Joe O’Donoghue—ice artist to the stars—drinks his coffee hot. When I arrive at the door of Ice Fantasies, his ice-sculpture carving studio in DUMBO, to meet “Joey Ice” on a recent sweltering morning, I find him outside, smoking a cigarette and sipping bodega coffee. Above him is one of his kinetic ice sculptures: metal letters spelling ICE and an arrow pointing to the door. The letters are coated in water that alternately melts and refreezes, at the flip of a switch, and on this morning they are already dripping.
The basement ice studio does not provide much of a chilly relief. Josh Kalin, who does the bulk of the carving (Joey Ice is the “artist, designer, and producer”), wears a T-shirt beneath his rubber overalls, and the cement floor is slick with puddles. As Josh explains, ice is easier to work with if it has been tempered in warm air for an hour or so. “It makes it less brittle. Summer is a nice time of year to work, but you have to move fast.”
Josh is about to get started carving a liquor-bottle holder for a party at the Pierre Hotel. Before he breaks out the chain saw, though, he unhatches the door to the fifteen-degree walk-in freezer, which this morning houses a set of frozen speakers, among other ice creations. As I stomp through a drift of ice shavings, I and feel the hairs on my arms bristle.
Though Joey Ice loves collaborations (his favorite project, in 1997, was transforming Harlem’s Cotton Club into an ice cave for Versace and Absolut Vodka), these days, business is less about carving shapes than creating functional ice “décor,” like ice trays, and freezing objects into ice, like the speakers. “I haven’t had a bride ask me for a swan in a long time,” he says. He did, however, offer me a peek at an icy rendition of the Brooklyn Bridge.
It’s time to make the bottle holder. Josh wrangles a block of ice onto a plywood platform, scores the surface with a knife, then revs up the chain saw and hacks into the cube. Ice chips fly into the air.
Once the shape is cut, he flips the ice over and bores into the surface with a drill to make a row of liquor-bottle-sized holes. Cylinders of crushed ice rise out of the holes and crumble to the floor.
As we pass through the studio, Joey points out the slabs of plywood, used as a base for all the carvings, scored with happenstance chain-saw marks, water stains, and dirt: tactile footprints of his craft. He’s begun selling the wooden by-product as art in its own right.
Outside, Joey Ice douses his kinetic sign with a fresh layer of water from a Pepsi bottle. Ice is an unpredictable medium, he explains: you can design and plan and produce all you want, but it keeps changing until it disappears altogether. (He’s even designed a special drainage system for his sculptures to prevent floods.) “There’s an adrenaline to figuring stuff out,” he says as the frosty air rises from the letters. “There’s a yabba-dabba-do to getting it on with ice, but it ain’t over till it’s taken down.”
Many thanks to Joey Ice for the tour of Ice Fantasies.