Kevin O'Callaghan's Bizarro Art - Design Bureau

Kevin O'Callaghan's "Yugo Next Toaster"

Yugo Toaster student artist – Piera Digulio, photo by Tia Magallon

Kevin O'Callaghan's "The Turn Of A Century" Carousel

Carousel photo by MYKO Photography

Kevin O'Callaghan's "Portfolio," Circa 1982

Big Portfolio photo by Mary Sherman

Kevin O'Callaghan: Monumental

Book cover photo by Lauren Duque with Robert Gill

Kevin O’Callaghan’s Bizarro Art

Monday, March 21st, 2011

It has been said that one man’s trash is another’s treasure, but when it comes to designer Kevin O’Callaghan, one man’s trash is this man’s muse.

Professor O’Callaghan has earned an international reputation for reusing salvaged items in ways that stretch the limits of the imagination.
The Big Apple native has spent the past 25 years teaching a 3-D design class at his alma matter, New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he says his students “solder, rivet and weld the flotsam of mass-produced consumer culture into new, different, and, most importantly, functional objects.” O’Callaghan chats with DB.

When did you first discover the potential of transforming ordinary objects into something different?

I remember in elementary school I wanted to make a giant crayon, and I remember seeing a flower pot, and when you turn a flower pot upside down it looks like the top of a crayon; it has that nice little ridge around it and it’s flat at the top. I remember painting it a bright color and people were amazed. I never told people that it was a flower pot—it became like my secret world of seeing things and making them into different objects.

Did you start studying 3-D design when you entered the School of Visual Arts?

No, I was an advertising major for three and a half years and I was good at it, then the last semester of my fourth year I had an epiphany. It was the realization that I wanted to make things.

Your work draws quite a bit on pop culture; for instance, you designed the now iconic MTV Movie Award Golden Popcorn statuette. Why do you think pop culture inspires you so much?

When I was growing up, TV was a big part of my life, as it was for a lot of people that grew up in the 1960s. I was very into TV commercials. I think I was raised at a time when pop culture really came into its own. We were surrounded by it, and then in the 1970s it was all about the clubs that we went to and the music that we listened to and iconic characters from products. When you look around, pop culture is always there. It’s everywhere we look and almost anything that surrounds us.

In your 3-D class at SVA, you require your students’ pieces to function, to have an actual use of some kind. Why is that important to you?

The word “reuse” has a lot to do with it. To make something that looks like a toaster but isn’t really a toaster is not really reusing it. I think the students learn much more when they have to bring it to that level.

What does consumption have to do with your work? Is there a political or ethical statement behind your motivation?

I never really understood things being considered useless. I remember as a kid my mother throwing out an old couch and not understanding why that’s not functional anymore. I mean, obviously you could still sit in it, you know?

O’Callaghan’s book, Monumental: The Reimagined World of Kevin O’Callaghan, is out now.

Q+A by Christopher Moraff


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