Look What Landed
New York artist Rocco Alberico has built an international following for his unique multi-media constructions, with shows in New York, Berlin, Valencia, Miami, Los Angeles and other cities. A graduate of the prestigious Cooper Union, he was a top graphic designer in the magazine world (and the award-winning art director of Sports Illustrated For Kids, where I worked with him) before deciding a decade ago to focus on his own fine art.
Rocco will be unveiling two dazzling, humorous, inventive pieces at The Naturalist’s Notebook on Thursday, June 30, from 4 to 8 p.m. He’ll be there with his equally talented wife, playwright Wendy Yondorf, as part of an extravaganza we’re calling Volcano Night. The event will highlight not only Rocco and his pieces but also wonderful New York jewelry maker Anne Woodman, who was hugely popular at the Notebook last year and is back to show new work, including one-of-a-kind endangered-species designs. Oh, yes, and at 7 p.m. we are going to set off a small volcano outside the Notebook. It’ll be the only volcano in Maine this year. We hope.
This is the second year in a row that the Notebook has been fortunate enough to display some of Rocco’s pieces. We interviewed him about the two works he’s showing this summer, playfully entitled Leave it to Beaver and Take Me to Your Leader (Part One). The former is a 66-inch-tall, water-tower-shaped piece with two dioramas, two 3-D viewers, fish wearing dentures, a sinister motorized hay bale on a railroad track, the Big Dipper and oh so much more. Take Me to Your Leader (Part One) is a wall-hung, outer-space-inspired construction containing dioramas and a praxinoscope, a 19th-century animation device.
Q: When did you start making these unique, architectural multi-media constructions?
Rocco: In art school. The first ones were simple and quite small—and similar in shape to the very tiny Cape Cod house I grew up in on Long Island. As a kid I had developed a love of dioramas. I had a slot-car race track in the basement of our house, and I spent hours landscaping in miniature. I could never afford the expensive plastic trees and hand-painted figures, so I made due with twigs and lichen. I was obsessed with making everything look real.
Q: Describe your creative process for making a piece. And what inspired Leave It to Beaver?
Rocco: My creative process is not very linear. In fact, it’s rather erratic and chaotic. Inspiration for a particular piece can come from anywhere—personal experience, something I might read or see on TV, nature, travel, etc.
I may start out with an idea for a 3-D image or diorama and built a piece around that. For example, when I began working on Leave It to Beaver the only thing I knew was that I wanted to build a water tower out of popsicle sticks based on the shape of the wooden water tanks I see on rooftops of buildings in New York City. (I love their conical roofs and spherical bottoms.) I also knew that I wanted to include some kind of track that would run around the circumference of the structure with some kind of sinister vehicle riding around in circles.
I built the basic construction first but wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to put inside it. I had a 3-D image that I thought might be appropriate (the Big Dipper with a gloved hand pointing to a birch tree) and I knew the general theme had something to do with water. I also knew I wanted to include a strong reference to beavers. I’m constantly taking pictures of beaver lodges and dams, and they’re my favorite animals. I got the idea for the beaver lodge/fortress diorama while kayaking on Island Pond in Harriman State Park in New York’s Hudson Valley.
I love nature and the outdoors but somehow feel it’s out to get me. It seems to be a general theme that has emerged in my work.
Q: Where do you work?
Rocco: 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. I do a lot of my wood cutting and sanding in a small bathroom outfitted with an exhaust fan. I’m slowly taking over the rest of the apartment.
Q. Does Wendy, who is tremendously creative herself, serve as a muse or sounding board?
Rocco: She is a great sounding board for me. I’ll usually show her finished elements of a piece to get her reaction. If she doesn’t get it, I almost always take her suggestions. For example, when I finished the lethal motorized haystack that runs around Leave It to Beaver, it initially had two sharpened spikes in front. She really liked the vehicle but asked why there were two pencils sticking out of it. I tried to explain the “pencils” were spikes but she just not buying it. A few days later I changed the spikes to the rake-like configuration you see now.
Q: What’s the story behind Take Me to Your Leader (Part One)?
Rocco: As a kid in the ‘60s I was always fascinated by the prospect of life on other planets. I was an avid follower of NASA and the space program and was transfixed when Neil Armstrong took that first step on the Moon. At about this time I ordered a copy of Flying Saucers: Serious Business, by Frank Edwards and became absolutely convinced that we were being visited by beings from another world. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding UFOs and even built a UFO detector that I saw in a magazine. I fantasized about being abducted by aliens and learning their secrets.
When I was in college I read a book called From Outer Space by a UFO contactee by the name of Howard Menger. He claimed to be in contact with a group of benevolent space brothers from a distant planet and said he would often accompany them on their forays throughout the solar system. At one point he said he was taken to the Moon and presented with a hydroponically grown Moon potato. The story was an obvious hoax and I thought it might be fun to create my own UFO hoax, which I did for a book project in a photography class.
The idea/theme of alien visitation has stayed with me, although now I’m a total skeptic. I’m now interested in the mythology and the religious undertones of the things like the UFO phenomena. My UFO is shaped like a funnel and is based on the base of a municipal water tower in Long Island, where I grew up. I liked the shape because it’s very similar to the space capsules used in the Mercury space program. For the animation in the praxinoscope, I built a small model and photographed it against a background photo in different positions so as to give the impression of the funnel-shaped object flying around in a circle. This is the first piece in a series that I’ve been working on.
Q: Any idea yet what your next piece might be?
Rocco: I’m not sure yet but I do have an idea for a tall building with “arms.” That’s very anthropomorphic and I’d also like to do something around the theme of volcanism. I’ll still keep working on my other series as well.
Here’s Eli Mellen with a lot at another of the 1,000-plus natural history titles we have at the Notebook:
Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, by Scott Weidensaul
Rachel Carson opened the public’s eyes to the richness, fragility and interconnectedness of the oceans as a singular ecosystem. In much the same way Saul Weidensaul’s book Living on the Wind serves to illustrate the highly interconnected nature of the entire Earth’s tenuous and miraculous ecosystems. He does this through the lens of bird migration from one hemisphere to another. By following the course of these migrations Weidensaul shows that ecosystems and bioregions that are often viewed as independent of one another can also be seen as highly connected nodes of a much larger ecosystem. They are linked by the birds’ migratory pathways. And that is the deeper value of Weidensaul’s superb book: In looking at birds, it offers a new way of looking at the planet. –Eli Mellen
Answer to the Last Puzzler:
What is the chemical symbol for tin?
Answer: c). The Sn comes from the Latin word for tin, stannum.
Anne Woodman’s jewelry is made of gold. Which element is heavier, gold or lead?