Jake Ollinger’s pottery is often eccentric, whimsical or gracile in conveying both motion and emotion. That’s what happens when you start shaping ceramics while still in grade school.
The Fairhope native teaches classes at The Kiln Gallery and is trying to get on a circuit of regional outdoor festivals. He’ll attend one in Florida in February, then hopes to tour through New Orleans, Atlanta and Nashville.
But there’s another side to Ollinger and his work. A glimpse emerged during his “Animate Inanimates” show at the University of Mobile in November.
“It was my first artist talk since grad school and I pretty much talked about Atom Boy and ‘Popocalypse Now’ instead of the current show,” Ollinger laughed. “Afterward the professor told me ‘they all like your pots but everyone wants to see this other stuff now.’”
“Popocalypse Now” was the culmination of his graduate school experience at the University of Notre Dame. The installation served as the thesis for his 2014 Master of Fine Arts and took months to assemble and fabricate, tying together video, computer rendering, pottery, found objects, woodwork, metalwork … it’s all in there.
The beguiling post-apocalyptic scenario it conjures is amusing and evocative. It’s also prescient in light of contemporary entertainment trends.
“What is masculinity in the face of technology? We see this extended, almost perpetual adolescence around us now, like Judd Apatow and his protagonists who are boy-men,” Ollinger said. “The Japanese share it with their concept of Superflat culture, and then you mix the obsession with apocalyptic scenarios.”
Artist Takashi Murakami proclaimed the Superflat movement the culmination of post-World War II commercial influence and the “shallow emptiness of Japanese consumer culture.” It assumed its own niche marketing and branded art phenomenon that reached back to the Western culture that helped spawn it.
“Is the Popocalypse a movie, is it a video game, is it existing in parallel with what’s happening now? I tried to make it where it was all those things all at once. It’s kind of retconned, four or five stories running all at the same time,” Ollinger said.
“Popocalypse Now” was a universe inhabited by Atom Boy, a representation of the fantasy and science fiction overload around us. The resulting installation in the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame was a sprawling, detailed accumulation of skillfully crafted and assembled detritus.
“If you look at his hammer that’s on the website, the head was 3D modeled and built out of foam. His oversized four-barrel shotgun, that’s actually all wood and fabricated steel that weighs, like, 100 pounds, so in the photos we propped it up and photoshopped out the prop,” Ollinger said.
He scavenged a pressure washer, combined spare wheels from another contraption, then sculpted other parts from clay to construct a jet pack. He employed hazard striping for aesthetic and connotative reasons, then made sure nothing looked new.
“The character is kind of crusty. Everyone was pointing out Boba Fett, beat up with rust, so ‘Star Wars’ was kind of an influence in that regard,” Ollinger said, also nodding to the films “Mad Max” and “Brazil.”
There were filing cabinets, ductwork, foam, concrete blocks, various disassembled machinery, old toys, mechanical schematics, a bank of old TVs weighing nearly 80 pounds each, then video shot to run on the screens.
Words only do so much. A more in-depth analysis can be found at jakeollinger.com. It’s there you’ll also find Ollinger’s abundant humor about the character and our sensibilities.
“No apocalyptic environ is correct without lots of random crap lying around,” he wrote about the extraneous wires and tubing. He described Atom Boy’s lazy electronic patching as “taped together enough to get the job done, although what that job is nobody knows.”
The fact Atom Boy’s “cut abs” are slapped on with black paint would seem to underscore his questionable effectiveness. His prowess is laughable, his enemies imagined.
Ollinger’s website also details the painstaking planning, assembly, rendering, painting, sculpting and weathering that went into the idea. All told, it’s impressive in size and singular in vision.
“Popocalypse Now” is currently in storage. Ollinger wants mobility.
“I want to find a way to implement a trailer so it looks like one thing and maybe unfolds into another,” Ollinger said. “Moving it is going to cost a lot. I thought about grants and I also thought about crowdfunding.”
Until then, it’s back to Ollinger’s mild-mannered role at the potter’s wheel. But have no fear; Atom Boy is always near.