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(Fogra 29_WF)Job:08-28858 Title:RP-Writing & Research for Graphic Designers
#175 Dtp:225 Page:101
092-109_28858.indd 101 8/30/12 4:46 PM
Writing & research for graphic designers
Excerpts from
Monumental: The Reimagined World of Kevin O’Callaghan
Deborah hussey
Managing editor, School of Visual Arts, New York
When Alexander Calder’s miniature circus was exhibited at the
Whitney Museum in the early 1970s, the public was captivated. For
fourteen-year-old Kevin O’Callaghan, the effects of seeing it were seis-
mic. The circus characters were made from found objects and offered
an amusing do-it-yourself quality, which Calder orchestrated through
whimsical performances using his three-dimensional constructions.
These creations were, in fact, intricately detailed and crafted with
precision. Though small in size, Calder’s “Circus” and its ringmaster
served as principal influences for O’Callaghan’s artistic evolution.
Working small or large scale, O’Callaghan always thinks big,
weaving together visual narratives that offer new perspectives
through the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the spectacular.
O’Callaghan’s mother, Mary “Buddi” Steller, embraced the
elaborate and the humorous, and had a flair for the theatrical
traits that were endowed upon her son. She met Kevin’s
father at the 1939 World’s Fair, where Timothy O’Callaghan,
a well-known architect, had designed several pavilions. In one
of them, Steller, a showgirl for Billy Rose, was hired to strike
and maintain a pose within a big golden frame. (Sixty-five
years after the ’39 World’s Fair, O’Callaghan would create a
gold-leaf frame to surround a mammoth television monitor
that projects eclectic entertainment to its audience in the
heart of Times Square.)
The attraction to the monumental coupled with an innate
artistic talent are his father’s legacy. In his architectural
practice, which included contributions to the design of
the Mets’ Shea Stadium, the senior O’Callaghan strove to
emphasize a fine-art aesthetic. Timothy O’Callaghan also
created stage sets for producer Mike Todd, whose adaptation
of Around the World in 80 Days is an apt metaphor for Kevin’s
tenacity and success in uncharted territory.
Completing his studies at the School of Visual Arts (SVA)
in New York, O’Callaghan began searching for a career in
advertising, his collegiate major and intended profession.
Feeling disheartened by the perfunctory agency review process,
in 1982 O’Callaghan created a colossal 3-D portfolio case that
he drove around New York City, which gained him a two-page
spread in People magazine and several job offers.
O’Callaghan’s blossoming talent was cultivated at Dale
Mallie’s design studio, which specialized in making props for
TV commercials. Up against an impossible deadline, Mallie,
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section 3
the editorial role how to edit and be edited
whose work O’Callaghan had always admired, was looking
for someone who could work all night to finish a job. Their
conversation ended with a suggestion that O’Callaghan bring
a toothbrush, since they would be working until dawn. In
O’Callaghan’s orbit, synchronicity is commonplace. He had
just finished making a ten-foot toothbrush for a toothpaste ad
and brought it along. He stayed well past sunrise, finishing
the job, and then he worked at the studio for two months
creating special effects for commercials and expanding his
artistic skills. Achieving these effects in a pre-digital environ-
ment meant constructing them. O’Callaghan became known
as the guy who could make huge objects and deliver them
overnight. His ability to produce at warp speed is unparalleled.
During a five-week period he created a carousel for MTV,
worked on the ninetieth anniversary exhibition for Grand
Central Terminal, and designed the AMC “TVs for Movie
People” extravaganza.
In 1999, O’Callaghan founded the undergraduate 3-D design
program at the School of Visual Arts, which he currently
chairs. Addressing his educational initiatives, SVA president
David Rhodes reflects, “There is nothing like it anywhere in
the world, as far as I can see. There’s a certain kind of playful-
ness about a lot of Kevin’s students’ work that just isn’t there
anywhere else, as well as his ability to get students to work
extraordinary hours in compressed amounts of time to bring
together an exhibition. Some of those things go on elsewhere,
but nothing like what he does.”
O’Callaghan conducts his classes in a large, open workspace
filled with “let yourself go” energy and believes this is the best
environment to foster creativity. While students work on proj-
ects individually, each is influenced by other students’ craft.
They see how well someone is doing something and then pick
up the pace in their own projects. Typically, O’Callaghan sees
the real learning experience in the final days before an opening:
If students don’t work together, rushing as a team to complete
the final exhibition tasks, the show may be a failure, and they
know it. His students leave his course understanding how to
get a job done.
As an educator, O’Callaghan possesses a rare combination
of indomitable fortitude and immeasurable tenderness. He is
a demanding teacher who gives his students all that he can,
and expects them to work at least as hard as he does in helping
them to achieve their visions. The wisdom of everything in
Monumental cover design by Mike Joyce.
Kevin O'Callaghan's first professional portfolio from Monumental.
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