meade paints on people to make them appear as two-dimensional portraits. The relationship humans have with their environment is clearly something I gravitate towards. From a historical standpoint, I admire the work of René Magritte and M.C. Escher for their attention to detail, their connection of art to math and the sciences, and their surrealist perspective of viewing the natural world.
What is the best part about creating art using various mediums and found objects? What is the most difficult part?
I have valued that the product is always unexpected because I cannot anticipate the trash I find on trails. I imagine this improvised aspect is why this project has been so fulfilling over a long period of time. All I must do to ignite the creative process is take a step outside and notice my surroundings. As for the most difficult part, it has been hard for me to let certain things go. Painting on debris has given me a heightened sense for spotting trash everywhere, and at times it can be overwhelming to realize how much there is. I know that as a single human I am unable to pick up every piece of trash I encounter, especially when driving. I see these really crazy things off the side of the road (shoes, forgotten traffic cones, car parts, etc.) and desperately want to stop and grab them, but I also don’t want to get run down. So safety has become a big concern. But, hopefully, my art can be used to encourage others to dispose of waste responsibly, so eventually there will be less of a need to pull over on the side of a highway.
Mariah’s incredible art holds an important meaning and reminds us that beauty can be found in unlikely places.
Her art also is a reminder of how trash spoils nature and how much work we have ahead of us to reduce our footprint on Planet Earth.
We need this planet more than it needs us and it’s our responsibility to respect and love the outdoors.
Pick up trash (even if it’s not yours) as often as you can, because Mariah can’t do it all herself!
You can find out more about Mariah on her website here.
Give her a follow on Instagram - @mariahreading