STEFANIA MISSIO (The Mythical Project) was born in Rome in 1969. After completing his classical studies she attended the International School of Graphics in Venice, deepening the arts of engraving and the practice of the artist’s book. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome.
She lives and works on the island of La Maddalena, a small island in the archipelago of the same name located between Sardinia (Italy) and Corsica (France). Her privileged field was that of the artist’s book for a decade, giving life to the Annual International Review of the Artist’s Book in Rome, reaching many museums throughout Italy with this project. She has exhibited in various Italian and foreign cities including New York, Berlin, Frankfurt, Wexford, Santiago de Chile, La Serena (Chile) at whose University she was invited to hold seminars and conferences on books and her work.
She participated in several round tables on the artist’s book as organizer and speaker (including MART in Rovereto, Academy of Fine Arts in Florence).
She has been a tattoo artist for 18 years, has created events dedicated to contemporary art and performance, has founded a brand dedicated to ceramic works in which plastic forms, engraving and painting are merged.
In January 2015 opens the Children’s Museum (Museo dei Piccoli), dedicated to the work of art projects with school children and young people aged 3 to 18. She created works of street art with two murals and finally founded the brand The Mythical Project which contains her works (which have as their theme the stories of
mythology, mainly the Mediterranean one) of the last decade which include painting, engraving, embroidery, ceramics and more, applying them to everyday objects that she sells on his online store www.themythicalproject.com
Hello Stefania! How did it all start for you? Were you an artistic soul from an early age? When did you decide that this is what you want to do?
Stefania: Hi Lisa, first of all thank you for contacting me. I live and work on a very small Mediterranean island called La Maddalena, it is located between one of the major Italian islands (Sardinia) and the largest French island (Corsica). As you can well understand it is not easy for me to have easy relations with the outside world, I no longer travel much and here there are not many opportunities for artistic encounter. Of course, there is the virtual world, but it has its merits and its flaws. Yes, my path has always been clear. I never thought I had the goal of becoming an artist, for me it was a process that did not have a specific beginning. I was born and raised in Rome by parents and a grandfather who worked in the world of theatre. Being in close contact every day with that reality has allowed me to live in a completely natural and un forced way in a continuous artistic process, being able to directly look at great artists at work and above all also the most formal and boring aspects of a work in the artistic field. I have never had a completely romantic view of this work, either towards the work of others or towards mine. When I was a child, of course, my favorite pastime was to draw, but I also remember an almost carnal relationship with the objects of the drawing: the scent of crayons, the grain of paper, the noise of how they closed the caps of markers, the smell of watercolors and temperas, understand from these details which was the right tool and which was not. I also remember a small anecdote from when I was about 4 years old, I was at kindergarten: I prepared at home a series of small paper sculptures for every child in my class cut out and folded. My mother took them to the teacher to distribute them, she was very careful to make me understand that this was a kind, natural gesture, to give something born of intimate creation. I don’t remember the teacher then distributing the material. A few years later, also in the same school, at the time of the break I
had invented a small school of artistic production. The little girls who followed me had their own case with glue, scissors, colors. I was immediately stopped by the teachers. Too bad. It was a nice way to spend our time. I had
not only drawing as my predisposition, but also a certain aptitude for music. I studied the flute and other wind instruments for many years, I had an organ, I literally liked to dissect the musical pieces to understand the mixing of the shades, the various types of instruments. I imagined a lot. Music and image have the same parents. I would have liked, in my many thoughts, to become a composer of soundtracks. But when I really had to choose which way to go, whether the music or the drawing, I chose the drawing.
What is your daily routine when working? And can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Stefania: I’m a seemingly undisciplined person. In truth – perhaps because I really am – I often feel the need to plan work, with sessions punctuated on an agenda, with the goals to be achieved, with sketches of an entire exhibition body before starting work on a topic. When I start a job it is important to me that it is part of a common thread with other works. I don’t like working on works unrelated to others. This shows that my work is always the result of research on topics that can last even years. When I work on a design I also really like to study a possible location of the works: the relationship between the work and its location, even if it is a painting
and not a sculpture, has a very high value for me. Being my artistic production linked to interminable research, often this process comes from reading. Three of my most important solo exhibitions are born from reading books. I was attracted for years by the texts of the mythographer Robert Graves or worked on the comic
book text of Hugo Pratt, the creator of Corto Maltese. For example: for my exhibition entitled ‘Rosa Alchemica’ I dissected all the words that the author used at least once to tell the story or get his characters to speak. I counted and archived 1815 different words, including punctuation. Each word was then engraved each on
a teaspoon of steel, for a total of 1815 teaspoons. All the teaspoons were then set up around a cloth rose, with the petals embroidered with some of these words. I did this because I was attracted for so many years by the relationship between content (meaning) and container (word): is the word a really exhaustive container for the
meaning it contains? Or does it also contain any flaws? Have you ever had the feeling of speaking, also using the correct word, and having the feeling that you have not explained yourself well? Like there’s always something missing from your explanation. For years my field of action in the artistic field (as of course in life: I
had a boyfriend with whom I could not understand myself and this for me was devastating) was that of misunderstanding using both sides the same words. Why can the same word for two people slip into the meaning it contains? Choosing to work on Hugo Pratt’s comic entitled Rosa Alchemica, which I also used as the title of the exhibition, allowed me to focus on one of the most powerful, transversal, and versatile historical symbols: a rose. Going back to my daily routine, when I took my two children to school (I also have to deal with the life of a woman and mother of two children almost 7 and 12 years old) I often start with a challenging walk, doing the same route for years, on an uphill road in the middle of the granite and Mediterranean scrub of another island: Caprera. It is connected to the island where I live from a bridge. It is practically uninhabited, there are only wild boars, rabbits, gulls and wild goats that when they suddenly appear it seems to be in a
mythical and remote place. Walking and toiling, often with loud music in my ears (Van Halen, The Who, Genesis, Marillion, Police, Dire Straits to name a few inspirations), prepares me for work. Always making the same journey trains me to look at the details, to study in-depth space I travel, and to imagine how I could intervene. When I return to my small workspace (I have a very small studio often occupied by material and therefore I invade the spaces of the house) I proceed to the realization. If I work on large areas as happens with a mural I prefer to start work and go on for many hours in a row non-stop. If, on the other hand, I work at school (in normal times I take care of art projects with children and young people ranging from 3 to 18 years old) or with adults (with art meetings in bookstores, libraries or other places) I am focused on the topic: music and walking would take me dangerously away. If I am engaged in the production of works it often happens to work at night, also having a daily life marked by children’s schedules and commitments. How do you reconcile everything? I found a book about the relationship of female artists and work, I think I will read it soon: Daily Rituals /
Women at Work by Mason Currey. Have you read it?
Do you have a real-life situation that inspired your artwork?
Stefania: Oh yes, of course. That’s what I’ve already mentioned: having a boyfriend I couldn’t communicate with. It seems like an insignificant detail from normal unhappy romance. In truth, this was one of my most important creative engines to thoroughly investigate the dynamics of this type. It happened many years ago, but the feeling of powerlessness has remained almost unchanged. Clearly, I’m no longer related to my old sentimental issue, I preferred to save myself. But I started, or rather I increased, to ask myself questions about human behaviors that I’ve never been able to answer. I have been living on a small island for many years and these behaviors are clearly visible, they are concentrated, some are very bizarre. I have asked a lot of questions, for example, about what really binds the human being to his concept of the island. What it means to live isolated, the positive, negative aspects, the symbolism that the word ISOLA encloses. Or take off, look at the sea, sail, go, come back, come, leave, greet, abandon, be closed, be free, not be free… how many things I have wondered with this word. I have noticed over the years that I have experienced many situations and asked many questions, but my answers
have always sought support in the world of myth. Any questions we ask ourselves today can easily be traced back to the questions that the ancients asked themselves millennia ago. I am referring, being a Mediterranean woman, especially to the branch of Greek and Latin mythology, classical. I find that the myth is closely linked to real-life situations.
Please tell me more about “The Mythical Project”. What is the story behind it?
Stefania: As already mentioned, I have always worked alongside the myth. But the story of The Mythical Project is actually quite recent and is linked to a way of managing and enjoying my works more broadly. Until the day before the great lockdown for Covid 19, in Italy in March 2020, I could travel, establish relationships with galleries or museums (for 10 years I directed the Annual International Artist’s Book Review in Rome, this made me travel and made many artists known), meet many people and also many children and young people with my art projects in schools. Suddenly everything stopped, in an instant habits, coordinates, geographies, the
relationship with people changed. In a nutshell, we had to lose and invent a new kind of planning. I have lost much of my job and living a small island work with art must necessarily be accompanied by a great spirit of adaptation. We don’t have art galleries, we don’t even have a cultural center. I had opened a small museum for
children a few years ago (the Children’s Museum, Museo dei Piccoli in italian), but I was forced to transfer this work directly to schools. With the lockdown, I enclosed as much as I could in a brand to relaunch my work to the world through objects inspired by my productions, linked to the stories of the myth. This is how scarves
and ceramics are born (I’m not a ceramist, but I engrave and paint on ceramic objects), I really love scapulars which are very small works to wear inside clothes, invisible to others, as if to have a very close, intimate relationship, personal with what they evoke. The ‘scapulars’ were already widely used in Europe since 1300,
obviously with a religious background. I am not religious at all. The Mythical Project is a small online store www.themythicalproject.com, linked to my gallery on Instagram that contains my most recent works.
You are also a tattoo artist. What inspired you to pursue that field?
Stefania: I have been a tattoo artist for almost 18 years. This artistic practice follows my being an engraver. I love the engraved sign and this love is linked to my usual question: how can I best translate what I think? The sign is the closest thing to the content that would like to be expressed, it comes before the word, the word makes use of it. Think what a fundamental part of thinking! Tattooing marks on the body seemed to me a
natural stage in this process of investigation of content and container. I have dedicated 10 years of my work to artist’s books: if you think about it, it is the same question developed with different supports. Tattooing has become a daily job in a studio opened in 1986 on the island of La Maddalena, which I and a colleague of
mine took on in 1994. The studio is still there, but I have taken other paths. I am an engraver and I have many objects on which to discover the potential of the engraved sign. I studied engraving in Venice at the International School of Graphics in Venice and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. For some years now I have been engraving on raw and cooked clay. I must say that the results are truly intriguing.
You’ve presented your art all over the globe. What was your favorite exhibition and why?
Stefania: Opportunities to exhibit abroad are mainly linked to the experience of the artist’s book. In 1999 I founded the Annual International Artist’s Book Review which in a short time reached museums in Italy and abroad. This type of artistic production has an indestructible charm and combines two extraordinary worlds: an ARTIST who encounters the BOOK can only give an explosive treasure. The field of action is vast and gives the possibility to open up to infinite contaminations: freedom in its pure state. In Italian book is called LIBRO and is very similar to the Italian word LIBERO, which means free. Although I am very attached to three of my personal
exhibitions in Rome (the aforementioned Rosa Alchemica in 2005, the Garden of the Hesperides in 2007, and About Orchards, Venezie and Labyrinths in 2018 in art galleries) I am very happy to have succeeded to bring my experience in the Artist’s book to a project realized in Chile, in 2005. In those years in Chile, there was a great
movement of innovation and investment in the field of culture. This allowed many young people with a great desire to do to learn and produce. I was enchanted by that great opening to take as an example, despite having to do with often obsolete structures. Unfortunately, I believe that such a cultural investment policy is now a
thing of the past. I have been in contact with Chilean guys and artists for several years, honestly, I am no longer updated. But given the facts of a short time ago, I don’t think today is such a flourishing period and full of expectations. I hope I’m wrong.
Your art is so unique and innovative. What motivates you as an artist? Is it curiosity, the search for beauty, or meaning?
Stefania: Reading about being unique and innovative surprises me. I’ve always been harassed by finding a contemporary way of saying things and never having succeeded. Once this made me feel bad and live in frustration, but today I prefer to abandon the restless aspect of creation. I got lost in too many questions about what art is, about what is contemporary, if contemporary necessarily means restless, distressing. Today I also
abandon myself to idyllic scenes that certainly recall beauty. But could it also be read as a desperate desire for it? More contemporary than this …
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Stefania: The biggest challenge for me has always been that of promotion. I live on an island and moreover in Italy (contemporary art in Italy deserves a separate study, like the study of contemporary art), in a historical era where public relations are 90% of the success of an artistic process and where, however, public relations today are looking for new ways. Who knows, maybe this finally works in my favor.
What is your most recent piece of art that you have enjoyed working on the most?
Stefania: A few days ago I finished a mural made on two sides of an external classroom of a high school here on the island. We won a competition that funded works on the theme of climate change. When I thought about the sketch, I had absolutely no desire to carry on the walls the disheartening situation that has arisen as a result of climate change, especially because the walls are part of a school classroom and the children need to be encouraged. Art can do a lot, it cannot be just a document of the current state of things. The mural sees a herd of dolphins emerge from the ground, as if there was water below us, ride the wave and on the second facade reenter the water with energy. If you put yourself in the corner that joins the two facades, you see an incessant circle, a vital and energetic cycle that you must actively follow with your gaze. The title is EQUILIBRIUM. I had already done a mural on my island, a 44-meter work dedicated to the ODYSSEY, but the location of this new mural fills me with satisfaction because it stands in a school, next to an intersection and on the opposite side there is a hospital: health resort. Thinking about the surrounding space to place a large painting made me feel useful for my small town.
Are there any upcoming shows we should know about?
Stefania: I have been working for some years on images of vineyards. They appear to me like gigantic embroideries made by hands that have a lot of experience. I am very attracted to the repeated geometry of the lines and at the same time the disorder of the leaves and the branches. An ordered disorder: can it be said? It appears to me beautiful, poetic, a mythical place. It is not for nothing that the vineyard is one of the favorite places of the mythical world, there are many stories related to it. I am working with ink and embroidery on paper and felt and about 12 large panels are coming out. In my walks in Caprera (remember? The island where I go for a walk in the morning) there are several old dilapidated houses of a century ago, without roof and with torn windows. When I pass them I see these works installed inside them. A way of saying, perhaps, that art does not die and creeps everywhere, even there where public relations are the last thing you expect.
What’s next on the horizon for Stefania?
Stefania: Good question I ask myself every day. I have the sea in front of me, I have a lot of horizon in front of me. I hope not to get lost. Or maybe a little bit yes. Often I would like to leave, but who knows that my island is not the real Ithaca of Ulysses. I do not deny that I often feel alone and I need more opportunities for comparison. One day I asked an important question to one of my teachers, Jeffrey Dell with whom I studied
in Venice. Today he teaches Printmaking at Texas State University. “Jeff, what can I do from here, what’s the right thing in my job? I no longer know how to proceed ”. Jeff gave me an apparently easy answer, but I think it’s very difficult to follow: “You have to do what makes you happy”. I followed his advice, it wasn’t easy. But I felt freer and maybe that’s where I laid the foundation for what would one day become my The Mythical Project.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to rearrange some thoughts.
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