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'Ice Man' carves his own niche

Taking ice sculpture way beyond the swan

chainsaw
O'Donoghue uses his main tool -- a chainsaw -- to shape a block of ice.

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Arts (general)
Brooklyn (New York)
New York

NEW YORK (CNN) -- He is known as the "Ice Man," a Big Apple version of Edward Scissorhands, only with a chainsaw.

Joe O'Donoghue has been sculpting blocks of ice with a passion since 1991, when he carved his first block. Since then, he's used his saw, ice pick, chisel and small torch to craft hundreds of sculptures for parties, entertainment and business circles and New York's vibrant art community.

"It's all natural to me," said O'Donoghue, an art school dropout who went on to work with luminaries such as artist Jeff Koons and photographers Peter Beard, David LaChapelle and Irving Penn.

"I don't want to do anything but ice, or something to do with ice, for the rest of my life. I have this fabulous niche in the world right now," he said.

His pieces aren't limited to the stereotypical ice swan -- although he says his company makes "a cool swan" from time to time.

Subjects O'Donoghue has crafted in the sometimes weird school of ice art include a dead elephant, a skyscraper topped with a giraffe head, a naked Statue of Liberty, sex toys and requests "so bizarre I can't even explain them," he said.

O'Donoghue grew up on Long Island, attending school, working in family restaurants and dreaming of becoming an artist. After leaving school, he dabbled in construction and cooking.

But his life changed with his first ice sculpture. The commissions poured in and he founded "Ice Fantasies" in 1992, working from a Brooklyn studio to carve ice art for private parties, public displays and movies.

O'Donoghue has rubbed elbows with some of the biggest names in art, sports, business and entertainment. He says he's worked on projects associated with such people as Martha Stewart, Serena Williams, Nike, Rosie O'Donnell and David Letterman.

If he's not carving a subject from a client's request, O'Donoghue says inspiration comes from design, art, architecture and "the natural order of ice."

"Art's all over the place, all the time," he said. "I got a word I live by, it's chaos ... Chaos does bring a lot of invention, and that's where brilliance comes from."

Once the ice is ready, O'Donoghue typically takes 20 to 60 minutes to finish a piece before putting it in a refrigerated truck and shipping it to its destination.

Except for a few frozen fountains, he says his work generally melts after a few days, if that -- a "fleeting and non-intrusive" form of art that O'Donoghue says he prefers.

"We don't want any tool marks or anything to lead anybody to figure out how we made it," he said. "We want them to think that it stopped in mid-air, and there it is."

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