As a child, artist Jason Mecier was an obsessive scrapbooker, whipping up portraits of his fave TV stars from issues of TV Guide. He grew up to create portraits of celebrities in dried beans and noodles (“They don’t call me the Macaroni Monet for nothing!”) and moved into more diverse media such as pizza crusts, hair-dye applicators, pompoms, orthodontic retainers … basically all the detritus you can name. As Mecier gained fame as a portraitist, he also gained access to celebrities’ own trash. Phyllis Diller sent him 40 boxes of junk, including pine cones and prescription bottles, which he’s turned into three portraits–thus far. “My aim is to blur the line between high and low in both art and pop culture,” he writes in the intro to his dizzying, giggle-and-gasp-inducing Pop Trash: The Amazing Art of Jason Mecier. “I like applying a down-to-earth, arts and crafts approach to representing flashy subjects.” He’s conjured David Bowie out of makeup, glitter, and feathers; Clint Eastwood out of bits of wood, nails, bullets, bone, leather scraps, and a stun gun; Kevin Bacon out of (of course) bacon; and Snoop Dogg out of (of course) weed.
As this is Tablet magazine, we focus on the Jews. Our faves:
Barbra Streisand in cassette and 8-track tapes, record sleeves, embroidery, feathers, corn-cob holders and a Macy’s charge card, 2012. (I also spy doll parts, a Covergirl mascara tube, a Ricola cough drop, and metal eyelash curlers.)
Albert Einstein in puzzle pieces, electronics, comb, feathers, and a compass face, 2014. (I also spot a tiny plastic skull and wishbone, a watchband, portraits of Charlie’s Angels and Marilyn Monroe.)
Joan Rivers in skin cream and pain reliever packaging, hair spray, CDs, scissors, broken plate, and gefilte fish, 2014. “I made this one primarily from leftovers of other comedians’ junk portraits (Phyllis Diller, Margaret Cho, Rosie O’Donnell, Ricki Lake),” Mecier writes. (You may also find Botox packaging, Accent flavor-enhancing seasoning, Monistat yeast-infection cream, a Jolen bleach box, an “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” lid, Metamucil, and latex glove packaging.)
Harvey Milk, various candies, 2017. According to Randy Shilts’ The Mayor of Castro Street, Milk always kept a jar of jelly beans on his desk to feed his ferocious sweet tooth. He solemnly told political colleagues that he did so as a reminder of the time when “jelly beans” was an archaic, derogatory term for gay men. (Which it never was.) “You can’t believe what I’ve got them believing,” he chortled to gay friends.
Jerry Seinfeld, various breakfast cereals, 2000. As all Seinfeld watchers know, the man loves his breakfast cereal. In Mecier’s portrait, Seinfeldian character names are spelled out in Alpha-Bits.
So do these works trigger thoughts about the empty calories of celebrity worship, the evanescent nature of fame, the strictures of performative femininity? Sure. But they’re also just super fun.