February 07, 1983 12:00 PM

Kevin O’Callaghan was frustrated. The 25-year-old graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts had spent a year looking for a job with no success. He began to suspect art directors weren’t even looking at his portfolio. To test his theory, he placed a match in the zipper of his sample case before dropping it off. The match remained in place about half the time. “Finally,” he says, “I decided I was going to build something they couldn’t ignore.”

Top Manhattan graphic designer Milton Glaser was scheduled to get the first showing of O’Callaghan’s oversize creation a year ago, although he very nearly didn’t get the chance. Towing the portfolio into New York behind his ’59 Nash, O’Callaghan got stuck 10 feet into the Midtown Tunnel. Thinking quickly, he trimmed three inches off the artist’s paintbrush sticking out of the portfolio and let air out of the tires. Half an hour later Glaser proclaimed it the best presentation he’d ever seen.

Construction took place over a five-month period in Kevin’s family driveway in Port Jefferson, Long Island. Costing $500, the big briefcase was built from hardware store materials. Congoleum sprayed black with car-vinyl coating perfectly imitated a portfolio’s grain. O’Callaghan used 50 paint-mixing sticks for zipper teeth and sprinkler hoses for piping. A rubber construction cone became the pencil point and an upside-down flowerpot the crayon’s tip. Finally O’Callaghan cut a child’s plastic ball in half and sprayed it gold for the handle rivets. His artwork is displayed inside the giant case.

Involved in art projects as a boy, O’Callaghan was greatly influenced by his architect-designer father, who died 10 years ago. “I lived in a fantasy world with the things he made,” recalls Kevin. “He could take a refrigerator box and make it into a rainbow.”

O’Callaghan’s portfolio has yet to land him a full-time job, but he’s been free-lancing for special effects whiz Dale Mallie. Kevin’s biggest project is a 14-foot faucet that squirts whipped cream in Rodney Dangerfield’s upcoming movie, Easy Money. Now a specialist in what he calls “three-dimensional illustration,” O’Callaghan plans to construct a shoe-shaped studio. “Like the old woman,” he says, “I’ll be the old artist who lived in a shoe.”

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