City Council District 5
City Council District 5


District 5 Profile

Mark Olivier's Beach Art

by Emma Roos-Collins

February 2011

                 Beach Art Olmec Mask

           On any typical East Bay beach, there are a few omnipresent components: gritty sand, cold water, shell fragments. and occasional seaweed.  But there is also a huge variety of man-made junk, a constant reminder of modern civilization.  If you are lucky, you may see a man come by, pick up trash to inspect it, and take it home with him.

         Beach Art Lotus           

            Mark Olivier, a District Five resident for sixteen years and a beachcombing artist for the last six, has drawn a lot of attention with his sculptures made from materials he takes from local beaches.  Some call it great art.  Others call it trash.  It’s both.  He gleans everything from lighters to car parts to animal bones, combining his finds into masks, animals, and a variety of other forms. For him, it's less about the materials he uses than the act of making art. "I've decided on a focus, so I'm figuring out what I can do with it."

            Mark has always been artistic, but it was only after walking his dog down a filthy beach that he realized he could help clean up trash and utilize his creativity at the same time. Without any formal artistic training, but with a working knowledge of botany, anatomy, and physiology, Mark started creating sculptures out of the trash he picked up from the beach. Although Mark's art depends on the waste of our society, he claims there is no message.  "I just sort of fell into it," he says, "but now I can't stop. I get lost in the process. I get a great deal of pleasure out of it. What I build always changes. I like doing stuff with my hands, like construction and ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging."

           Just as he fell into making sculpture, he is also now an accidental expert on East Bay trash. "The volume of the trash is seasonal: it depends on the winds. By the summer, the volume will decrease. I always find floats and rope. That's normal. Every once and a while I'll find something and say 'how the hell did this get here?' I understand some of the trash: hats will fly off, lighters will fall out. But some people don't want to go to a dump and they'll just leave all their crap on the beach. That pisses me off."  And even Mark has some limits to the materials he'll use. "I find a lot of food packages, like from fast food places, but I haven't used them."

            Currently, Mark is working on a poodle sculpture made from a wooden frame and blue rope. (Even though the wood didn't come from the beach, he assured me that it was recycled from a construction site.) Outside of his studio sits his collection of materials organized with plastic milk crates.  On his work bench are illustrations of standard poodle cuts printed off the Internet.  Heavy ropes wind around a tree trunk, Mark demonstrated how to untwist sections of the rope to achieve a fluffy poodle-hair look. Though all of his free time goes towards making art, even with twelve-hour days the poodle will require weeks or even months of work. He claims that "all my pieces are plausible, although I take some artistic liberties, like making the poodle's hair blue. I get an idea, and then I do what I gotta do."

          Beach Art Poodle      

            Beach Art BicCock          

           Even though Mark primarily makes fantastical animals and masks (he finds a lot of thing that look like facial features), his art is diverse and dynamic. "I like that there's a great deal of freedom. I'm not like a painter who only makes landscapes -- that seems like it would be boring." The sculptures in Mark's yard vary from an anatomically-correct lily flower made out of pelvic bones to a 10 foot tall Poseidon to a peacock made out of lighters and Astroturf.  "I'm not stuck in any particular genre. I'm a typical boy -- sometimes I'll make a cannon or a gun. It depends on my whims."

            Still, the artistic process of Mark's whims is fairly complicated. "I've been doing this long enough to have a trained eye, so I know what to look for. For the peacock, I had a lot of lighters and I didn't know what to do with them. I thought about it and thought of a peacock."


            Sometimes, though, Mark is inspired by images in his head or pictures he sees. One of his masks was inspired by Olmec heads.  One of his earliest pieces references the River Styx, Chiron, and the Elysian Fields. "I'm widely read. If there's something I'm doing a piece for, I'll do a little research." And after the piece is completed, Mark comes up with a tongue-in-cheek name for it. The cigarette-lighter peacock is named "BicCock.” The huge swordfish made from hat bills is "BillFish."     Beach Art BillBird

            Mark's art has generated a huge impact in the community. With a front yard full of beach trash sculptures, it's the rare car that doesn't slow down as it passes. "My direct neighbors all have my art in their yards. They really like my stuff." He’s had a few shows, but most of Mark's art stays at home. Only two pieces have been vandalized in six years. "I'm sure there are people who don't like my work, but no one's said anything to my face." Still, Mark appreciates that the lack of negative feedback has a lot to do with where he lives. "It's just one thing I like about Berkeley: I couldn't get away with this anywhere else." 


Beach Art House


Mark's work can be seen on Colusa Avenue between Sonoma and Monterey.  You can't miss it.


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