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“I grew up in an artistic family, so I was taught to look at things differently,” he says. He claims he failed an art class in the second grade for coloring outside the lines, an early form of critical resistance that shocked him and his artist parents. After all, they’d taught him that art has very little to do with following the rules. Now, more than thirty years later, Antonio Ballatore is still coloring outside the lines and receiving the same closed-minded response from critics who thumb their noses at outside-of-the-box (or lines, as it were) thinking.
After winning the fourth season of HGTV’s Design Star, a reality show competition in the same vein as Project Runway or Top Chef, Antonio received a rather violent backlash from viewers and critics who threw around accusations ranging from, “Antonio is a convict!” to the less articulate, “This guy is an ass clown!” It’s unclear, to me at least, how one determines ass-clownery, but the convict allegations are likely the result of Ballatore’s rock-and-roll appearance. He’s tattooed from neck to toe, with an indefinite scruff of facial hair, and he rocks casual, often disheveled, street clothes. Standing next to Dan Vickery, Design Star’s dapper, finely dressed runner up, Antonio had a certain edge that frankly seemed to scare the hell out of people. It’s that same edge, however, that landed him the winning title.
On Design Star, Antonio steered clear of the banal, soothing color palettes and “safe” decor techniques his opponents turned to, which caused an immediate divide between the traditionalists and the artsy renegades. He opted instead for over-the-top statement pieces and quirky but thoughtful schemes. In nearly every episode, viewers expected Antonio to do the unexpected, and he lived up to the challenge. For example, in one episode he mounted hot pink rhinoceros heads to the walls, something that on the surface sounds ridiculous, yet in effect is hipster-chic. Antonio’s sense of space and balance seems to contradict your standard feng shui edicts, but somehow, the work he produces is nothing short of dazzling.
His own living space, a brick-walled loft in downtown Los Angeles, is a perfect collection of unexpected treasures, from the ten-foot white gorilla statue that hangs above his couch, to the Spanish throne at the head of his dining room table, and every item on display has a story attached to it. The throne, for example, apparently belonged to a person of Spanish royalty who was assassinated while sitting in it. The throne was subsequently discarded, and after a series of hilarious hand-offs and misfortunes, it wound up at Antonio’s table. Other items on display in Antonio’s loft include a human skull, a pinball machine, several paintings and photographs of his English bulldog, Chewie, a stuffed cobra, an impressive collection of bass guitars, religious iconography, various statues and relics, vintage toys and figurines, a hand-carved carousel pony, and the list goes on and on. While this may sound like a random list of kitsch, it’s all presented in a way that feels fresh and artistic. One could wander around the place for hours as if in a museum.
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