Road Trippin’ with Jim Olarte

Road Trippin’ with Jim Olarte

Posted May 01, 2024

Jim Olarte sits barefoot in the sun on the patio of his art studio, shooting the shit with his neighbor. "Hey guys!" He pops up and greets three giddy, wide-eyed Art Department Outerknownians with a big smile and immediately welcomes us inside.

Hundreds of feet of thick knotted nautical rope and giant colored fiberglass mobiles dangle from the ceiling–creating a man-made "kelp forest," as Jim calls it. Rick Rubin's The Creative Act: A Way of Being sits on a wooden stump next to an ashtray and a laptop playing the best of Sturgill Simpson.

"Sturgill's great, isn't he?" Jim says as he shuffles between his many suspended masterpieces.

 After just a few minutes with Jim, you instantly feel this guy has a story…or five. 

Tables covered in found shells, discarded surfboard fins, and other recovered ocean relics line every wall; books and random photos lie scattered about next to a journal donning the words "Manifest That Shit," which only further piques my interest into who Jim Olarte really is.

Mimicking the energy of his found artifacts, Jim is unique, vibrant, and animated, but in an authentic, understated way.

We had the chance to drive down South to our Carlsbad shop with Jim and hear more about his journey.

Have you always worked with macramé and fiberglass?

I already had macramé in my skillset from school. Then, an art director asked me if I knew how to make macramé for the Roxy store, and I was like, "Oh yeah, I can have this as a career!" I have to say, because of the scale, I got some really good commissions early, like big, major commissions. And then, through some friends, I also had an exhibit at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, which is now Craft Contemporary, but that really helped solidify and legitimize my work to get a museum show.

I'm always curious about how those first connections are made, which ultimately leads to sharing your work with the public in a big way.
I've been very fortunate; it really is one of those things where it's who you know. And then that person runs with a high level of creative people. At some point, they're like, "Oh, you should hire Jim!" Next thing you know, you're there. It's honestly been one of those circumstances in my career, a lot of knowing the right people. Listen, I work really hard, but I'm not trying to get noticed. It just comes because your work is solid and consistent, and you're a good person. You have to be a good person. You have to give to get. It's the basic fundamentals of humanness.

People are definitely attracted to the frequency that you hold.
I mean, your guys' reaction when you came into the studio is basically everybody's reaction. Because that work is so big and that space allows for it, I'm really trying to make like a "kelp forest". You could almost be swimming through there. And that's what Matt from Indoek really loved also, that my work was dimensional. It wasn't on the wall; it was in the middle of the room, and you get to walk around it. We even had signs made that said, "Please touch," because I want people to touch it. It's big enough; it's sturdy, not super delicate, and sort of masculine, so, I'm like, please touch it, it's sturdy!

When did you start incorporating fiberglass into your work?

"I'm always looking for something unnatural in a natural environment…trash, lead weights, something that really shouldn't be there. I've trained my eye to look for textures and color in a natural environment. You can see something and go, 'Wait, this doesn't really belong there.'"

I just started collecting fiberglass one day. Close to a decade, I beachcombed daily at Cameo Shores in Corona Del Mar. I would go and basically live there. I like to go to the beach for about five hours, work on my tan, haha, and bum around. That particular beach I know like the back of my hand. I had a routine. I'd catch the bus, get a donut, go to the beach for three, four, five hours, and make a day out of it. Even though I had a career, it was really more about beachcombing than having a career. You actually need to find the stuff before you have a career out of that stuff.

Totally, and that's where the passion lies too. Spending the day at the beach, fully immersed in your surroundings.
I'm totally immersed. I see little sea creatures, certain types of animals that have their little cycle of where they eat algae. If you go enough, you can see it all every day. Your eye gets trained. You see the color of a rock or a shape or texture. Sometimes, I'd go to the beach, and the first shell I would find would be like an indicator of what I would find the rest of the day, and I love that. You also have to be open to seeing everything as well.

All of those lead weights I collect that's like 15 years of beachcombing. If you didn't know any better, you'd think they were just rocks because they're grey. Again, that's one of those things when you look for shape or that lead-color grey that oxidizes in saltwater. It's really like archaeology.


You clearly have an innate love for the planet. Were you always passionate about cleaning up the beaches and repurposing discarded items?
Absolutely. When I'd go to Cameo Shores and hang all day, I would pick up every single piece of plastic. I was keeping that beach clean. I did it for a long time and hauled out all the stuff. If there's obvious trash, I'll pick it up, but the beach is inundated with microplastics. Sometimes it would ruin the high of being at the beach and enjoying the beach. What's really neat and interesting is that there's a whole gang of people who are more than happy to pick up trash. If we all help, it works.

It's wild how much gets just left at the beach, being able to repurpose any of it is helpful.
One time, I collected beach shovels for a year or two and put them on some rope that I had found at the beach. Next thing you know, I had this 10-foot sculpture of beach shovels, so they kind of spiraled. I ended up selling it to Hurley for their corporate headquarters, and they loved it. It looked really good.


Do you always use the same found materials from beachcombing?
When I pick up fiberglass or driftwood, a lot of times I already know what it will look like. When I build my fiberglass, I start from the bottom with the best piece. That's where the most beautiful piece that you're showcasing is, at the very end. Sometimes, those little pieces are the jewel of that strand. If I have a really good beachcombing session, I will make a sculpture with what I found that day. Otherwise, you end up with a pile of fiberglass. But if you make it, it tells the story of that day. Certain sculptures I make will be all things from the same tide. That's the story that goes with each piece for me. Unless you have a story, it doesn't work. People love to know a little bit about the background of certain projects and the directions you're going.

That's very true. People love a good story.
Sometimes when I'm at the beach I think, should I go left, or should I go right? Sometimes you go, "Hey, I'm going to go left," and because you went left you are gifted with something special. Beachcombing for me, sometimes, I'll see a rock that catches my eye, so I'll go up to it, and then the treasure is really lying right next to it.

"My friends always say, 'Jim, you're not finding stuff; it's finding you.' And it really is. It wants to be a part of my sculpture, it's telling me. It's like that Rick Rubin book says: You have to be open. Otherwise, you may not receive it…Everything you find will be a surprise. Whatever I find will be amazing."


As in life, sometimes we have a plan of how we want life to go or how we expect the next moment to flow and sometimes where you end up is a more beautiful, expanding path you could have never predicted for yourself.
Totally. And you also can't beat yourself up for things that you should or shouldn't do or could or couldn't do. Just do what you can. Don't worry that it might rain. People always blame stuff on Mercury in retrograde, and that's so fucking bogus that if you don't want to deal with something and blame it on Mercury in retrograde. I have such a hard time with clichés. You just have to keep that child-like curiosity, sometimes we forget that stuff.

Damn right, Jim, damn right.

Listen to Jim. Get out there no excuses. See Jim Olarte’s upcycled masterpieces hanging in our Carlsbad shop now.


Posted May 01, 2024