How To Paint An Experience

Spiegelworld speaks to Painter Mark Ogge of THE HOOK, the brand new Spiegelworld venue, opening at Caesars Atlantic City in June 2023.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get started in art?

I live in the Australian countryside, about an hour from Melbourne. I’ve painted professionally since my early twenties and always had a career selling fine art oil paintings. Then I started working in theater as a set painter in my late twenties to earn money, and that gave me the skills to paint on a large scale. I did a lot of musicals and all that kind of stuff. In 2006, Ross Mollison commissioned me to paint a mural for the grand entrance archway to Spiegelworld’s first venue on the pier in New York City. I‘ve always had a fascination with the world of circus and fun fairs, and have done a lot of the scenic painting at the heritage Luna Park in St Kilda, Melbourne which has a vibe much like Atlantic City’s boardwalk. So I’ve had a great friendship with Spiegelworld over the past 17 years.

What are the materials that you work with?

In creating the murals that will decorate the theater balconies inside The Hook in Atlantic City, I am using Golden acrylic paints made in Wisconsin. I paint on big stretched sheets of paper because it’s portable and easy to work with.

Tell us a little bit about your typical inspiration for an art piece? What is your usual process?

For this work at The Hook, I’m informed by a long tradition of theatrical commedia dell-arte, fairground art, and all of those folk traditions, but there are also high art traditions. They go back centuries, and I draw a lot on that. I’ve looked at many old theaters and fairground art pieces in that genre, and I also tie in contemporary things I see around me. I try to include all aspects of Spiegelworld and the Spiegelverse, as we call it, telling the story through all the characters.

I start with small sketches in a sketchbook. I do heaps and heaps of small drawings of all the different aspects because the overall composition is quite complex. I start with those small pictures and gradually build up to a more complex piece.

Do your sketchbooks start with the individual characters? Or do you try to have an overarching sketch before placing the characters?

I start with an elementary overall compositional sketch. Then I create simple drawings and schematically place things. I’ll make more drawings that flesh out more detail, and by the middle stage, I’ll have a section. Then I’ll build up to what will be the final piece. I often have to go and study all the individual characters and work out more detailed drawings of them before I put them on the final piece.

Are all the characters from Spiegelworld, or are they based on imagination?

Over the years, I’ve built up my own cast of characters that I draw on, and they appear in various artworks. But sometimes Ross will say we need someone specific like New York DJ legend David Mancuso in the painting. So I’ll go and research David Mancuso and come up with a character. With Spiegelworld, we always need a penguin and a spaceship, so it’s fun to respond to that sort of thing and develop funny, interesting characters.

How involved is Spiegelworld in the creative process when making a commissioned piece? Do they stay with you through the whole process or do they say, ‘go for it’ and make tweaks at the end?

Usually they give me a brief. Sort of a verbal description and a series of images that are in the ballpark of what they want. And that might refer to something that I’ve done previously. This particular artwork draws a lot on the Spiegelworld Automaton, a mechanical theater that I created a few years ago. So they said, ‘we want elements similar to that.’ So, I’ve drawn on that.

And then they wanted elements that referred to the show that’s being put on in the theater. For Atlantic City, the show is still being developed, and there’s not much information about it yet.

I just draw on the kind of imagery I like that relates to the show – the ocean, seafaring stuff, outer space – and I put it all together.

The brief for The Hook included that they wanted reference to Atlantic City and the history of the Warner Theatre and that kind of stuff. So there’s references to that in there as well. And, in terms of the process, I give them a conceptual drawing that indicates what I’m going to do and then get a bit of feedback. And sometimes at the end Ross will say, ‘Oh, can you put John F. Kennedy in there?’ Or something like that. So, I fit JFK in there somewhere.

Can you elaborate a little bit more on the characters? What’s the main feeling?

Yeah, it’s very exciting to be in The Hook venue. It’ll be very exciting. In this piece, for example, we’ve got The Gazillionaire and the Absinthe Green Fairy from Las Vegas, mermaids and mermen, and all sorts of little characters that relate to the shows. For Atlantic City, I’m mostly relating the characters to ocean imagery.

How many individual pieces are you making for this?

There are five large balcony panels and then another five panels above that for the sky. They will wrap around the entire theater and it’s what the audience will be looking up and around at when they first enter.

That’s fantastic. Is JFK a character in one of these panels?

No, but he does make an appearance in the stained-glass window art I created for the front entrance of THE HOOK.

Doing the work for the stained-glass window, was that a different format for you? What was the process to develop that piece?

They just gave me the shape and the dimensions of the existing heritage window frames. They’re a particular shape, and I just had to fill that. So I did a conceptual drawing, and that was along the lines of what everyone [the Spiegelworld creative team] was after. Then I just kind of developed that into a big, sort of complex composition.  I had to keep in mind that people would be on the boardwalk looking up at this art from quite a distance, so a giant octopus, another Spiegelworld icon, anchors the whole piece.

Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve created for Spiegelworld?

I’ve enjoyed them all in different ways, but my favorite piece is the painting I was commissioned to do to commemorate the opening of OPM in Las Vegas. It’s a very large, fun oil painting exploring outer space and conspiracy theories. And then of course there’s the Spiegelworld Automaton giant toy theatre which lives at the Atomic Saloon in Vegas. It nearly killed me. You put an Australian one dollar coin in, and all the little circus characters come to life. It’s so joyful.