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Berkeley, California

Mark Oliver's Yard Art

One man's prolific, decade-long quest to turn trash into artistic treasure. 

“The sheer volume of junk found on beaches or dumped nearby astonishes and disheartens me, but I have found a creative re-use for it.” – Mark Oliver

After walking his dog along the waterlines of San Francisco Bay for more than two decades, in 2005 Mark Oliver had an epiphany born of sadness and disgust. Day after day, the shores between Point Molate and the Bay Bridge were littered with so much flotsam and jetsam that it seemed a shame to let it just sit there. Ever since that day, Oliver has dedicated himself to hauling the refuse home with him, where he makes something beautiful, if not immediately useful, out of their remains.

The label of “self-taught artist” suits Oliver nicely:  99% of his sculptures’ materials are in the same state as when he found them, though he’ll cut, bend, combine, and otherwise form elements from his vast stockpile of briny treasures in order to build each piece. Though there’s no predicting what the sea will turn up, especially at low tide when the waters recede to reveal submerged metallic bits, Oliver’s work can include various plastics, bones, lighters, wooden fragments, nautical gears, the occasional shoe, and more.

Having originated in the sea itself, Oliver’s creations tend to be pretty weatherproof, which makes spotting his house anything but a challenge. His works cover the exterior of his Berkeley home and are scattered throughout his lawn and garden. Some of Oliver’s neighbors have even caught his spirit, going so far as to decorate their own yards with his colorful sculptures that were pulled from the sea and given a second life.