Future Heirlooms – Magali Rizzo

I first saw the work of French artist Magali Rizzo while looking though the Fiber Arts International catalogue and that one piece completed compelled me. Her delicate stitch and drawing technique is nothing short of gorgeous while her technical and compositional techniques combined with her subject matter are powerful.  Since that first moment of seeing her work I have had the pleasure of being exposed to more and more of her work and am delighted to have on of her works in the next exhibit that I am curating.  With each new work I see I am more and more inspired by the lovely stitches of Magali.

Here is an interview with her and great opportunity for to learn more about her and her work, she is an eloquent and very thoughtful artist. Enjoy.

Where do you live? Does this affect your work?

I live & work in Paris.

When I came to Paris 12 years ago, I had to live & work at home, in a tiny flat. This probably influenced me in the choice of making pieces that did not require a lot of space. Stitching & embroidering can be done anywhere.


Are you self taught or formally trained? Do you think this affects your practice, if so how?

I am formally trained as an artist & fabric designer, and self taught as an embroiderer.

The french system of education makes a clear separation between arts & crafts, concept and medium. I often found it difficult to connect the theory with a medium such as embroidery. Therefore, I regard craftwork as deliberately conceptual in my artwork.

Besides, I grew up in a  tailor workshop. My childhood was immersed in a universe of bobbins, threads and needles. This, I suppose, has greatly affected my practice of textiles.


How did you begin to embroider?

I started embroidering in 2006 when involved in an artistic program of mobility in Spain.

Before this experience, I had used embroidery on a series of handkerchiefs taking the Traditional Bridal Trousseau as a reference, while treating it in a subversive way.

I was in Huesca ( Aragon, north of Spain)  when I met the french artist Marie Bouts ; we decided to make a four handed project. The Stories to warm up were brought about by the accounts of  people having lived through the second republic and the civil war in Spain, or having experienced national Catholicism and the democratic transition.  With embroidery, I gave a new interpretation to every drawing or story collected by Marie among the inhabitants of Huesca. The legendary character of the stories was woven into the memories spoken out, and the thread was there to return to the body its own worn-out things.

Your work seems to often explore issues of psychological struggle, can you talk a little about how you began to work with this theme in your work?

I really feel concerned by the nature of human memory. It is volatile, versatile, distorted, and cannot be located in the brain. I am keen on psychoanalysis and particularly interested in the expressions of passion . In classical art, the representation of passion is a major theme. I kept in mind Charles Le Brun’s drawings for instance, while working on the theme of hysteria.

The work that I am most familiar with of yours is a series of portraits based on images of women from a mental asylum- can you tell us a little about this work and the history behind it?

This series was based upon the photographic iconography of the parisian hospital La Salpétrière; it was  publicized in 1982 in The invention of Hysteria. This essay, written by  the french philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman, is concerned with the clinician Charcot ‘s experiments on hysteria from the late 1800s . I was an art student in Bordeaux when I read it for the first time.  I was really impressed by the “tragic beauty ” of the pictures.

When I re-read the book a few years ago, I was struck by the idea of remembrance and serendipity. The forgotten destinies of anonymous madwomen locked up in a mental asylum came back to life while I was embroidering their portraits on vintage sheets. It worked like the reconstruction of a memory. Besides, re-contextualizing medical photographs questions their historic validity & the problem of representation of these madwomen.


What are the challenges in making work based on such a dark history and of subjects who are often in such turmoil?

Basically, I think it refers to the concept of human & collective memory. Working on themes like war or madness, using old photographs or forgotten memories, has to do with our contemporary society, struck with amnesia. History repeating again & again in its worst occurrences still terrifies me.


In your artist statement you mention the role of the bridal trousseaux and traditional domestic embroidery- how does this connect to the subjects of the asylum patients for you?

The principle of traditional domestic embroidery was to mark objects with the seal of ownership: it questions identity and female condition. The thread’s color, red, was meant to symbolize our blood. Before the 20th century, young french girls were supposed to  stitch & embroider their own trousseaux at the age of their first periods. Their school education helped them to count the stitches and sign their name on clothes.

Since antiquity, textile workmanship has been used as a way to control female activities. In the 19th century, french specialists of education treated embroidery as a form of “good” education for young girls, the best way to keep them safe & honest …

In the madwomen’s embroidered portraits, there is a connection between the subject & the medium: the relationship between the technique employed and what is shown makes sense. Choosing a medium  historically assimilated to submission & “good education,” in order to represent revolting bodies, — hysteria happens to be the expression of the body alone when words are missing – creates a tension.

One of the strengths, in my opinion, of your work is your use of negative space, for instance in the work Melancholia, the way you choose to leave areas of highlight blank or “empty” very much adds to the power of the work, especially when considering the subject- How do you come to the choices of your use of negative space?

It stems from the character of the print itself. Not only does it represent someone or something, but it suggests that what was there has disappeared. Many of my works are about this idea. A few years ago, I made a videotape using a series of super 8 home movies. I decided to keep the first & last images visible, before or after the blank tape. I meant to show the white spaces of family history.

In 2006, I was involved in a workshop with children in Spain. I stitched a series of white shirts they wore for a while, until the clothes adopted the shape of their bodies. These little shirts embodied the children’s shape and just looked like their double. Dobles was, in a way, the exhibition of cotton ghosts.

In the series of the madwomen’s portraits, the negative spaces come from the photographs themselves. Some of them were extremely overexposed. I kept this idiosyncratic particularity and used the highlight to an extreme.

And the placement of your subject in the linen?

The way you frame a snapshot makes sense, doesn’t it? It is similar here. I always frame the figure in relation to the story & the support. In Melancholia for example, the woman is off-center & seems to be looking at the empty space — her mental space ?-  situated in the middle of the piece.  Her placement set against the blank space emphasizes the expression of her loneliness.

work in progress.



Because of your use of light or negative space your work seems to have a sense of spirituality. Is this intended and if so how does spirituality inform or inspire your work?

I think it is more or less intended but left undefined. I am concerned with the question of the human kind in a broad way. My work feeds from mythologies, tales or lyrics, collective imagination. It questions the cross-over between individual memory and collective experience.

The story of the Holy Shroud from Turin has definitely influenced my work … let me tell you the story: the Turin shroud is a linen cloth kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the baptist in Turin in northern Italy. According to the legend, this shroud belonged to Christ. On this linen, there is hardly anything to see … but when it was pictured for the first time in 1898, the black & white negative revealed the shroud man’s face. This is the story of a miracle created from an image. When there would be nothing to see on this linen, its negative would reveal its own secret.

As far as I know you only make work in black, do you ever work in color and if not, why do you choose to limit your palette?

I mostly stitch with black thread because my work often begins with black & white photographs. While interpreting these pictures in a drawing, I have to manage with light & shadow; black seems to be the best “color” to overcome this challenge.

I use color as a symbol indeed. For example, the portrait of the two french murderers, the maids known as the Papin sisters, was stitched in red. This color was clearly referring to their crime.

How does the practice of embroidery affect the conceptual aspect of your work?

I use embroidery to draw and tell stories in a realistic style. I choose already existing drawings to give them a  new interpretation. Embroidering on fabric the trace of ball-pen on paper is a way to reread and retell stories.

I think needle artistic work is a great medium to exorcise fear and pain, while reconstructing memories or re-engendering them. The timeless act of sewing is a way, symbolically, to make amends and fix things up.


How does the “memory of the textile” inform you as an artist?

Clothes, linen act as a second skin on man. Actually, life begins with swaddling cloths, and ends with shrouds. My approach to art has always been tied among other things to the work of textile, and to the memories it carries around. Through textile “manipulation”, I invest the rituals and social codes associated to materials. I also value the symbolic energy of the relic inherent to second hand clothes.

How has your work evolved since you first began working with embroidery?


I suppose my technique has evolved with experience. When I began working with embroidery, I could hardly stitch a straight line …Now I feel more comfortable managing transpositions of photographs and giving them the finish of engravings or silkscreen prints. I fancy the idea that embroidery can be confused with another medium.


work in progress.

What is the next direction or step for your work?

I have different projects exploring various connections between object,  pattern and medium and the impact they create. It should work like an applied and critical design. I am thinking of using contemporary pictures from newspapers or stills from old horror movies in black & white…

Describe your studio and studio practice.


My studio is my home … I work – draw, sew or embroider – in my living room. My desk & computer are in my bedroom. This situation reflects me, as I can hardly separate my work from my life.

I spend a lot of time searching pictures on internet or in libraries; my work always concentrates on a picture at the beginning: a drawing, an old engraving, a photograph; then I search the  “perfect ” object  to be matched and embroidered with the image. I am also concerned with the  context — the place & the space of the piece.

Give us an idea of a day in the life of you.

Routine bores me, so I try to make each day different from the last one … and I manage to save time for my art work! I enjoy spending all day at home to concentrate on my artwork; I also relish in socializing, spending evenings with friends round discussions, good wine and dinner!

What else do you spend your time doing?


I am a museum professional; I teach in a fashion school; I often go to the swimming pool because I love swimming, and I go to the market twice a week because I enjoy good & fresh food! Last but not least, I travel as often as I can, because I am curious and love getting new feels from different things in different places.

Where can we see your work? Links, websites, galleries, shops, etc.


Go & visit my blog: magalirizzo.blogspot.com

Besides, I will be involved in two collective exhibits this year in the USA, Fiberarts international at the Memorial Art Gallery of Rochester, and Play at the Textile art Center of Brookyln.

Great interview right! Magali is so interesting and introspective about her work I cannot wait to se what she does next. Who is an artist you would like to see interviewed here at Future Heirlooms leave suggestion in the comments please.

Until next time Keep Stitching!

Joetta Maue is a full time artist primarily using photography and fibers. Her most recent work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the art and craft blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributing to the online journal Hello Craft. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, baby son, two cats, a goldfish.