Perspective is everything. We’re talking more than merging lines or literal vantage point here.
“I have a wife thanks to Katrina and a son thanks to the BP oil spill, so I have to consider that,” Mobile artist Kevin D’Amico said. “I feel very embedded in this area.”
Originally, the Philadelphia native earned a BFA from Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art then headed for the toughest market imaginable. He was like too many others.
“I interned in New York City and it didn’t go well. New York basically ate me alive. I wasn’t ready for it and don’t think I ever will be,” D’Amico said. “I was working in a theater in Chelsea just to get by.”
A happenstance friendship with Baldwin County author Suzanne Hudson bloomed. Hudson and her husband Joe Formichella are at the heart of the Waterhole Branch Arts Commune near Fairhope and took D’Amico under their wing.
“Twice I decided to take a vacation and went on an author’s tour with Suzanne and Joe, traveling throughout the South, going to various bookstores, to various book readings, and we toyed with the idea of me moving to New Orleans,” D’Amico said.
Hudson helped outline a Crescent City future for the young man. He retreated to Philadelphia, lived in a basement apartment for a year and squirreled away funds for relocation southward
“The day I was going to buy my plane ticket for New Orleans, Katrina hit,” D’Amico said. “I remember just staring up at the screen and all those terrible images and just wondering what I was going to do.”
Hudson had a solution. She offered to let the young artist move in with her at Waterhole Branch.
“I think she understood I just needed to get out and around other creative people,” D’Amico said.
More opportunity arose when the Grand Hotel reopened after repairing Katrina damage. D’Amico noted a Catch-22 when he sought food and beverage work in New York City, how experience was required to be hired but you had to be hired to gain experience.
“I thought, if I can tend bar and wait tables, I can get a job anywhere in the world, and because the Grand Hotel was starting over, they were hiring personalities not experience,” D’Amico said. “That’s where I ended up meeting my wife, Taylor.”
In the spring of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster impacted tourism at the Grand Hotel, so the artist resurrected an old dream and aimed for the Crescent City. His wife had film industry experience and wanted to take advantage of the numerous films made in New Orleans.
The time in New Orleans drew the pair closer until news of a son’s imminent arrival prompted another relocation. The presence of family in Baldwin County sounded irresistible.
Now in Mobile, D’Amico feeds his creative impulses and family through an integral component of Mobile culture: constructing Mardi Gras floats. It led indirectly to his new idea, Zero Degree.
“It’s multidisciplinary, reaching into photography and performance and graphic design. I call it fine arts because it’s more convenient but it’s more of a ‘creative’ collective,” D’Amico said.
A stark installation in the Mobile Arts Council during September — Perfection in LemonTM — was a preview of Zero Degree’s driving ethos. Inspired by modern marketing, global corporations and Russian art revolutionary Kazimir Malevich, there are deeper questions stirred by similarities D’Amico saw between Apple and IKEA products.
“Minimalism — there was heavy-duty art theory behind it but that doesn’t concern Apple and IKEA,” D’Amico said. “What concerns them is the universal appeal of the aesthetic, because a cube is a cube is a cube. It appeals to everyone globally.
“If we’re flooding markets around the world with this aesthetic sensibility, what happens to indigenous aesthetics? Once you eliminate that, what happens to ideas of cultural memory and so forth?” D’Amico asked.
The artist eschewed a didactic approach for fear it would just be “bad art.” Instead, cultural homogenization would be “darkly glamorized,” including corporate methods of naming colors for flavors.
“It’s become all pervasive. You go to the electronics section of Wal-Mart right now and everything looks like it was designed by Apple,” D’Amico said.
Other projects are in store. Not all are under the Zero Degree aegis.
“The next project we’re doing is a documentary about one of my co-workers, Natalie Johnson, who creates these enormous puppets and parades them around during Artwalk,” D’Amico said. “She was telling me about what she does, that it’s street theater and about helping the community. It’s coming from such a pure place.”
D’Amico finds inspiration in her approach. He hopes to carry through in his own work and enlist others in the process.
“It’s very important to me to reach out to the community. I’m always reaching out for participants,” D’Amico said.