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Anna Forlati Magic realism in illustration

"Among my illustrations, the ones I prefer are mostly those that emerge from inside rather than outside. Sometimes I conceive them when I'm drifting into sleep."

Anna Forlati is a chameleon of style, ever-changing in approach but consistently beautiful in outcome. Somehow her work manages to be both intimate and mysterious. The themes of her art are reminiscent to me of a child's dreams, unpredictable in their imagery but filtered through the lens of a comforting innocence. She told us more about her work.


What drew you towards pursuing a career in art?

I've always known that I wanted to study art, which I did throughout my university years. But art is a vast universe with infinite doorways. During my studies I was fascinated by many art disciplines but unsure about one definite path. It was somehow by chance, after I concluded my MA in Contemporary Art and Cinema, that I received a commission for an illustrated book. I decided at that time that I wanted to become an illustrator for books.


It's clear from looking at your creative output over the years that you aren't afraid to vary your subject matter, but what would you say are the key elements of your style, which underpin all of your works?

I like to experiment with different techniques, work on different atmospheres and with variable colour associations, according to the book or the project. I think that every book has its own peculiar imaginary that needs to be researched. It's also my way of doing things and by now I have accepted it.

I see the process of finding one's style as a sort of long exploration that also deals with the unconscious. I find it a bit difficult to describe the key elements of my style, as I am somehow not fully aware of them. But I guess there is something about the characters, and the attitude with which they dwell in the scene, that tends to repeat itself. I realise also that plants, trees, forests, gardens and other natural elements appear often in my work.


Your art seems rooted in magic realism. How do you come up with these imaginative visions - or, in other words, how do you avoid being too naturalistic?

I am attracted by the universe of dream and Henri Rousseau is an important reference for me. I also associate the definition 'magic realism' with South American writers such as Galeano, Cortázar and García Márquez, whose books have accompanied most of my life.

Among my illustrations, the ones I prefer are mostly those that emerge from inside rather than outside. Sometimes I conceive them when I'm drifting into sleep. Other times I start working just with abstract stains of colour, from which I let shapes of reality slowly emerge. So it's a partially unconscious process where the observation of reality only enters along the way.


Tell us about your upcoming work with Ruskin in Sheffield.

I have been invited by the Guild of St George to participate in the People's Palace of Possibilities at the Millennium Gallery on 31 May. I will be doing a mapping work on utopia, in the framework of a bigger mapping project I developed with fellow artist and friend Bignia Wehrli.

And on 18 October, as part of the Big Draw Day, there will be an important event both at the Guild of St George in Sheffield and in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice. I will be there with other eight illustrator colleagues from Venice for a day of drawing workshops to celebrate the centenaries of John Ruskin and Jacopo Tintoretto.


Anything else exciting coming up?

I am currently working on three illustrated books that will be published in different countries, plus a forth one later this year. I am also working on a personal project, a silent book about dreams. I'd like to develop it in the framework of an artist residency program somewhere reasonably far from where I live, hopefully in South America. But for the moment it's only a dream!

Next article in issue 133

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