Photos by Annalisa Bollini
Colored threads that, dancing together with the needle, pierce the canvas and give shape to dreamy images. A hymn to fantasy, to that dimension where everything is possible, as it is imaginable. Annalisa Bollini, freelance illustrator residing in Turin, expresses with her art distant but close scenarios, surreal places enriched by details that belong to our world, so recognizable even if translated into something else. Scenarios in harmony with nature and collecting, her great passions, and with everything that her eye can grasp around and within itself. A universe of color, beauty and pure magic thus materializes before your eyes and excites you as if it were about to come to life. After earning a Masters in Art Therapy and having worked in publishing, she now works as a freelancer and proposes projects in schools. In addition to numerous international awards and exhibitions, she has also been included in the book Unraveling Women ‘s Art which contains an overview of women’s textile artistic production including embroidery, weaving, soft sculpting and more. An art, embroidery, to which Annalisa arrives after a long search that actually becomes an inner exploration, a return home, to the memory of when her mother, while knitting, transformed balls of wool into garments to wear. “It was like one of those encounters between strangers who seem to have known each other forever”.
Why did you choose embroidery as an artistic expression?
When I was little my mother always knitted and crocheted. We daughters have this left. Every year a different wool sweater was invented, often very colorful but traditional models, other times more calm in terms of color but definitely more extravagant in terms of shape. I liked watching her work, her hands moved lightly and quickly and seemed to dance to the rhythm of a music that only she could hear. And I loved witnessing that magic that turned balls of wool into clothing to wear. One day she taught my sister and me the half stitch. From that day on, for many days, our favorite pastime became embroidering smurfs. We came to create a veritable army of embroidered Smurfs, which stared at us for years, as my proud mother framed and hung all the small canvases on the walls. After that feat, I left needle and thread aside for a long time. When I started doing illustration I tried a lot of techniques to find my way. It came naturally to me to choose to use threads instead of a piece of paper because I believe that the memory of my mother’s hands, of the peace that shone through and of the magic that had so fascinated me as a child, suddenly made me feel at home after so much research. A familiar and welcoming house where, however, I had never entered before. In fact, embroidery was not a technique that I knew well, on the contrary, I had to learn most of the stitches and tricks myself, but the feeling I felt pushed me to continue on that path. It was like one of those encounters between strangers who seem to have known each other forever.
Your works are a truly imaginative collage of images. What inspires you the most?
I think it’s nature, animals that almost always come back in everything I do. I try to experience art and get to know it in all areas. Exhibitions, museums… I am inspired by everything. I also have a collector’s disposition. I collect objects of any kind. Objects that for me have a beauty, a particular shape. From pieces of tiles to dry leaves, earth, sand… Even old engravings or wallpaper. For this reason, the images I embroider are often arranged in series. Furthermore, even the small clippings that remain I do not throw away and reuse them for the next illustration. While the embroidery threads bind the image and ideas to the canvas, the pieces of paper bind one canvas to the other, the rest of one is a part of the next. For example, I wanted to depict a museum of memory. Here the element of the collection returns, of stopping the objects that are part of something. The objects we own in fact say something about us. We are all we hold. It is as if with that action of choosing that specific object rather than another we redeem value to something that perhaps does not have it for others. But if we have chosen it, there is a reason. Talk about us. I take care of the things I collect. I keep them, I move them, I give them a value in fact. We live in a society where we move from one object to another very quickly. This has also affected the relationships we have. They last less and less and are easily interrupted.
With needle and thread you leave a mark and convey that everything is interconnected. Every gesture, today a small piece, every sequence you put into action gives shape to something that ends in the work. It conveys a deep sense of belonging, something that lasts, that stays together. That thread remains. Unless you go there with scissors.
The needle enters the support, pierces it, modifies it and although the result is visible on the surface, the work done also involves depth. There is a desire to be linked to something. The very gesture of the embroidery creates this bond. Embroidering does not remain alone on the surface as drawing on paper, you enter, cross the canvas and then exit. The canvas is not a simple support and the threads and the needle are not just tools. For this reason, I often start working on a canvas with a precise idea and then finish it in a completely different way. Because the canvas, the needle and the threads speak to the hands and eyes, suggest paths, are an integral part of the illustration itself, you just have to listen.
Another artist told me that embroidering is also a meditative form that helps to find a dimension of well-being in these unnatural and frenetic rhythms that society imposes. Is this the same for you?
When I switch from computer work to embroidery I feel how much better I am. I stop, I have my own rhythms … or rather I follow the rhythm of the embroidery. A decidedly different pace from what we are used to today and therefore capable of transporting you to another time. A time of patience and care. And living that time certainly feels good.
Has there been an experience in recent years that has had a significant impact on your career as an artist?
When I studied in the USA I really realized how much the possibilities granted and the methodological approaches can really make a difference in the education of a student. Having large and well-stocked laboratories available until late in the evening where you can experiment for hours and days, makes you understand that there are really no limits to creativity, that the mind that thinks and the body that creates are linked by a continuous flow that is important to let it flow. Managing tight and intense work schedules can be stressful but certainly productive, at least for me. Creating and presenting a different project every week for each discipline, comparing yourself with the other students, is certainly constructive and satisfying. I believe that studying at MIAD in Milwaukee was fundamental in my journey as an illustrator, because there I really understood that it is possible to transform an idea into something concrete and that limits are often imposed by ourselves and therefore overcome. I think it is essential not to close oneself in one’s own world but to open up to worlds other than one’s own in order to collaborate and grow. For a few years together with a small group of artists (Andres Aguirre, Paolo Padolecchia and Nella Caffaratti), I worked on some related projects to the Barriera district of Milan, a peripheral and multicultural part of the city. For example, we created the counter for the café area of a neighborhood house in Turin. It is a large fish composed of some mechanisms that, when activated, animate a whole series of recovery objects found around that make up the body of the fish. It is called Cyprinus Perpetuus, in honor of the native species Cyprinus Carpio which still lives in the Po despite the pollution. A perpetual movement that keeps this fish alive and makes it immortal. For us it wanted to be a symbol of resistance.
In your opinion, what role does art play in this historical moment in the face of the global challenges we are facing, such as climate change?
Contemporary art has a great responsibility. I think that art today must be political. It must make the invisible visible to the point of shaking consciences and helping to decolonize our minds. Illustration and illustrated books in particular, which I consider an art form, play a fundamental role in visual literacy, which is needed today more than ever so that the new generations can face that iconic bombardment to which we are subjected every day, in critically and consciously without being overwhelmed. Develop the narrative ability, fundamental for every aspect of our life, and the imagination that builds freer and more divergent minds. I think they are an educational tool of great importance that is still too underestimated today.
Would you tell me the story of your work “She-the Earth” that fascinated me so much?
It is part of a project that I have called ‘Cosmogony – How Everything Began’. I tried to interpret how Planet Earth was born and then life on it. I started with two entities, he and she, who observe the silent and infinite universe in search of a place to live. Once they have found the most suitable place, they begin to look around, he chooses everything that goes up to the top, she chooses everything that goes down to the bottom. Once this separation has taken place, each element begins to unite with other elements according to rules of absolute harmony. From these cells every living being is born under the eyes of her, the earth, and of him, the sky.
How do you use art therapy with school children and what results have you achieved?
I believe that manual skills are one of the skills that define us, enrich us and allow us to communicate. This is why I believe it is essential that it be constantly practiced and taught in schools. Unfortunately I have noticed that it is more and more frequent to meet children and young people with little manual skills. For this I try to propose activities that train and develop a greater awareness of the hands instrument and their creative potential. It often happens to notice amazement and almost incredulous satisfaction on their face when they realize, for example, that by assembling small pieces of recycled wood they have built something.
This magazine assumes that by believing in ourselves we can make our unique talents blossom in society. What would you say to young people who want to pursue an artistic career?
My initial difficulty was to be able to draw what I have in my head and then to be able to give a shape to what does not exist in reality. At the beginning I didn’t have the courage to say “even if I don’t see a horse with wings I can draw it”. The school helped me in this, that is, in believing that I can do things. Try hard, get involved. Even if it doesn’t come right away, you don’t have to stop. For me, anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter if something is good or bad for you. The important thing is the process because it helps you develop the skills you need to then be able to do something. I also think everyone should experience the creative process. This means facing inner obstacles and being able to do what previously seemed impossible to you. Doing it then with fun makes you realize, when you get over things, that they weren’t all that impossible. From this you gain confidence and you can deal with anything. We should therefore all tap into that spirit we had as children. Overcoming fears, the judgment of not being suitable or good enough and committing ourselves to achieving what we want.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m finishing a book for a private individual who has worked for many years in the field of wines, also linked to moods, to an emotional sphere. It will be out shortly. I would like to be able to dedicate the right time to a wordless illustrated book project that I have been thinking about for a while and I would like to learn how to make illustrated wool socks, it would be nice to wear illustrations.