The works of New York contemporary artist Rocco Alberico rise like small buildings on stilts. They are meticulous architectural constructions, some of which stand more than five feet tall. They house dioramas, make use of 3-D images and sometimes feature mechanical objects and even video screens. The works can be humorous, surreal and politically edgy.
Rocco has come to Mount Desert Island for nearly 30 years to vacation, and his love of the area and Acadia National Park inspired his newest piece, now on display at our shop and exploratorium. It is called "Rockefeller's Teeth," a reference to the affectionate nickname for the rows of granite blocks lining the park's John D. Rockefeller-built carriage roads.
The new work includes a 3-D viewer, a video drawer, a remote-controlled mechanical mosquito and a variety of images from Acadia. To me, the work speaks to the disconnect between the human-built world and nature. You can make your own judgments. The piece—and Rocco—arrived in Seal Harbor this week. We're holding an open reception at the Notebook tonight (Friday, June 25) from 5 to 8 p.m. Please stop in if you're in the area and haven't seen the expanded shop yet this year.
I came to know Rocco when he was the acclaimed art director of Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine. In recent years he has focused on his own art, which has been displayed in Berlin, Valencia, Miami and Los Angeles as well as New York, where he is represented by the prestigious Westwood Gallery in Soho. Rocco's pieces earned him honors at last year's Clash of the Artists competition put on by the New York arts organization Art for Progress and have attracted international collectors.
I did a short Q-and-A with Rocco about his art and how he fell in love with Acadia:
How and when did you start making these unique artworks?
I started making them when I was in art school [at Cooper Union in New York]. The first ones were very simple and quite small. They were very similar in shape to the house I grew up in. There were no dioramas or 3-D viewers. When I graduated and started working in graphic design my art work was put on a back burner. When I left Time Inc. about ten years ago, that's when I started to get serious. My pieces have gotten bigger and more complicated and I've recently started to incorporate video.
Did something or somebody spark the creative idea?
I grew up out on Long Island in a very tiny Cape Cod style house. All the homes in my neighborhood were virtually the same and were very close together. They were basically big boxes with roofs. When I looked out my bedroom window all I saw was clapboard siding. I think this made a huge impression on me.
As a kid I had a slot-car race track set up in the basement of my parents' house. My dad helped me build a plywood table for it and I spent hours landscaping in miniature. I was obsessed with making everything look real but could never afford the really convincing and expensive plastic trees and hand-painted figures. I had to make due with twigs from the back yard and lichen from the local hobby shop. I'm sure that's where my love of dioramas comes from.
I started experimenting with 3-D photos when I was in high school. I only had one camera so I would take one shot and then move over one step to the right and take another shot. This was very limiting because I could only shoot stationary objects. When I was able to afford it, I built a 3-D rig using two cameras mounted side by side that were synced so they would fire simultaneously.
Why do you like making these works?
I enjoy certain aspects of the process more than others. I love being outdoors and taking pictures and I'm very happy when things are going well. However, some tasks can be really tedious like cutting sandpaper up into tiny rectangles to simulate shingles and gluing 500 of them to the roof of a structure one by one. Time seems to stand still.
As my pieces have gotten more complicated I seem to run into more and more technical problems especially now that I'm also dealing with video. There's always a challenge but I guess that's one of the things that keeps me going.
Where is your studio? In your apartment?
I work in a small room in the back of our apartment in Manhattan. It's crammed with art supplies, tools, my computer and tons of stuff I've collected over the years including sand from various locations, doll parts and cheap Chinese toys. I do a lot of my wood cutting and sanding in a small bathroom outfitted with an exhaust fan (which sucks out most of the sawdust) next to my "studio" and I'm slowly taking over the rest of our apartment. I also have a huge table saw I keep in my mom's basement and if I have any heavy-duty wood cutting to do, I'll do it out there.
What about Acadia do you find creatively inspiring?
Everything. It's just a beautiful place and for me there's something restorative about being there. I love the geology, the symmetry of the Bubbles and I can stare at the ocean all day.
Did you intend the new piece make any sort of statement? All of the imagery in the piece comes from or was inspired by Acadia, however, I think it says more about me than the park. I embrace nature and the outdoors but it also arouses a great paranoia in me.
How and when did you fall in love with Acadia?
first came to Acadia in the early 1980s. I was on a road trip with my girl friend at the time. She had been there before and wanted to go back. Our intention was to spend a couple of days in the park and then continue up the coast. We ended up staying in Acadia for the rest of the trip. I was hooked. I just thought it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen and vowed to come back.
What things do you most like to do when you come up here?
I love to hike, kayak, take pictures ... and eat [Jordan Pond House] popovers.