Raysa Fontana’s illustration manages to feel nostalgic but timeless; cute but somehow a bit off-kilter and strange. Her muted colour palettes and simple linework might give her images the feeling of a kid’s book that’s been left in the attic to fade, if it wasn’t for the energy that bubbles beneath the surface.
Known online by the pseudonym Desktopgirl, Fontana works mostly with digital tools – something she believes is down to her need to “communicate fast” without the anxious wait for things to dry. However, her work is resolutely analogue in its aesthetic, and her use of colour holds a lot of meaning. “The colours I use the most were present at my first school’s logo, uniform and school bag. There’s also a very particular peachy pinky tone I love that was the colour of a skirt my mom used to wear which was my favourite,” she explains. “We often associate smells with a given memory. Colours do that for me too. It’s a synesthetic relation.”
As well as working as an illustrator, Fontana has dabbled in art direction over the years, taking on projects like the 2014 short film Valentino by Cassiana Maranha and music videos for her wife, Rosie Mankato, as well as art directing images for Mankato’s guitar brand.
Fontana grew up in Curitiba, a Brazilian town about an hour away from the Atlantic Ocean, where she still lives today. “It’s crazy how I hate this city, where people are super conservative, and I’m still here. I guess I’m more attached to my family than I could imagine,” she says. “I come from a very small nuclear family. As an only child, I always felt a bit lonely. My mom was very rigid and my father was absent.”
Her mother’s strictness meant that even though she was a creative child, her talent wasn’t always encouraged. “I’d say my family is artistic,” says Fontana. “My mother always liked to paint, but my father was a very critical person and always focused on pointing out the flaw in everything. There was a period when my mom took classes and painted in oil and he was like: ‘oh, that shadow looks unrealistic, the chair is disproportionate’, in a mean way.
“It’s ironic because my father himself used to photograph when he was a teenager and I think the photos were really great. I guess at some point he buried his artistic self and started to direct his frustration on other people. I think that what I’m trying to say is that things were very messed up, it felt like an endless cycle of fear, ignorance and discouragement.”
Luckily, she had her grandma and great aunt as role models instead. “My grandma would paint all over her clothes – things like a couple of goats copulating when she was already in her 60s,” Fontana explains. “But I would say the turning point was meeting my wife. I met her when we were 15. She plays the piano, the guitar, sculpts, draws, and she has this beautiful ability to see through people. She saw through me and was a great force on this journey.”
Recently, Hato Press published Fontana’s zine, Some Nights are Quieter Than Others, which brings together images documenting her struggles with sleep. “Night-time was always intense for me. I used to lay down on the bed for hours failing on my attempts to fall asleep,” she says. “Since I found myself in this creative path, things don’t always look the same. Some nights are quieter than others. It’s not always hell and loud thoughts any more.”
While Fontana’s work is varied in terms of its themes; it’s united by an approach akin to the Japanese idea of ‘wabi sabi’, which celebrates the beauty in things that are imperfect and transient. “The idea of wabi sabi, of finding beauty in imperfection, is my breakthrough,” says Fontana. “Knowing there’s always two sides of the same coin made me truly take in that all my virtues are somehow impossible to disentangle from my weaknesses. I think that’s evident in my work. The shaky lines, the vulnerability, the disproportionate legs, all those details are like a mantra of accepting not only who I am, but the others. I’m happy I finally got the chance to feel the beauty in the imperfection.”