Wilsonville artist displays art made from disposable materials in show focused on humanity's wastefulness

Pieces include carved obsidian and a carving of a log that depicts a human face. While not necessarily seeing the treasure in trash, Wilsonville artist Benjamin Mefford at least appreciates its artistic potential.

But, sometimes, gazing at mountains of trash at the Metro Central Transfer Station inspires stress, sadness about the ephemeral nature of material goods and questions about humanity's wastefulness.

These feelings were a natural component of the exhibit Glean, which compelled Mefford and other artists to create art out of disposable materials. The Glean exhibit opening reception will take place from 6-9 p.m. Aug. 3 and the exhibit runs through Aug. 25 at the Bison Building, 421 N.E. 10th Ave., in Portland.

"You like to think you have a grasp on things but even if it doesn't shift the general concept much, the experience does shift something. It makes it more tangible. I think it affects your reactions to things," Mefford said. "As soon as I'm done with the exhibition, it's going to change the materials I keep."

Mefford has slowly gravitated to utilizing many mixed materials in his art but stone carving is his specialty. He developed the skill while immersing himself in his cousins' tribe in Alaska, where he would both teach and learn art as a 24-year-old.Benjamin Mefford was only allowed to use materials collected at the Metro Central Transfer Station for the exhibit.

"The second I touched the soapstone with this pocket knife it was like magic. It was incredible. I was instantly hooked," he said.

Mefford recently participated in an artist residency in Japan, where he learned a Japanese artist's meticulous process for picking out ideal carving stones. Mefford, though, selects materials intuitively rather than procedurally.

And in his current Glean residency, while some artists had a clear idea which materials they would use, Mefford decided on the fly.

"You could go so many directions with it. That was one of the challenges: there are too many options for what to work on," Mefford said. "I resolved myself to trust that whatever I make will be cohesive because I made it, rather than focusing on a particular process or shape."

To craft his 14 pieces in the exhibit, Mefford used materials such as styrofoam, tile, paper pulp, rope and obsidian.

One piece was created out of four gallons of paper pulp. To his surprise, the material turned red, due to the inclusion of a red folder, and blue from acetone. Mefford spread the pulp over the frayed ends of an old rope he found in the trash heaps.

"To me it (seeing the colors) was exciting" he said. "It was one of those weird things you come across."

In another piece, he used acetone to morph and blacken styrofoam.

"Acetone causes it to melt but there isn't a chemical reaction; it just changes its physical shape," he said.

Staying true to his carving roots, Mefford fashioned a faint depiction of a human face out of a spiral-shaped log using a chainsaw. SPOKESMAN PHOTOS: COREY BUCHANAN - Wilsonville artist Benjamin Mefford created art out of trash in the Glean exhibit.

"It's so unusual for it to have grown out like that (with spirals)," he said. "I thought it was so beautiful."

Mefford has worked in mixed media for a long time but this project was his most extreme dive into the art form.

"I'm always wanting to be expanding myself. My peak as an artist will be at the very end of my life, I hope. I hope I keep pushing myself, learning more and doing more and more interesting things," he said. "That's what appeals to me about being an artist is there's so much opportunity to do that."

To Mefford, Renaissance-era paintings are beautiful but lack an obvious connection between the art-making process and the finished product. He instead tries to show the connection between the two in his art.

"Truth in materials ... Staying honest to what you're working with, which I think is really important," Mefford said. "I think artwork is much more interesting if you can see where it started and see how it got to where it finished."

Mefford moved to Charbonneau two years ago to leave the hustle and bustle of Portland and for lower housing costs. He said he's using his money wisely so that he doesn't have to get a 9-to-5 job, which would distract from his true passion. He also plans to teach a sculpting class for Studio Stone Creative this fall and has previously worked on projects for the City of Lake Oswego and the Milwaukie Light Rail Project.

"I've been trying to put myself in position to work full-time as an artist all the time," he said. "The last two years that's been more true than not."

Through the Glean exhibit process, Mefford estimates he brought 800 pounds of trash to his studio. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by his studio turning into a miniature trash-haven, he's motivated to put the trash to productive use.

"I don't want to have a bunch of extra stuff. That's part of how it's so sad being at the station, people throwing out a lot of stuff from their lives," he said. "I don't want to just throw it out but I feel more motivated to get to it sooner and do the projects that I've been working on in my head."

The next project awaits.

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