2 girls 1 cup

Lors nous jecta sus le tillac plenes mains de parolles gelées, et sembloient dragée, perlée de diverses couleurs. Nous y veismes des motz de gueule, des motz de sinople, des motz de azur, des motz de sable, des motz doréz.

François Rabelais,

"Gargantua e Pantagruele"

The “frozen words” that Pantagruele threw off the ship before they had melted and allowed barbarian voices arriving from a distant past to be heard, are seen as images: they are the visual translation of sound and language incomprehensible to the ear but perceivable and interpretable by sight. The “frozen words” are the offsprings of pictograms, the means of communication which anticipated the written word, composed of stylized designs combined in a way as to afford a visual support to facilitate comprehension. The visual perception of words through images is one of the central crux affronted by the language of illustrations. In her book The History of Italian Illustration, Paola Pallottino demonstrates how, during the course of the 20th century, the relationship between word and image had undergone a profound transformation. The art of illustration would become increasingly freed from its function as purely explanatory or decorative to be inserted within a more complex dimension, concerning the interpretation of the text. It can become an invention running parallel, especially in the field of narration, thanks to the capacity of the illustrator to extract the profound meaning found in the work.

In any case, serious conflicts are not lacking in a relationship of such interdependency. The literary author confides in the capacity of the text to produce diverse images for the various readers and considers with suspect the powerful, persuasive force that an illustration has to circumscribe its multiple meanings. At the same time, visual language has permitted authors and literary works to obtain a new life thanks to their translation into images.

Serena Riglietti’s work buds in a fertile but treacherous soil, where the eternal struggle to establish the primacy of the creativity of works and the legitimacy of their multiple interpretations is fought.

Her work is primarily, but not exclusively, concentrated on children’s publications, a field where pedagogical and communicative aspects should be the object of particular attention on the part of illustrators. Serena Riglietti seems to closely adhere to the rules, practicing a method which is respectful of the young readers she is addressing, in the attempt to avoid producing obliging exercises of style closer to pictorial mannerism. Her strength is in the use of a classical language that refuses to fall to the temptation of using citations but instead, restores new, vital lymph to the tale.

The world invented by Serena Riglietti is a universe that we might define as baroque because of the over-abundance of elements and the attention to detail and to particulars. It is as if the fairy tale’s inexhaustible wealth of fantastic imagery had been flung across her drawing board, conjured up by means of an inspired design with the power to evoke wonder when confronted with the marvellous. Her style rejects the instantaneous, collective vision in order to search for the complicity of a glance in accordance with the calm rhythms of a non-superficial “reading”. So, just as the infinite shades of her watercolours are absorbed by the paper inside of which her figures are framed, the illustrator’s “little” masterpieces require time to be understood.

Time is a key factor, not only because timepieces and calendars often appear in her illustrations, but because the works capture the observer in a seductive, temporal process in which the length of vision is in harmony with the slow-paced proceedings of the narratives.

Serena Riglietti’s visual stories are the personal tribute she pays to books and to their ability to fascinate. It is not merely an accident that, in many illustrations, books are actually present and at times are transformed into theatre curtains from which figures and objects are extracted, or become flying carpets like in the famous dust cover created for the Italian edition of Harry Potter and the Secret Room. In her recent illustrations for The Magician’s Boy by Susan Cooper, the book becomes the space within which events occur, the place where the struggle of a child, an aspiring magician searching for Saint George to defeat the dragon, is set. In a dream, the young hero enters into storyland where he encounters some of the protagonists of classic fairy tales, in order to discover at the end, that he himself is the Saint George who kills the dragon. The Magician’s Boy reveals how the real magic resides in one’s personal capacity to invent stories, to be the puppet master who, by pulling the strings of the story, causes the various characters to spring to life. The wonder of having found the gift of creation inside oneself is a decisive moment in the journey undertaken in the making of every true author.

Serena Riglietti could probably be a magician’s girl who finds herself inside the fantastic stories to lend a personal vision enabling traditional words to splendour in a new light. In this true search for identity, the author isn’t intentionally looking for a conflict with the text. Instead, she entrusts herself to it and to all its suggestiveness.

The designs and precious watercolours created by Serena Riglietti are the explicit and recognizable marks of her poetic sensitivity and seem to express the thought that “I am what I draw”. Her works possess an unmistakable stylistic quality when she treats the classics like Rosaspina, The Wizard of Oz, The Nutscracker and Peter Pan, as well as contemporary authors or world-wide best sellers like Harry Potter. Her preference for oblique perspective, typical of dreams, the sense of precarious balance resulting from unruly objects, the foreboding storms announced in anticipation by gusts of wind, are all characteristics of a bizarre universe maintained in a continuous state of metamorphosis and at the mercy of invisible forces.

For Serena Riglietti, the worlds of nightfall and of dreams are in perpetual contact and, when reason relinquishes its place to the magical powers of dreams, the places where we find ourselves are those where everything is possible. Thanks to her extraordinary technical skill, the artist invents a space “beyond” where movement reigns supreme, even if represented in suspension, and casts a sort of spell allowing us to observe in astonishment the infinite richness of her imagination.

Recently, Serena Riglietti has extended her habitual confines within the area of literature to include that of poetic and musical texts. In the works executed for Max Gazzè, she reveals a particular graphic design devoid of shading meanwhile, to evoke the melodic rock sound of Greenwall, she creates five works that represent the refined synthesis of her entire production. In these watercolours Serena Riglietti shows an exemplary inventiveness without abandoning that familiar style that has made her famous and demonstrates that the boundaries between illustration and art are nonexistent.

When Serena recently opened her studio to me, she came to the door while still holding in her hand a thin paintbrush with bristles as fine as eyelashes and left me with a lasting impression. This scene makes me think of those artists who, through the slow and patient labour of their hand, have the skill to translate the suggestiveness of the written word which today is being increasingly entrusted to the aseptic keyboard of a computer. Serena’s tiny paintbrush is her personal magic wand with which she manages to accomplish continuous feats of wonder, conjuring up words and making them visible for us in a guise that we would never have dared imagine.