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Jason Mecier's Celebrity Portraits Literally Turn Trash Into Art Treasure (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 10/10/11 09:13 AM ET   Updated: 11/15/11 05:12 AM ET

For most people, the saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure" is an easy -- if not cliché -- way to defend what others might consider a questionable preference.

But Jason Mecier takes the adage literally. Using everything from dead cell phones to red and black licorice to real junk sent to him by celebrities (like Phyllis Diller's anti-itch prescriptions and Tori Spelling's kids' toys), the San Francisco-based artist has made a career out of creating stunning mosaic portraits featuring his favorite famous people.

The Huffington Post caught up with Mecier to find out a little bit more about how he got his start, his process, his dream subjects, what Mary-Louise Parker thought of his marijuana-laced portrait of her and more.

How did you get your start?
Though I have no formal art training, I did have an excellent mentor in my grandmother, Anita Tollefson. When I was young, I remember being mesmerized by her paintings, weavings, mosaics, sculptures, collages, and stained glass work that filled my grandparents' house and yard. If Anita was working on an art project, she would set me up at a nearby table with a project of my own to work on. One of my earliest pieces, is a mosaic made from beans, noodles, rocks, and cut bamboo sticks glued on a piece of wood. My grandmother encouraged me to create masterpieces using materials readily available to me. She would rather paint on the back of her cigarette cartons than buy a canvas. I learned from her that I can make art out of anything I want to, and that there are no rules.

When did you decide to make celebrities your main focus?
I don't know why, but [my interest in celebrity culture] always been there. As kid I remember obsessively clipping and scrap-booking pictures from the TV Guide of my favorite shows. In high school I did pencil drawings of my favorite record covers like The Rolling Stones, Olivia Newton-John and Pat Benatar. Later I did a series of psychedelic collages using "Charlie's Angels" trading cards and pictures of Florence Henderson from the Wesson Oil coupons and ads. Soon I was arranging beans and noodles into larger portraits of these icons. It just exploded from there!

(Interview continues below)

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How long does each portrait take to make?
At least fifty hours, but many take much, much longer! Lady Gaga and Farrah Fawcett each took almost two months and hundreds of hours!

How do you decide what materials to use for each portrait?
I enjoy trying to match the perfect items, colors, and themes with the essence of each unique subject. Some fun examples include: Rosie O'Donnell made out of junk food, Snoop Dogg made out of marijuana, Sigmund Freud made out of pills. Sometimes the name suggests the medium. Guess what materials I used to make the following portraits: Condoleezza Rice, Salt-N-Peppa, Kevin Bacon, and Dog: The Bounty Hunter. (Rice; salt and pepper; bacon; and ... dog food!)

How do you convince celebrities to send you their trash?
Any way I can! I've sent letters to their agent and managers, but the most successful way is through a friend of a friend. That gives me credibility instead of looking like a stalker.

What are your favorite objects that celebrities have sent you?
Phyllis Diller's anti-itch prescriptions, Jane Wiedlin's tampons and hair dye, Belinda Carlisle's bracelets, Parker Posey's night guard, Barbi Benton's prom queen crown and her retainer from high school, Heidi Fleiss's moldy slippers, a letter Paris Hilton sent me from prison, Amy Sedaris's craft supplies, Tori Spelling's kids' toys, Florence Henderson's silver pumps, Mary-Louise Parker's Gucci Sunglasses, Ricki Lake's travel tampon and credit cards, Rosie O'Donnell's kids' toys, a bag of Pam Anderson's dirty laundry

Who is on your list of dream subjects?
Dolly Parton, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Paris Hilton, Ellen DeGeneres, Lindsay Lohan, Oprah, Joan Rivers, Judge Judy, Jennifer Tilly, Joy Behar, Wendy Williams, Shelley Duvall and Delta Burke

Have you ever had a celebrity respond negatively to one of your portraits?
Yes. I heard Mary-Louise Parker thought her portrait looked really cool, but she wasn't crazy about all the marijuana references. She doesn't smoke pot and has little kids. I think she wished it was a more personal portrait and not a "Weeds"-themed piece. Picky people have asked me to change the color of their eyes and fix their teeth -- stuff like that.

Your work reads as decidedly queer to me -- not only because of the subject matter but also because of how you're subverting traditional ideas about art and culture and creating new models and definitions. Do you consider your work queer and how important is the idea of camp to what you do?
I just like what I like and do what I do. If it seems queer that's probably because I am! My favorite things have usually camp appeal. Like "Showgirls" is a perfect movie to me. People who have cartoon like qualities also make for great portraits like Amy Sedaris and Carol Channing.

For more information on Jason Mecier, visit his official website. To see his work in person, attend his upcoming show Licorice Flix: Edible Movie Mosaics, which features his favorite movies made entirely out of Red Vines candy. The show opens on November 4, 201 (with a party from 7 -10pm) and runs through the end of the month at IAM8BIT, 2147 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif.

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