Spotlight: Barbara De Pirro, Mixed Media Artist
Barbara De Pirro translates organic forms and patterns found in nature into sculptural works of art, often using reclaimed plastics. Because she is using the materials for a new purpose, she invents and reinvents unique methods for transforming discarded items into stunning 3-dimensional pieces.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do. How did you get into it?
Art is how I view the world, how I interact with my surroundings, how I translate my ideas and emotions. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t create – I’ve always been an artist.
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In recent years I’ve been creating biomorphic sculptures and installations using a range of materials, mostly reclaimed plastics: bottles, caps, shipping materials, bags, etc. I love the challenge of transforming these synthetic materials into organic forms. Initially this all began as an environmental statement but it became even more. I discovered that in the process of working with each new element, each took on a life of its own so new forms emerged.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
I’m inspired by organic forms and patterns found in nature: flowers, plant structures, seed pods, lichen, nests, ice formations, chrysalis forms – it’s endless…. Although I don’t recreate each of these forms literally – I study them then reinterpret them abstractly.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
I’ve always dreamed of opening the doors to my home/studio and stepping out into nature. But for much of my life I’ve lived in cities, escaping into nature to regenerate. In recent years I reversed that – I now live surrounded by nature then venture into the cities for work or special events.
Many times as I’m creating a new piece I’ll take it outside, view it in a natural setting and photograph it for further study. Matter of fact, this is how my temporary outdoor installations originally came about. I became fascinated with the juxtaposition of my organic sculptures created out of synthetic materials temporarily installed in nature.
What materials and techniques do you use to create your art?
Although I work with reclaimed plastics quite a bit, I also love working with mixed media, paper & acrylic. I have a whole other body of work that translates these materials into sculptural forms.
I was fortunate to have been surrounded by a range of fiber arts from an early age. Although I no longer work with these actual materials, I often pull from these techniques when creating my art: sewing, crocheting, weaving, threading, stitching, layering, gathering, etc. Although I may use some traditional techniques, I create with unexpected (non-traditional) materials. I also worked in retail display during my late teens and 20’s. This expanded my ability to work 3 dimensionally, using different building and manipulation methods to achieve the desired effect. Then in later years, when I worked in Visual Merchandising & Store Planning, my spatial ability, design and fabrication skills expanded. All of these experiences are invaluable tools in my art making box.
Which comes first? The idea or the materials?
Although nature informs all of my art, many times it’s the material itself that inspires new forms. My designs are created with hundreds of individual elements. Once I gather this abundance of materials, I begin experimenting, exploring different forms and shapes. Each new element requires a different method of manipulation and attachment. I create many samples or studies, then hang them up in my home/studio so that I think more about them. This stepping back and observation process helps me look at each piece more objectively.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
My whole house is my studio – my walls & ceilings are always filled with samples, studies and in-process projects. Boxes, bags and bins full of supplies surround me while I work because seeing all of my materials is important to my creative process.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Each project requires literally hundreds of individual elements, so I keep these organized in large storage bins and bags. Organizing the like items helps me visualize my ideas. Once I accumulate enough materials to work with, I pull out my stash and begin.
Do you focus on one piece from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I always have multiple projects going on. Many times I have to live with my sculptural samples/studies for awhile before they become an actual project. I’m also an Art Educator for Golden Artist Colors, so there are always samples around related to my teaching world. (Matter of fact it’s from this connection that a new body of work using mixed media, paper and acrylic have been inspired.) For me, I found that working in a range of projects and media expands my approach to creating, so one informs the other!
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I’ve always designed spatially, envisioning large installations, so environments are almost always part of my creative process. Even if I’m creating a 2D Mixed Media piece, I automatically think “How could I create an installation with this idea?” I have the ability to create art out of most anything. For example, if I’m working outside, rocks, sticks and vines ultimately turn into an art project. So it’s not surprising that I would translate reclaimed materials into sculpture. Everything becomes art, and I love the design challenge!
What’s next for you?
Recently I’ve been working on smaller sculptures, still related to my larger work, but the reduced scale allows for more detailed work. These new pieces have enabled me to exhibit in a broader realm of venues, they can easily be shipped and installed onsite by others and are available for sale. In contrast, my large temporary sculptural installations require me to be onsite to install and uninstall, plus they have larger space requirements. These projects are made possible by acquiring special funding from grants, commissions or private sources. This year I’ve begun working on a permanent Public Art Commission. For this project I’ll be acting as Artist, Designer and Project Manager. I’m excited about the possibilities!
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