Nicoletta Ceccoli born in 1973 in the Republic of San Marino. She always loved picture books and since childhood she then has never stopped browse through them, smell them, buy them. She graduated at the Art Institute of Urbino in animation. She currently works as an illustrator in San Marino. Her first book was published in 1997. Since then she has illustrated for the major publishing houses, amongst the others by Random House and Simon and Shuster of New York, Mondadori in Italy. She likes to experiment with different techniques and materials, from traditional acrylic on paper, to the use of plasticine and photography .Her books have been widely translated throughout Europe, Asia and South America and appreciated by readers of all ages. Her latest work has been as concept artist for the film La Mechanique du coeur directed and written by Mathias Melzieau and Stephane Berla and the production of Luc Besson. His personal works have recurrent theme of loss of innocence. Her protagonists are fragile snow whites living in worlds of paradoxes and loneliness in atmospheres between fable and Flemish painting. Her site is http://www.nicolettaceccoli.com/
Interview with the Artist, Nicoletta Ceccoli
Please tell us about your background – your childhood and art school.
My mother, a primary school teacher, always surrounded me with beautiful children’s books. My father is a carpenter, and it is from him that I received both my creative spirit and the love of creating things with my own hands. I grew up spending lot of time with my father in his workshop. He worked in wood to make beautiful furniture, and he gave to me colored pieces of wood with glue, and I loved creating objects from them. I made dolls and funny little animals and houses for them to play in.
I drew endless worlds of my own where I could imagine living another life. These places were always more magical to me than the real world . When I was 14 years old, I discovered the wonderful world of picture book artwork in Bologna, where I had traveled to see one of the most important children’s book fairs. I decided then and there that this would be my career.
Can you describe your work space ?
I work at a large table in the center of my studio space. Behind me is a giant library filled with picture books. Some of my favorites are kept open on the shelves….. Edward Gorey’s pop-up book, ‘The Dwindling Party,’ and ‘The Cat With Boots’ by Stasys Eidrigevicious. Also ‘Tiff Taff and Lulu‘ by my friend Eva Montanari and ‘Nemo in Slumberland’ by Winsor McCay. Then I have a shelf with toys that inspire me. Some of them belong to my childhood; a Pinocchio made of wood by my father, a Jiminy Cricket crocheted by my grandmother, and a cottage of sugar, made from many lollipops and candy canes. On the wall are prints by Femke Hiemstra, Edward Gorey, Guido Cagnacci, and a poster from the film ‘Drive’ by Nicholas Winding Refn.
You work in a small town of San Marino. Please describe the city and what do you see from your window ?
San Marino offers a breathtaking view of three medieval towers that are on the top of the Titano Mountain. This inspires me to create the exaggerated perspectives from high places that I often like to play with in my children’s books. From my studio windows I can see a bit of the Titano Mountain and the Sea of Rimini.
How much of the town and nature are an inspiring for you and how much is it a separate world that you imagine and paint?
What I imagine has no special relationship to my actual surroundings….I feel that I paint separate worlds.
The city where I studied, Urbino, influenced me a great deal, visually. The school where I received my art training with master classes, The Institute of Art, is located within the Ducal Palace. Time stopped for me in this place… I was surrounded by historic treasures and masterpieces like ‘La Flagellazione’, created by Â Piero della Francesca. I enjoyed this frozen stillness, and felt enchanted by the entire city, which remains an open air museum of the 16th century.
Who are your characters and what story or message they have?
My stories are about the mysteries of adolescence. My girls innocently and sensually allure without being completely aware of this delicate passage. In my playful way, I like to suggest a mischievous sensuality. Some of my work brings to mind the iconography of the martyrs… St. Sebastian, St. Teresa…. bodies ‘slain’ in pain, but appearing almost in the throes of pleasure at the same time. These pictures show bodies of martyrs punished and tormented, and the more wounded and tormented they are, the more they shout their sensual presence.
My protagonists are fairies that I dream of, candidly expressing cruelty, loneliness and fragility, and simultaneously flaunting beauty and madness. My work is poetic on the surface and speaks of a child’s sweetness, while the contradictions, like the dark side of a nursery rhyme, betray my deeper anxieties.
What is the process of your work ?
I sketch a rough and then draw it. The idea may change, but a concrete painting brings forth precise contents.
Do you have a vision in your mind when you sit next to an empty canvas?
My work always begins with a precise sketch, and after, I use colours.
Do you leave your art to the viewer’s interpretation or is it important to you that they will understand the story you wanted to tell?
I prefer for every one who looks at my work comes away with their own interpretation. In this way, a sense of mystery remains. I want people to consider their childhood joys and nightmares…
What is your inspiration?
Everything I see and experience nurtures my inspiration; faery tales, poetry, paintings, literature. I am interested in mythology for the irrepressible imagination and metamorphosis between creatures of this world and the humanization of all things. I believe that our imaginations connect us to the mysteries of life, the truest part of ourselves.
You are children’s book illustrator. How is it different from painting ?
May I say that I prefer to be thought of simply as an artist, and when I am working or playing, I am painting. My illustration projects are commissions for storybooks that interpret a story, and this requires me to follow certain rules. When working on a structured project, I miss the chaos that is everywhere with personal work. At the same time when I am totally free, I miss the constraints, because they reassure me.
Illustration tells a story with images that are parallel to the written words, and consistent with that story, and I think the best illustration conveys the essential meaning through another language. I take on commissions that intrigue and inspire me, and not too many, so that I have time to create exhibitions of my personal work, too.
Working as an illustrator over the last 20 years has allowed me to keep in touch with the child within myself. I hope that when one of my story books is the first form of visual education for a child that he or she may feel inspired to imagine conquering their fears in real life, just as in a magical fairy tale.
Who is your favorite writer ?
Kurt Vonnegut because in his writing he approaches very serious matters with a bitter and unique sense of humor .
Who is the writer you like to work with ?
I loved to work on The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum with Kate Bernheimer.
What is your favorite classic children book?
In your painting there are some influence that remind the Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. what can you tell us about it ?
My adolescent girls are all a little bit Alice, struggling with a body in flux, changing, in a world that is itself in constant metamorphosis– transforming and evolving in a way that is ‘illogical’ in its very nature. Wonderland is the place where every feeling and emotion exists beyond rules and conventions. Here, the usual course of things is turned over and over again in an unusual way. This is where we search for and discover our own identity and dreams.
Are there any aspects of your life, things that you love that find their way to your paintings?
I do realize that the characters in my pictures reflect my alter ego. When I look for an idea, though, I don’t really think about a personal experience. After the painting is finished, I often realize how the painting evolved from my own feelings. The unconscious process is quite like in a dream, and what I mean by that is when I have discovered an idea I pursue it completely unaware of where I am heading or what I could encounter along the way.
Who are the artists that inspires you ?
Too many to list! Remedios Varo,Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini, Alberto Savinio, Mark Ryden, Stasys Eidrigevicious, Edward Gorey, Paolo Uccello, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dali, Jan Swankmajer…….
Do you listen to music while you paint?
Yes, and sometimes I am very inspired by a particular song, or the melancholy within the music. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is a song by Joy Division about the end of a love affair and the drying of feelings. I used that title for one of my recent paintings where between two lovers there flows water that separates them, just as love ebbs in the song.
“Girls Don’t Cry” is a title that I used for another painting, and it was my intention to homage the band The Cure. A little girl is full of tears because she cutting an onion, in theatrical pose as if she were Giuditta beheading Holofernes’s. It is a comical scene, and reminds me that I need to laugh a little more, and not take myself too seriously.
Can you tell us about a project you are working on right now?
I am working on designs for an artist series of candy tins for Hint Mint. I am enjoying it because I have complete freedom to illustrate the flavors cinnamon, chocolate, mint and pomegranate in a whimsical way. I am creating a sugar coated world of pleasures and sweetness, which is an extension of my recent personal work, “Eye Candy,’ that was exhibited at AFA in New York. I will be working on another show for them for 2014, and I sign limited edition prints that are shown in their galleries in the US and France.
What is your motto in life?
Use humor as response to fears.