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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: May 21, 2018

Ian Trask takes trash and turns it into art

Written by: Bob Keyes

Ian Trask among the “spores” he creates from repurposed trash.
Photos by Andrew Estey

Ian Trask is everywhere. Trask, the Bowdoin graduate and scientist-turned-sculptor, has been busy lately, affirming his instincts to step away from the career he trained for to pursue his passion for art.

His sculpture was curated into two high-profile group shows last fall and winter in Portland and Rockland. He’s got a solo exhibition, “Trash Planet,” up through June 2 at Frank Brockman Gallery in Brunswick, and he’s part of Art2018 at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell, also through June 2. Two weeks ago, he won best in show at the Harlow with a $500 prize.

Ian Trask artwork

Art was never an afterthought for Trask, but it wasn’t his first choice. He graduated with a degree in biology in 2005 and worked in his field as a lab technician until he decided in 2007 that he wanted to make art. His decision was influenced by sculptor and former Bowdoin art professor John Bisbee, who directed art teams at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee. Trask was part of Bisbee’s art team for three summers, starting in 2006, creating temporary installations for the festival communities.

“John Bisbee was the first professional artist to show me that art might be my path in life,” said Trask, who lives in Topsham. “And Bonnaroo convinced me art was my path.”

He quit the job he trained for, moved back in with his parents and took a job as a hospital groundskeeper. Picking up other people’s trash gave him ideas for art. With his work, he transforms waste and commercial byproducts into art objects through what he calls “an alchemistic procedure of reinterpreting a material’s value and usefulness.”

Ian Trask artwork

At Frank Brockman, “Trash Planet” includes more than 400 spores made from material that Trask removes from the waste stream. He collects pretty much anything people throw away – batteries, plastic bags, pill bottles, wine corks, pieces of rope, wooden blocks, pull tabs and endless common household objects. He binds like material together in spores that range from 2 inches to several feet in diameter, creating art through reinterpretation and reinvention.

For “Trash Planet,” he hangs them in 59 strands of seven each and in such a manner that people can walk among them. The strands span roughly 50 feet of wall and floor space.

Ian Trask Artwork

They look like a grid of atoms or a periodic table of waste. It’s easy to get up close with this art, and he encourages people to walk among the hanging strands. He wants people to understand what trash looks like and to think about what and how much they throw away.

It’s been more than a decade since Trask committed to art. It hasn’t been easy, and success has been a hard-won negotiation at times. When the offer for the show at Frank Brockman first came up, he wasn’t sure he could create enough new work in time.

But his wife encouraged him. “You got this,” she told him.

Ian Trask’s “Trash Planet”

WHERE: Frank Brockman Gallery, 68 Maine St. (third floor), Brunswick
WHEN: Through June 2
INFO: 844-1485,

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