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Artistic Environmental Retail: An Interview With Bianca D’Amico

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Bianca D’Amico makes much more than terrariums: she makes tiny worlds. Posed on a bed of moss, there may be a small dinner party whose guests are readying to take their seats. In another terrarium, a nude couple may be engaging in foreplay on a warm, sunbathing rock. A dry twig may be the racetrack for a little woman on a motorcycle while a rock in another terrarium is a canvas for a mini-artist to make a mural on. Bianca puts everything in her terrariums, from zombies to peeping toms to table tennis players, protestors, and more. These glassy natural worlds are an expression of the influences and interests of this artist.

It goes without saying how creative Bianca’s work under the guise of Chaparral Studio is. She has made a name for herself with her custom terrariums but in addition, she makes crystal embellished jewelry, creates and builds objects for events, styles weddings and even turns small, cracked geodes into what she calls “Man Caves” or “Lady Caves” by placing a small nude person inside. Her head is spinning with ideas: Bianca is never without something to do.

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“There’s definitely a bohemian, lady of the land, tiny utopia theme in my work,” Bianca explains, taking a seat outside of her Glassel Park studio. “But I don’t just make one thing. I have many tricks up my sleeve!”

Her practice comes from a deep background in art. Starting Chaparral Studio is in part a reaction to the art world and culture of Los Angeles. “I was making terrariums on the side,” she explains. “When I actually begun selling the terrariums I was wondering if I should make them in my art studio, but it felt strange for me to build the terrariums in the studio because that was where I made my “art”. As if my art was this very separate world and they couldn’t cross paths. When I finally did take the plunge and dedicated some of my studio space to my work with terrariums and plantings, especially when I began to add the miniature scenes, it made sense to be doing this all in the same space. The studio was activated in a different way and that was exciting. My “art practice” took a back seat or perhaps it just evolved into something else. I’m still unsure about this.”

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Bianca has always had a relationship to art and, as you can tell, it helped create the foundation for Chaparral Studio. This is also partly a result of the influence of her parents, two creatives who instilled a work-hard spirit into her. “I was born and raised here in Los Angeles,” she says. “My mother was born in Spain and grew up in Venezuela. She came to Los Angeles when she was super young and started working as a graphic designer and in advertising and worked her way up.”

“My dad was born in New York and he grew up in the Valley. He’s a photographer and shoots actors and the like: I grew up in that world of entertainment. He has a really amazing work ethic and is very much a professional in all that he does.”

“My parents are both creative professionals and they have always supported my creative pursuits but made sure I knew I had to work hard in order to be sustainable as an Artist. So, I was constantly going to art classes—and they were really tough with me about it! My mom will still regularly call and check in on things that I’m working on, to see where I am on certain projects. But its something I am really grateful for. I appreciate that they care and really want to see me succeed at something that I love.”

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Bianca’s attended Otis to study fine art. “I wanted to be an artist in the conventional sense,” she explains. “I later attended grad school at CalArts making performative pieces and installations that had a lot to do with pornography, feminism and humor. One of my favorite pieces I did in grad school was a video installation called Money Shot. It is this really, really slowed down video of edible paint being poured all over my face until I was completely covered. I was really into sexy art that made you laugh! It is a very playful piece and an example of how I have always been willing to poke fun at the role of myself as an artist.”

“It was always in the back of my mind though that a career in art with a capital “A” is like winning the lottery. Add to that the fact that I am a woman that makes ephemeral work, and I knew finding success in that field, as much as I wanted it, would be beyond difficult.

“I still wanted to be in my studio, though!” she adds. “And that’s when things with the terrariums and other projects really started. I had to re-invent myself and apply some of the same principles of art-making to this new role as a maker. But those ideas of feminism are still present in many of the miniature scenes and also in my determination to take initiative…”

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Once Bianca crossed that line of allowing her interest in plants and environments—a practice she associated with being a leisure activity—to enter her art practice, into her studio—a place where she worked—something changed. A button had been pushed and there was an acknowledgment that it was possible to allow yourself to function in both spaces, or in a new space altogether. “For example, take the Disco Ball Planter. When I first showed that, it was at a gallery. I had been very strict with myself about defining what was sculpture and what was a product. But then I had that moment where I became more flexible with my perspectives of where the objects I make could and can exist. I thought, ‘Shit, that disco ball planter would make such a good product!!’ The sheer functionality of that as a sculpture is also what I think made me give in.”

“I have also become kind of obsessed with the idea of identifying my audience. Before, when I made art, my pieces were shown in the context of a more specific community. If that show got enough press, new people saw the work. But, generally speaking, the audience was limited. I thought, ‘Fuck it: I want to broaden my audience even if its not just cool, articulate art folk’. I began to blog and utilize all the social media outlets that followed in order to branch out and as a result, I have made so many new amazing friends that are also walking that weird line between artist and maker. I learn a lot from seeing the way they confront that divide.”

“I still make work that may never be appropriate for my shop. That work is generally couched in more “risqué” subjects. However, the more I make the more I realize that I’m really interested in products that border on sculpture,” Bianca says.

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She is also very much processing Los Angeles in her work too. Wanting to make so many different types of things and using so much from this specific landscape is her response to being based—and from—Southern California. “I’m so influenced by the surroundings here,” she says, notably enthused by the topic. “You can get almost every type of food in Los Angeles and I think that’s very representative of Los Angeles as a place. If you want awesome greasy Japanese food go to Little Tokyo or if you are in the mood for potatoes I know an excellent Peruvian spot in the Valley. Whatever it is that you want is very likely here — and that variety, not just of food but also of culture has kept me here. The desire to provide a range of products or services is very influenced by my enthusiasm to engage with all the diversity that surrounds me and also participate in providing that kind of mixture of possibilities. I want my studio to be reflective of that eclectic bohemian culture of Los Angeles. I don’t want to be stuck or committed to just one thing or have my work become merely a specialty. Like LA, I want to share a collection.”

She pauses to make a note: “Except crystals- they never go out of style. I might always sell crystals!”

“When building projects, I literally take from the land, too. Whether foraging while I hike or when I’m out in the desert or at the beach or in the city itself, I’m always looking. The new jewelry line I have yet to release is going to be designed around specific things that I find. Things I have picked up.”

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One of the biggest surprises for Bianca is that Chaparral Studio really engaged the business side of herself. “In the process of doing this I’ve become more of a business person. I’ve always considered myself an artist but I’m interested in surviving and doing so more on my own terms.”

She takes a beat, correcting herself: “Actually I still don’t think of myself as a business woman: I am a survivor. ‘Business person’ sounds so weird.”

“Everyday I ask myself how can I make something that keeps me in the studio and has me using my hands and allows me to be surrounded by things I like and makes people happy and allows me to survive? I think LA ‘s medley of creative enthusiasts supports my life style. I live in Silver Lake and you can walk to the Junction to see ladies that are wearing shoes by Echo Park’s Beatrice Valenzuela and guys that are hanging out and supporting the local bike shop Golden Saddle Cyclery. You can see with your own eyes people are wearing and using the things that are local and that is special about LA. Although it also creates a certain kind of pressure to see that there is a lot of competition out there. In some ways I thrive on that push to make a new, awesome thing. And I have an incredible group of friends who function as the best support group and they ignite in me that desire to push myself further.”

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“What I loved about and learned from making art and showing in that world was the poetics, the theory, the language…but making an object to sell in a retail environment? That’s much more direct. I sometimes think I am being frowned upon for not sticking to art and making work that is supposed to change one’s ideas about life or whatever, but I find my new practice to be more honest. There is this weird thing in the art world where the commerce is somewhat disguised. What is refreshing for me personally is that things that I am making now are products. For some reason that clarity is nice.”

This play between the worlds of art, retail, and nature has put Bianca and Chaparral Studio in a very unique position, one that could best be described as artistic environmental retail. She’s a bit of everything and that has demanded a bit of consideration about how she presents herself to the world. “This is silly but it comes up a lot when I have to write a profile for something like Instagram,” she says. “It’s always up for debate! But I put ‘Artist • Green Thumb • California Native.’ I still think of myself as an artist that is operating in a retail environment. I don’t want to just make things that are pretty or that are only aesthetically pleasing. I want there to be references to the art that has influenced me, a consideration of materials, presentation and the natural world, and a sense of humor that pinches your imagination. Art is about exploring things in life and introducing them back to the world in a new way. I’m not conservative in my practice either. I don’t want to have to maintain a perfect image of a classic business person. I want that freedom to be whatever the fuck I want to be and to be able to change while offering a generous and welcoming world of handmade things or ideas.”

With a confidence in the Chaparral Studio brand, there’s a lot that Bianca wants to accomplish. “I used to want to buy a house but now I want to buy a building where I’d have a studio and host other creatives. I think it’s really important to always be a part of a community. Mostly everyone here—in the building my studio is in now—is an artist. We’re also always having shows so I’m constantly meeting people here, particularly people who do things that are different from what I do. I like being immersed in that.“

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“This future studio will also be sure to have the most gorgeous garden to dine in. Pet friendly too. Duh.”

Chaparral Studio is quickly expanding. Bianca has also included her mother in the business. “One of the things we offer through the studio is landscape design. I’m largely interested in the styling component—but my mom has a real sense of architecture, design and actually knows way more about plants than I do.”

“My mom and I often collaborate on many aspects, which is really cool,” she says. “We work really closely and I always give her credit for being really supportive my whole life! She is honestly one of the coolest people I have ever known.”

“One of our collaborations that is close to my heart is our California Native Seed Bombs. They are hand made by my family with native wildflower seeds that attract and feed wildlife such as butterflies and hummingbirds. Native plants are a really important part of our eco system. These seeds are a healthy and aesthetically pleasing addition to any landscape. A percentage of our proceeds for the seed bombs is donated to the Theodore Payne Foundation. They are an amazing nursery, garden and informational center dedicated to promoting and restoring California landscapes and habitats.“

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“I want to grow Chaparral Studio to the point where I can collaborate with more people, have a team, travel, be challenged and surprised,” she says. “Even though I want to make everything by hand, that isn’t always as smart or practical as coming up with objects that I can get locally manufactured in an eco-friendly way.”

“I think that’s where I’m headed,” she concludes. “But there will always be a line of things that I make that are one-of-a-kind, because I really get off on that.”

For more on Bianca, be sure to check out her website, peruse the goods in her store, check out her blog, and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Curious about her pup? Her name is Hannah and you can see her on Instagram via #HannahDog.

Photos of Bianca are by Laure Joliet. For more on Laure, be sure to check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, check out her Pinterest, and shop her prints. Want to see more of Laure’s work? Check out this, this, this, and this story.

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