The blank margins of poetry

The Blank Margins of Poetry, Francesca Dondoglio interviewed by Viola Alberti, artwork Ricerca su Una via di Mezzo

This interview and the collection appear on Issue Zero of LONGITŪDINĒS.

Tell us about yourself and what inspires you.

There is not much to say about me, except that I paint. Yes, I have a biography, of course, everyone does, but it’s not that important. I mean, it is very important, but it concerns my private sphere and the roots of my becoming who I am today, of becoming one with my work. I could tell you that I was born in the kitchen of a chalet deep in the woods, and that I grew up surrounded by nature. I could tell you that at 18 I moved to the city of Turin, – I live and work there now – where I graduated with a degree in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage. But these are only a few of the elements that made me understand how essential painting was for me.
The truth is, I matured slowly. But this allowed me to learn, and grow up alongside and through my work. Beyond my degrees and the experiences of the last few years, I think that the most precious seed of my artistic growth was my childhood, of which I have vivid memories. University was fundamental in that it made me understand that restoration was not my path.
It is that simple: vocation follows you until you acknowledge it. I could not imagine doing anything but painting. I couldn’t be in any other place but in my studio in the very heart of Turin, and living the way I want.

I know you love poetry. Do you think that what you read has a place in your work?

Poetry pages have wide blank margins. They tell me that we only need a few words and simple ideas. When I paint, while I wait for a velatura to dry, I read the poets and philosophers that I love and that accompany my research. So it happens that, sometimes, there is a connection, or often I realise that there is one by chance, which confirms that metaphors can be touched and they are to be experienced through the body. To me, poetry is the inability to lie. And I think it is fundamental to be honest in your work; you must be true to yourself. And in order to be true, the creator must keep their eyes open and grapple with an uninterrupted and painstaking work of ‘clarification’. I am grateful for those who created before us. There is an engagement, a communion that connects those who write and those who read. I like to think of it as listening here and now, an attentive loyalty that ties people who lived at different times. Despite the time gone by, there is a dialogue that never dies. There are smouldering embers that we must feed and reignite.

Do you have a particular creative process or does each work follow its own path?

It all starts with a sudden rift. But the next step is thorough and meticulous. Reflection, experimentation and waiting. It’s a process of codification and trust, you must find a way to transpose into the real and with the instrument of the real, find what opened that rift in you. You must listen to an image and find its ways out, and give it time to learn how fragile and powerful an opening can be. Each work has its own history, like a living thing, an organism with a path that you discover along the way. I follow it, and not always knowing where it will take me is disorienting at times; other times it elevates me. From a practical point of view, creation happens in provisional stages, where precise signs are followed by free and unconscious ones. If there is no balance between elements, I try to find one. If there is a balance, I try to make things wobble. The third and last step is detachment, when I only focus on the gesture and its immediate consequences.

What’s your relationship with the materials you work with?

Research into the materials is at the base of every work. I experiment with them, I observe, I study their behaviour. There is technique, but there is also the gesture and the enjoyment of the material. To paint is to be face to face with the mystery of things and, naturally, also with yourself. It’s about listening and discovering yourself making symbolic gestures that have a mysterious referent. The spiritual hides in the tension between listening to yourself and the material, and the production of symbolic gestures. And we could say that I express the spiritual in art by renouncing the control of the hand over the material. The relationship with the materials is a question of understanding. I don’t presume to be able to control the material, but I feel the need to understand its laws to better oblige it, to see where it wants to be touched and led.

(Click on the illustrations to see them in their original size)

Tell us about your use of watercolours. What do you like about this technique?

I love watercolour because it allows me to work with water and time. Between one velatura and the next, you must wait. When water evaporates the pigment collects in some areas more than in others. There is a differentiated migration of the grains. Lighter colours are carried away by the ‘rivers’ of water, while the heavier ones are deposited in the natural valleys found in the paper. I like the transparency, what is shown and what is hidden. Water has its own will, and it’s unpredictable. It has its laws but can also be incoherent. Water teaches you many things. When I see how a surface drinks from my fingers I remember how liquid I am. My work is always mixed media, I never use only one material. But watercolour is still my favourite technique, as in Cose e Canto [Things and Songs], where crayon and graphite interact with watercolours to give shape to a series of material and symbolic stratifications (see above).

Tell us about Cose e canto.

Cose e canto is the account of a dream, dismantled, analysed, reconstructed, and finally reduced to 14 ‘frames’. First I shot a black and white video of the protagonist narrating the dream she had the previous night. I watched the video over and over in my atelier, with no sound. I wanted to hear with my eyes. I wanted to separate the verbal communication from the gestural, disconnect these two channels that are usually indivisible. I was amazed by how unusual and unexpected the expressions were without the words. At times, her gazes seemed even to contradict the very sense of the narration, as though two parallel realities coexisted. Through the pictorial rendering I tried to make the dream visible while maintaining the incommunicability – our uniqueness – that inevitably separates us from others. The content of the dream is private, and remains so. I decided to translate it through gaze, form, and colour. I may decide to narrate other dreams in the same way.

(Click on the illustrations to see them in their original size)

As you said, your work is often ‘mixed media’. Some are a hybrid of painting and photography. Is it just experimentation or are you looking for a way to tear down barriers to personal expression?

A bit of both. I chose to dialogue with photography because I wanted a different form of expression and felt the urge to grapple with something I was not already familiar with. For me, the creative process has always been about attention and challenge. I learnt only from experience. I persist until a particular experiment teaches me what it had to teach me. For example, in the photography series Evenire (2020), the challenge is to capture in a single snapshot the play of reflections on a painted surface, a blue circle hit by the light. Hands emerge from this blue, they almost float (see above).

Yes, there are images and colours that keep coming back in your work, like hands or the colour blue. What do they express? Do they have a particular meaning?

After time and water, hands are my instrument, even though sometimes, when I’m using them, I forget they’re there. In Evenire I tried to detach myself from them, and see them as if for the first time as a mere presence, as subject-object, not as an instrument. It was an attempt to isolate gestures and disconnect them from painting. I’d love it if my gestures could do without me or my work. I like to put my hands inside objects, especially if they are round and hollow. Perhaps touch is a form of research alongside the more intellectual one. Blue has always been with me, and I’ve known it scientifically while studying restoration, working on the archaeological objects kept at the Museo Egizio in Turin. Blue is home, shelter and depth. It calls me and keeps me afloat. It’s a loyal colour that captures melancholy and urges you to act. In the last few months, red joined the blue in the ongoing series Ricerca su una via di mezzo [Research on an in-between], which is also the search for a balance between different natures (see below)

(Click on the illustrations to see them in their original size)

What do you tell through your work?

This is the most difficult of your questions, since I never paint with the aim of expressing something. Often figures are just background and pretext to establish a dialogue with the material. Before being an act of communication, the artistic act is a natural process of discovery and self-discovery. If I hadn’t always been this curious and interested in understanding myself and the world, I would never have started painting.

What has your artistic development taught you about yourself?

That it is important to embrace the joy work gives you. The thrill of a simple act in a particular moment. You must hold onto this joy that allows you to ignore fatigue and fear.

What’s your next project?

To be amazed.

Early in the interview you mentioned your childhood. Does it play a role in your work?

I’ve always drawn. I don’t know when I first started. I still remember the evening when – the dinner table still to be cleared – my father taught me to draw birches and how to blend the colour with my fingers. I’m nostalgic, but this does not mean I would like to go back. It is important to grow out of it, lose your childhood, and then try to reconquer it. Your first childhood is a gift. The second one must be sought. When you’re a child you play your games, you just live. You don’t answer for anything. Now I realise I have grown up, and that the game became work. And I will keep playing.

© Francesca Dondoglio. Interviewed by Viola Alberti

Francesca Dondoglio

Francesca Dondoglio was born in 1990. She attended the Arts High School and graduated in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage in Turin. Her work has been displayed in galleries in Italy, and as part of Fairs of Contemporary Art. She is based in Turin.

0 replies on “The blank margins of poetry”