top of page

Codex Novus. Olivia Kishi and her art studio in Cannaregio. A magical world of paper!

Olivia Kishi - Codex Novus

Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings

Olivia Kishi is so young yet so inspirational. When you meet her, you see a clean face, a simple person, apparently quiet and tranquil, but once you start talking with her... you can't help but remain impressed by her knowledge, curiosity and liveliness. A talented artist whom I met thanks to her father, Nelson Kishi, another artist you are probably familiar with, founder -together with his wife Robin Frood- of the Codex studio in Fondamenta degli Ormesini.

Olivia is a multi talented artist. Her main interest revolves around the Shadow Theatre, and ranges from drawings to storytelling and more. Not long ago, she opened her own workshop and called it Codex Novus. It is located in a side calle of the busy Fondamenta della Misericordia and it is a space of dialogue and discovery. A wonder, a truly unique reality in Venice. There you will find worlds made out of paper, small theatre-like scenes, tunnel books, maquettes, puppets, drawings and prints. She also keeps some works by the other members of her family too.

I would love to introduce her to you, so I asked her a couple of questions. Please find our brief interview below.

Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings

1) Olivia, Venetian daughter of artists. Tell us a little something about yourself.

I was born and raised in Venice, among Palazzos and water canals. My parents have always encouraged me to develop my passions since I was a small child. Drawing is one of my biggest interests, and in addition to that, there have always been books: I have always read lots of them and I have always been fascinated by the stories and the emotions they trigger. I went to Art school (Liceo Artistico Statale di Venezia), where I specialized in scenography. It was the option that suited me the most, as it combines my passion for stories and art and translates them into a language available to all. Once finished high school, with the support of my father, I opened my studio Codex Novus, where I work and produce my art today.

2) How did you discover shadow theatre and what were the aspects that initially draw you towards this world?

It was thanks to Beniko Tanaka, Japanese artist who lives and works in Lisbon, that I discovered shadow theatre and the art behind it. I had already seen shadow theatre puppets, but only displayed inside museums; Beniko showed me how these can come to life. I was impressed by the result: the movement of the shadows on the white cloth is so simple yet so evocative that I felt I needed to learn more and delve into this world.

Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings
Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings

3) Is there a specific artist that inspires you? Where do you get your inspiration?

I find inspiration from many different sources, but if I were to name one reference figure I would say Lotte Reiniger. Lotte Reiniger was a German artist who created black cardboard silhouettes, simply cutting them with the scissors, and she was also an important innovator in the sphere of stop-motion animation. I saw her movie “The adventures of Prince Achmed” and remained amazed by the attention to detail and the fairy-tale like atmosphere, which she obtained only using black silhouettes on a white background, and no other colors.

4) In addition to shadow theatre, you also create small paper scenes. How are your stories born?

To create the “shadow-boxes”(this is how I call them) I always start from something simple and straightforward, which can be narrated through gestures. The study of art history has proven to be very useful for me, because many of the works of the past were born with this purpose: to tell a story without the use of words, through a language made of gestures, expressions, suggestions fixed in a moment, which the observer could easily read and recognize. I am inspired by texts that already exist, like certain classics, novels, theatre and opera plays, myths, fairytales, and try to choose scenes that are recognizable, the story of which is easy to understand. Other times I create scenes from scratch, always providing enough clues to the observers for them to be able to recreate the story. The important thing is that my works convey and communicate something, an emotion, a message, or perhaps trigger a question.

Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings
Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings

5) Among your works, I've also seen some tunnel books. Can you tell us something about this idea?

Tunnel books are a particular type of artist book, very similar to the foldable scenic maquettes. I learned how to create them thanks to another artist that works with shadow theatre, Jane Paterson, who lives in Glastonbury in England. Jane has helped me many times, giving me precious advice and also materials. Tunnel books have led me to develop other works too, like the “shadow-boxes”, which I mentioned earlier.

6) What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free-time I draw cartoon comics. It's another passion of mine and another tool to express myself and share stories. I only need a sheet of paper, a pencil or pen and... I am engaged for hours! I also like to listen to music and think how I can translate it into images, or watch a good movie; I always learn a lot of things I can use in my shows and comics.

7) When did you open the studio and how was it received in the neighborhood?

I opened my studio on the 29th of October 2022, but my father and I had been working there for months and had already met the neighbors. Everyone welcomed me with warmth and showed a sincere interest for my project and offered their help. I am happy to have them as neighbors and every morning, when I am at work, I exchange a lot of greetings.

Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings
Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings

8) Pros and cons of living and working in Venice?

I have the fortune to work in a quiet area, far from the busier streets, but with a good traffic of people. The nice thing about Venice is that it is easy to meet friends and acquaintances, exchange words, tips, ideas... these are occasions of 'enrichment'. Then there are many museums, libraries, other incredible places to develop knowledge and find inspiration. The city itself, with its unique history and architecture, offers so much food for thought to artists. Although, I do suffer to see that Venice is slowly losing itself: the ignorance and disrespect of some people damage the city immensely, and this hurts.

9) Future projects?

In the future I hope to continue to do shows with puppets and to perfection my art in this sphere. I am publishing a graphic novel called "The Dinosaur and the Robot" and hope to realize more, maybe centered on Venice. I especially hope to make Codex Novus a place where people bring their children, friend and relatives and show them a shadow show, illustrated books, prints and more.

Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings
Olivia Kishi - Art Studio in Venice Italy - Shadow Theatre and Drawings

It was such a pleasure for me to talk with Olivia and see her incredible and original work. I feel I learned so much and I would encourage you to support her art. The next time you are in Venice, go visit her shop and loose yourself in her magical paper world. One of my favorite quotes is from Bertold Brecht and it is "it is simplicity that is difficult to make", and I think it fits Olivia perfectly. So simple, so deep. A true discovery!

Codex Novus

Cannaregio 2569, Venezia (Google map)


bottom of page