Mikal Vollmer is obsessed with the pop culture artifacts of his childhood – the action figures, comic books, trading cards and even the vintage cereal boxes. His art captures the aesthetics and attitudes of a bygone era, and his upcoming First Friday exhibition specifically taps into our adolescent fascination with the macabre.
Vollmer’s “Ghostly Prints” show will feature his recent series inspired by horror film iconography: You’ll see paintings depicting the Universal monsters of the 1940s, silkscreens of images from the 1922 cult film “Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” and pieces that evoke low-budget, black-and-white creature features like “Atomic Age Vampire” and “The Mole People.”
As a kid growing up in Spokane, Vollmer was drawn to stories that were rooted in horror, and he started collecting glow-in-the-dark model kits of monsters like the Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He still has potent memories of watching those old monsters on late-night TV, with 1958’s “The Fly” making a particularly lasting impression.
“I didn’t see that ending coming, and it freaked me out,” Vollmer said. “Now I’m older and it takes a lot to freak me out, but in those days, this guy did something with a machine that turned him into a half-fly, and it was all new. Then (the magazine) Famous Monsters would talk about it like it was the most profound thing in history.”
That childhood obsession with the ghoulish continues to define Vollmer’s art, which is designed to conjure memories of staying up way past your bedtime to watch a movie that would no doubt inspire nightmares later.
“I hope people will share a genuine enthusiasm for that time,” Vollmer said. “(I want) to bring this immersive experience of what it’s like to be young and to be celebrating monsters and cool things. … It really borrows from all those elements that I enjoyed from those toys and from that time.”
Vollmer now works as an artist in San Diego, where he’s lived since 1990. He’s still a collector, too: He says he always has his eyes peeled for vintage magazines and comic books (Phantom Lady is a personal favorite character), long-discontinued action figures (remember Mattel’s Major Matt Mason toys?) and the packaging that once contained them.
“I like to do things with the original box art,” he said, “and to appreciate its aesthetics as much as the toy itself.”
And as a tribute to those old monster model kits he cherished as a kid, some of Vollmer’s pieces even glow in the dark.
“All through my childhood, I’d shut off the lights and my room would glow. That was just a phenomenon of growing up,” Vollmer said. “And now I shut off the lights in my studio and it glows.”
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