EDITOR’S NOTE: Maxim Allan Williams, past curator of the TEDxGreenville Salon Squad and a speaker at our first TEDxGreenville event, nominated JJ Ohlinger. He said of the Nebraska-born and Athens (GA)-educated artist, “JJ is an amazing and talented artist who has worked for Apple and the Grateful Dead. He teaches classes locally, has an open studio and is my tattoo artist. He says he loves being a tattoo artist almost more, if not more so, than being a painter. He became a tattoo artist last summer and he is already being sought out by people across the country and internationally. His perspective on art and life may just open a few minds.”
I first met JJ Ohlinger in 2009 at Greenville’s first Pecha Kucha presentation at the Warehouse Theatre, where he presented on a painting series he’d just completed. I remember being intrigued by his point of view, his immense talent and his grounded, humble energy.
JJ’s background as an artist is quite unbelievable. Having worked with companies like Apple and with the Grateful Dead, he’s had quite a legendary career. Beneath the legend is a very honest, direct, down-to-earth “every man” with a heart of gold to those he calls friends and family. He’s kept this way, no doubt, by his equally amazing and talented wife, Darlene Fuhst. The two of them used to lead a painting and cocktails class, which became one of my favorite things to do in town!
I had the pleasure of calling the two of them my closest friends during my near six years in Greenville. During that time, I developed an appreciation for JJ’s authentic and honest view of the world and how that’s reflected in his art. He has a way of not only capturing the details that are there, but also emphasizing what truly matters. He has the ability to sometimes see that about an object or a person before you do, and, once he paints it, you end up saying, “Wow! Well, of course!”
Getting a tattoo is a big decision, and requires careful consideration, reflection and trust in the artist. JJ approaches each tattoo with a level of care, reverence and empathy with his clients until its clear what the way forward is for that person. Sometimes, what they wanted when they came in is either not what they end up with or he has to turn down their money, if he feels he cannot comply with something that violates ethics he’s set for himself. I’ve watched him work and navigate very delicate conversations that people have started when they’re in his chair, and it feels like talking to an old friend after a few short minutes… no matter the age, gender, religion, orientation or race.
My time in JJ’s tattoo chair was spent talking about life and what mattered to me most. We talked about not only what I wanted as a tattoo, but what the tattoos would represent. During that time, I shared how I was grieving the sudden loss of my grandparents and my mother within a year of each other, my challenges with my job at the time and my exploration of the idea of a career change. JJ was among the first people to know that I would accept an offer to work for Apple at
their headquarters in California. Getting to know who you are and why you want a tattoo is not just a general conversation for JJ, it also serves as a way for him to better understand who you are and what he can do to help you express that.
Our conversations culminated in two large tattoos on my arm that represent a story of my identity. They are unique to who I am and what I’ve been through, and also represent his artistic interpretation of my identity through my stories. He’s now not only a well sought-after painter, but a sought-after tattoo artist.
His work and his perspective leave an impact on all who meet him. The last time I was with him for a touch up, he was getting requests for tattoos from people all across the United States and Europe!
JJ will undoubtedly leave the TEDxGreenville audience challenged by his honest and unique perspective on art and individuality…and what truly matters.