When Ian Trask graduated from Bowdoin with a degree in biology, he was not the one to bet on to become an up-and-coming sculptor. He now regularly sells artwork around Brooklyn and Chelsea, and is preparing for his first solo show in New York this November.
Trask, 29, left the College in 2005 as a biology major having taken only a handful of courses in the visual arts. Seven years later, he is a notable emerging artist, part of an ascendant cohort of young American artists with an environmentally conscious aesthetic. Trask’s art is made almost entirely of found objects; group shows that he has been featured include “Trash Talk” and “No Money No Problem,” a Recession Art show.
One afternoon in August, I met up with Trask at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn where he is an artist-in-residence. We shook hands outside of the old factory building, which now houses studios and exhibition space, and walked to the Muriel Guépin Gallery next door on Bergen street. There, Trask’s “Holon,” a towering 14-foot cylindrical sculpture made of rolls of cardboard, was featured in the window display.
“I make things out of what other people don’t want,” said Trask. “I call it ‘Holon’ [because] it’s a term about hierarchies. It’s both a sum of parts and part of something else...it’s piecemeal.”
Trask reimagines the function of disposable goods by manipulating cardboard, grocery bags, plastic packaging, silverware, and more into works of art. His background in science is an obvious influence in his work; when I asked Trask to tell me about the sculpture, he compared its outward simplicity to mitosis, a concept I hadn’t thought about since high school biology.
“I usually describe it through the process-what it looks like is constantly changing— perpetual recombination,” said Trask. “Like when a cell divides.”
Trask is one of thirty artists-in-residence at The Invisible Dog, which opened in 2009. The cavernous three-story building previously housed a manufacturing company that made belts, suspenders, and Invisible Dog leashes—a hit 1970s party trick that creates the illusion a small dog is scampering beneath one’s feet.
When Trask first arrived at the Invisible Dog months after it opened, the basement was still brimming with brightly colored elastic left over from the old factory.
“There was nowhere to walk,” said Trask.
Tasked with clearing out the space, Trask used the basement as a studio for three months in the winter of 2009, and began making artwork out of the abandoned elastic. In 2010, he became the Invisible Dog’s first-ever artist-in-residence.
At Bowdoin, Trask was minimally involved in the arts scene on campus and spent most of his time concentrating on his biology major.
“There’s no half-assing your science degree,” said Trask. “It was hard with bio labs to schedule anything.”
He took Drawing I and Photo I his junior and senior years, respectively, and began dabbling in sculpture by taking silverware from the dining hall and trying to bend it into new shapes—a practice Trask and his roommates termed “Grand Theft Dining.” The game left a mark on Trasks’ art—the mother of one of his Bowdoin roommates recently commissioned a chess set made out of silverware.
“To me the fun part was taking a fork and creating a new, different object,” said Trask. “I kept trying to build things with them but I couldn’t adhere them — it was a lesson in art that just got destroyed, and I had dreams of learning how to weld.”
Still, after studying abroad in Denmark the fall of his senior year, Trask left the College undecided about his career trajectory. He moved back home and began working at a hospital cleaning up trash.
Then, after two tech jobs in genetics labs, first in Boston and then in Salt Lake City, Trask landed at a groundskeeping gig.
“It was around that time that [art] became more of a priority,” said Trask. “It really upset me how often I had to pick things up off the ground...people no longer see utility in things that are still viable.”
“My art was what I tried to dedicate most of my time to even though I wasn’t planning on being an artist. I would go home and make sculptures out of silverware—that started from the Bowdoin dining hall,” said Trask. “The way I determined I could become an artist was by not paying for materials.”
Even while pursuing a career in science after graduation, Trask stayed connected to the art world through Bowdoin’s sculptor in residence, John Bisbee. For many years, Bisbee organized collaborative community art projects at Bonnaroo, an annual music festival in Tennessee, and invited current and former students to the concert to help set up the projects a week in advance.
“We created a project out of thin air—with yarn and steel poles,” said Trask, who joined Bisbee in the summers of 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Just two years later, Trask showed his first solo exhibition at Bisbee’s Coleman Burke Gallery in Portland, featuring his trademark cardboard sculptures.
But before that, Trask moved to New York City and decided to begin pursuing art in earnest, supporting himself with a 9-to-5 job at a frame shop. Though he can now sell his artwork at competitive prices (the chess set went for $1,200), living and working in Brooklyn doesn’t come cheap.
“I didn’t come to New York to do the party scene,” said Trask. “I’m figuring out a way to support myself with it. I’m not opposed to doing a 9-to-5 job.”
Trask is now realizing his dream of learning how to weld, working at a metal shop during the day and in his new studio at The Invisible Dog at night. He showed me the beginning of a piece he was working on, a framed piece that will spell “YES” entirely out of matchsticks— a pre-emptive answer to the question, “Should I light this on fire?”
“This is the first time I have a studio I can call my own,” said Trask.
Though he is no stranger to The Invisible Dog, he has never before been able to afford to rent out a studio there independently.
Trask’s small, whitewashed workspace is littered with plastic bags, cardboard, pantone chips, and matches—all art in the making, brimming with potential.
“I wouldn’t have it anywhere else,” said Trask. “It feels more like home than home does.’”