**Forewarning: this article delves into the topics of suicide and self-harm.**
It’s clear that art has always been a very important tool for us as humans. It not only helps us to express ourselves; art helps us to make sense of the world around us in the first place. To communicate. To process experiences and emotions. “Indeed, art is, above all, ‘therapy’.” Agrees Italian artist Stefania Russo, better known under her artist name Illusorya. “Over the years, she [art] has been a faithful companion – and honestly, a great salvation to me in the darkest times of my life. When I started working professionally as an artist, knowing that other people appreciated my work, I realized that it was the right path to take.”
Evolving through a wonderful transition of styles which have gathered her hoards of followers along the way, Illusorya has recently been further exploring the process of working alla prima: “at first attempt”. Pushing herself further, her latest series, Tales From Nowhere, unveils a series of small ink paintings. Each one has been created without planning and in under one hour.
Undeniably, art is the ultimate form of expression. We can plan and portray messages that we want to explore and share through the various forms of art, transcending verbal language. However, by creating her ink sketches in only one hour, Illusorya moved further into a strange new realm of creativity. She found herself tapping into the subconscious self. “I often create art without dwelling on many drafts. Most of my paintings are already alla prima, except for important projects such as commissions. I use this technique because I try, as much as possible, to keep being instinctive, even though I know very well that in academia this is a mistake.”
In light of this, it’s highly impressive that she has created such intricate artworks within her one-hour limitations.
When I started creating these ink sketches, it was for fun, a challenge to be faster at drawing. The limited time for drawing gives me the opportunity to express what I want – but also so much more.
Sometimes I feel disgust for certain emotions I feel. But throwing them onto paper in such a fairy tale way makes me feel less shame or pressure than having to plan every single detail, as would be the case if making a more complex painting. Here, it is the instinct that speaks.
I never imagined unearthing the full range of emotions during these works. And with that, I find much more satisfaction in creating these designs, especially lately, compared to more complex paintings.
For me, they are perfection within imperfection.
Her series Tales from Nowhere is aptly named. The instinctual birthing from which each story has so beautifully emerged makes each ink sketch sparkle with fervent energy. “They are small moments of life and human behaviours represented in a dreamlike way… born from nothing, in fact! They depict emotional torments, even touching on the themes of sexuality and profanity (note fables number 12 and 22). Although, interestingly, it was pointed out to me that my works had a strong “sexual power”.
“That’s why I love this series. It made me rediscover instincts in me that I had kept inside.”
Undeniably, there is something in her latest series which pulls me to take them in for that little bit longer. Her characters exude an array of strong emotions, from virulent defiance in their eyes to a sense of gentle vulnerability. Melancholia and anger go hand in hand, wrapped in beauty and darkness. Illusorya’s use of symbolic elements is made all the more intriguing when you remember that these are unplanned creations. These are true messages from the subconscious, ready to be decoded.
I found myself having to fight with myself for this great difference in artistic style between my complex paintings and these ink sketches… the latter, however, nourish and make my soul even more charged with inspiration.
“In the past, I’ve received criticisms describing me as a “confused artist”, an artist who constantly changes style, and it really hurt me. Now that I’ve put pen to paper, these same critics are finally saying I’m actually an artist (and person!). It’s loony… and these ink sketches are not at all different from my usual style. I really enjoy creating these. They are fast, instinctive and contain everything I would like to tell in a few lines.
“I have learned that aesthetic complexity is sometimes totally superfluous.”
The importance of diversity
Tales from Nowhere encapsulates much of Illusorya’s signature style: emotional, dark art wrapped in pure energy. Many of her subjects are deformed, altered, or against the usual “beautiful” aesthetic. This is an important element for Illusorya, who believes wholly in representing diversity. She gives centre stage to “anatomically unacceptable bodies” (as described by some of her critics). However, I argue that they are still beautiful, and in this way, Illusorya encourages us to rethink our automated responses to beauty and the grotesque. In doing so, she not only gives a platform to physiques we rarely see in art, but also encourages us to welcome these different types of bodies, one and all.
“In art we see so many magnificent, sculpted bodies.” Says Illusorya. “I have obvious admiration, but they don’t come close to my way of thinking. Don’t get me wrong: I also like to draw beautiful, almost “perfect” bodies. But for me it is important to get close to human emotion, as we see it. For example, when we meet an “evil” character, we often see him almost deformed, such as the accentuated expression lines on his face.
My creatures are not caricatures of humanity, but they are a living representation of the emotion I wish to represent. And we, humans, are always attracted to charismatic emotions.
Light in the darkness
Tales from Nowhere is not Illusorya’s first trip into the world of timed sketching. Her journey started back in 2018. Inspired by the well-known Inktober sketch festival, she created a series called 31 ways (more or less painful) to end your happy life. “That series was born out of a devastating period of depression. It helped me tremendously to stigmatize death, and my brutal thoughts,” Illusorya shares, “But, artistically speaking, I had a lot of fun having to represent every single death according to the Inktober 2018 prompts. It challenged me to train my mind to be more concise than usual. Thanks to that series, I explored my inner self even deeper. I discovered my powerful, black humorous side!”
Thankfully, art has helped Illusorya to process many of her inner struggles and depression. Furthermore, her art has connected with countless collectors around the world. It’s hard not to smile as Illusorya shares some of the feedback she has received: “I’m so happy that my ink sketches have been appreciated by my fans. Some fans have told me that they prefer them to my complex paintings, precisely because there are many layers of emotions within their imperfection. The coolest thing about the people I meet at local events, and then selling these designs in person, is that they tell me each drawing connects with part of their life or that it finally represents what they feel. For me, it is the greatest artistic – and emotional – satisfaction I have ever had so far!”
With a line-up of local events in the pipeline and a recent update to her online shop, Illusorya is enjoying life as an independent artist, also fulfilling numerous commissions. Keep up to date with her art and future events by following her social media below!