Sep 19, 2009


Reviewed in Books For Keeps No. 169 (March 2008) by Joanna Carey (JC)

Sara Fanelli, an Italian now living in London, has influences that range from artists of the Russian avant garde and the Dadaists, to the African American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Her distinctive work has a very personal visionary quality, that makes it virtually inimitable. Well known for Dear Diary, Mythological Monsters – and her brilliant Pinocchio, her latest book (not aimed at children, but widely accessible) has the intimate, slightly chaotic feel of a scrap-book, and is packed with drawings, etchings and collages, all inspired by literary quotations – hence its title Sometimes I Think, Sometimes I Am (Paul Valery).

This enchanting book ushers you into the labyrinthine world of Fanelli’s imagination, a place inhabited by birds, angels, sprites, devils and tight-lipped onion-headed marionettes with pointy noses and clackety little boots. Like eccentric street performers, they act out the wit and wisdom of the sayings of assorted luminaries like Robert Louis Stevenson, Napoleon and St Augustine, Nabokov, Virgil et al. The drawings are playful, anarchic, romantic and mysteriously disturbing by turns.

Fanelli has a graphic language all her own, wanton loopy scribbles appear to denote energy, lust and confusion, while elsewhere, arrows move purposefully across the pages like guided missiles, or in clusters, as in the Bayeux tapestry. Who knows what it all means – we all see things differently. Saul Steinberg is one of Fanelli’s heroes and in one of the quotes she illustrates (a drawing of an onion-headed sphinx with an enigmatic smile) Steinberg says "The beauty of the sphinx is that you yourself must do the interpreting… interpretation probably does not give us the truth, but the act of interpretation saves us."


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