“A pencil is like a magic wand, it has the power to transfer real forms, structures, materials, thoughts and ideas into the world.”
Behind each piece of art is a process, a period of invention before the work is made that is never seen by the audience in a gallery. For many artists this process begins with drawing, giving form to ideas and experiences so that they can be shared. It is the art that generates art.
Italian artist Marzia Migliora is interested in this process of invention that lies hidden beneath every piece of exhibited work. In advance of the 25th Artissima contemporary art fair in Turin this autumn, she ran a series of drawing workshops exploring the creative process, Drawing the Invisible.
Alongside students from two art academies, Migliora looked at the concealed processes behind the pieces in the fair, creating new work from the art they were surrounded by: “I asked the participants to examine Artissima, armed with paper and pencil, to not just be viewers but to actively move in pursuit of stimuli – forms, sounds, colours, materials, technical solutions – letting themselves be freely guided by instinct.”
This approach reflects Migliora’s own artistic practice: sketching ideas, reflecting and responding to exhibited work and the outside world, tracing rough concepts for projects, thinking about measurements, materials and media, and then discussing and sharing the results. This is the invisible process of invention: “Page by page, the notebooks, as in a diary, revealed the progression of a participatory, sensory approach to art… fertile ground that can be useful to cultivate and invigorate new forms.”
An important part of this creative practice is observation: “The aim of the exercise was to experiment… to observe reality with an investigative, acute gaze. To refine the critical spirit and to observe from unprecedented vantage points, not relying on a pre-set vision of reality.” For Migliora, this is something that must be continuously learned as an artist in order to be as empirical as possible. Critical observation is integral to everything she does.
Using individual experiences and moments from everyday life, Migliora’s work tells stories about the wider world, elevating personal narratives to examine our collective history. It has been exhibited in art institutions across Europe, from the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid and the MAXXI in Rome. She wants to elicit strong emotional and intellectual responses from her audiences and to create new experiences for them; the use of space is key.
Migliora’s practice takes many forms, photography, video, sound, performance, installation and drawing, but each piece begins in the same way, with a pencil and paper: “I think and draw, read and draw, design and draw. I often look through my old notebooks, ordered by date and contents, where I can review projects that were never completed, and I can see the conceptual paths that run from one work to the next. Going back through my steps opens up unexplored trails, allowing me to look at the past, putting it into relation with the present and the future.”
Drawing is at the root of it all, and it is also the form that she uses to explore the artistic process. Migliora’s drawings show stages of development and experimentation, revealing her research and investigative methods: “The technique of the work is totally at the service of the concept I want to express; as a result, it is normal for me to experiment with media I have never used. [But] drawing and preliminary project notes represent constants in all my research. I have never abandoned the experience of working on paper; it is an indispensable constant.”
This understanding of the power of drawing – to experiment and plan, observe and reflect – is an important part of her creative process and something that she wanted to instil in the students: “Drawing the Invisible means giving form to what does not yet exist, objectifying it and making it present, starting with the stimuli received from the outside world … A drawn object exists, manifesting itself in the real; it is visible and as a result it can also be shared with others. Drawing the Invisible means giving form to imaginative thought.”
It is a practice not just for artists, but for everyone: “Drawing is democratic; it is the technique with which, as children, we start to relate to the world. It is the technique of everyone, for everyone, the technique of artists in prison, in the subway, in a hermitage, in their studio, waiting in line at the post office, on the street. It is also the technique for those who don’t know how to draw, and those who haven’t much money. How can you live without it?”