Mariah Reading Art: Turning Trash Into Treasure

Mariah Reading Art: Turning Trash Into Treasure


Mariah Reading collects discarded material and turns it into beautiful landscape art.

Born and raised in Bangor, Maine, art was the centerpiece of Mariah Reading’s life from an early age. Growing up, the walls of Reading’s childhood home were lined with art. Many conversations revolved around how art was the essence of a fulfilled human experience.

In line with her upbringing, Reading attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where she graduated in 2016 with a B.A. in visual arts and a minor in educational studies. During her senior year at Bowdoin, Reading took a mold-making sculpture class, which proved to be an eye-opening experience for her. After each class, they’d throw out heavy trash bins filled with excess concrete, rubber mold, and tools — and Reading began to truly recognize how much waste the arts create.

After graduating, Reading began a cross-country road trip from Maine to southern California. Along the way, Reading stopped at a number of national parks and picked up trash to use as canvases to form sculptural paintings.

The idea was that instead of the debris filling landfills, they would instead be used to create landscapes. She entitled the project “Recycled Landscapes.”

Mariah Reading - Art
(photo/Rebecca Parsons)

The Eco Journey Begins

In the summers, Reading works as a seasonal environmental interpreter. And in the winters, she focuses on her art, often participating in artist-in-residency programs across the country.

During a 2017 stint in the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas, Reading found half of a hubcap and painted it to resemble the mountains in which she was residing. She photographed her work with El Capitan serving as a backdrop. The project was a pivotal one, as it shifted her work from collaging multiple pieces of trash to focusing on a single object and photographing it.

“I have identified my work as eco art,” says Reading. “In short, it’s the practice of art that seeks to preserve and protect the ecology of the Earth. My practice is process-based and highlights the principles of ‘leave no trace’ by combining painting with sculpture and photography.”

Over the years, Reading has used a variety of different types of trash as her canvases. She’s painted shoes, pants, swim fins, plastic ponies, hubcaps, and so much more. A lot of her painting is done in the field, so she’s constantly navigating changing light, shadows, and weather.

“The landscape is always in motion, so if the alignment doesn’t work out perfectly, it’s okay because it’s telling of the environment that I’m in,” says Reading. “I love how each object provides a new challenge and continuously keeps this project fresh and unique.”

Mariah Reading Art -
(photo/Rebecca Parsons)

Worn Landscapes

Reading’s latest project is called “Worn Landscapes” and through it, she highlights clothing items that are worn through the landscapes and then somehow left behind. The series serves as a metaphor for the ways in which humans navigate natural landscapes and erode and wear them down over time.

Through her work, Reading not only strives to clean up the communities she visits but also captures landscapes that won’t be around forever. She acknowledges that climate change and our world’s pollution crisis can be overwhelming, but the hope is that her art triggers an emotional connection in viewers and inspires them to make small changes to better our planet.

Mariah Reading Art - worn landscape
(photo/Rebecca Parsons)

“The trash that we create does not disappear, so my hope is that my art can nudge viewers out of waste complacency and reevaluate their actions in reducing their own footprint,” says Reading. “Each thing I happen upon provides new inspiration — I’m letting the wind and the trash guide me as I move forward.”

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