Whitehot Magazine

Interview with Mark Ollinger

Mark Ollinger, Greensphere, 2017. Acrylic on fabricated wood, 23 inch diameter. Video. Courtesy of the artist.



Mark Ollinger, a Vancouver-based artist whose painting and sculptural work has been installed in galleries and, "unsanctioned," in public spaces, renders time as a linear experience, defined visually by symmetry, continuity, and fold. Even in Ollinger’s street moniker, Apath, one notices a relationship between the weaving shape of the characters and the concept of pathmaking. This through line carries forward Ollinger’s practice, resulting in a rigorous visualization of abstract channels. Below, we discuss the aesthetic principles and many dimensions, angle-by-angle, of Ollinger's forms. 

CORI HUTCHINSON: You cite street art, and especially graffiti, as foundational to your practice. What is your relationship with site-specific mark-making? Who are your graffitist heroes? Do you have a signature tag?  

MARK OLLINGER: My relationship with site-specific mark-making started in high school. I used to ride the train around Calgary, Alberta that was called the C train and I’d see the local graffiti writers tags all over the train line. That became a big influence on my initial curiosity with art and visual language. I found myself influenced by local graffiti artists such as Noem, Afex, Crumbs, Physic, Berserker, Hoser, Bayse and Phere. Those were some of the local writers, and then other writers such as Water, Totem, Dame, which were international writers that definitely had a big influence on me. My moniker is Apath and the work I’m doing now is derived directly from the word and its meaning. The foundation of my sculptures are designed around letters and words that are chosen. The sculpture always ends up as one interwoven line which is a visual reference to the meaning of the word. I choose specific words as the basis of the interwoven line that folds over and under, creating the work itself. The words become enmeshed into the sculpture or painting, but visible to the trained eye. 

Mark Ollinger, Forwards and Backwards, 2015. Polystirene and acrylic,
Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.

CH: The strata in your sculptures is very geological. Do geological time and history have a role in your work? How many hours on average do you put into each of your sculptures? 

MO: Time definitely is very much a consistent theme in my work. The process lends itself to a geological aesthetic with the way that the individual strips of wood are laminated together to create the base block of the work before the shaping and carving are done to the surface by hand. I am interested in leaving the interior of the sculpture (the Channels that go from one side of the sculpture to the other) unfinished to give the viewer an understanding of the process itself and to in a way represent a cave or a cavern referencing a focus inward. Depending on the complexity of an artwork on average I spend 100 to 1000+ hours carving and perfecting each form.  

CH: How does written language inform your practice? Is the glyph shape more, less, or equally valued in relation to its semantic meaning in the work?

MO: This question brings up something I’ve been thinking a lot about. I believe that there are two different components to any artwork: the aesthetic of the work, in my case being a glyph shape, and the invisible concept behind the work, in my case, the words chosen that are embedded in the artwork. Earlier in my practice I would say the glyph shape was more important and the development of my own aesthetic was the goal. However, now where I’m at I would say they’ve become equal in importance. I think this is important for all artists, you start with a choice on what school of art aesthetically you are choosing to tackle your ideas from, and from there you develop your concepts and what it is you have to say. But in order to say what is important to you, you need to develop a language you use to communicate which I would describe as aesthetic.

Mark Ollinger, Sine, 2016. Acrylic on fabricated wood, 20 x 16 x 48 in. Angle 9. Courtesy of the artist.

CH: How do you incorporate continuity?  

MO: I’d say continuity itself is the aim and goal of my practice. My approach from the beginning has been the same. The complexity of the design has evolved over time but my sketchbooks from high school have the same one interwoven line designs in them as my most recent sculpture. Each piece informs the next piece in a never ending evolution of both technicality, craftsmanship and concept. The sculpture itself is a single interwoven line starting at the same spot that it ends in. This to me represents a conscious life cycle,  a 24 hour window in a conscious creature's existence from when they leave their home to when they get back home and the loop in space that’s done in the process. Almost every facet from the aesthetic choices to the words chosen that are represented in the sculpture to the actual physical process of repeating the same strategy to create sculpture is an attempt at a representation of continuity.  

CH: How do you select and employ color in pieces such as REDPYRAMID and GREENSPHERE?

MO: For the most part I’m very careful with my use of colour. There have been only a couple pieces where the colour has strictly been chosen for aesthetic reasons. For the most part I use colour as a way to set the mood for a piece. I feel like colour is the initial interaction a viewer has with the work before they notice anything involving the shape or form. Colour is the first thing that catches their attention. Recently I’ve been working with solid woods and using stains more so than solid colours. In the case of the two artworks you mention, the Red Pyramid represents an egotistical nature and the Green Sphere represents an ecological one, the phrases “EGO” and “ECO” can be found scribed onto the surface of each artwork. The colour red was chosen for the pyramid in relation to a hierarchy that places humans at the top as predatory in relation to other living things. Red suggests a destructive relationship through devouring these living things and the planet itself. Green Sphere is inspired by an ecological perspective representing human beings positioned at the centre, connected to the environment and other species on earth. Green is meant to represent the harmony of this relationship, a connection with nature and renewal.

Mark Ollinger, Redpyramid, 2017. Acrylic on fabricated wood, 29 x 29 x 23 in. Video. Courtesy of the artist. 

CH: Mathematic and unicursal are two words that come to mind when viewing your sculptures. I remember seeing John Chamberlin’s small-scale works, also maze-like, in a way, at Hauser and Wirth a few years ago and was so tempted to drop a marble in each at the top and see where it ejected. How do you imagine the viewer engaging with your work, both in a gallery setting and in an unexpected public space? 

MO: Almost unintentionally I’ve taken a very mathematical approach to my work. At the beginning when I was making paintings, I always found myself  making pictures in a way that would have to be three-dimensional. I was almost unable to produce a two dimensional image without my mind working it out in the third dimension. Eventually years later that transitioned into sculpture which came very naturally to me. I find myself being very much infatuated with the works of Richard Deacon, Antony Gormley and Tony Cragg. I find them quite influential to my practice, as I have gained inspiration from their craftsmanship, technical abilities and in their aesthetic approaches. The graffiti artist in me keeps me feeling competitive, with a desire to attempt to outdo recent work and push myself consistently and I think I’m grateful for that. Regarding the viewers' experience of my work I’m happy if the work itself catches their attention enough to make them want to go and explore the work, to me then I’ve done my job. WM


Cori Hutchinson

Cori Hutchinson is a writer living in Brooklyn.

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