During the 1990s, Rocca dreamt of a fish nursing. She decided to draw the scene exactly as it had appeared to her. Though she’d always been inspired by what she saw in her sleep, she’d never used the content of a dream as an explicit, ready-made image. In Fish Dream and Fish Dream Two (both 1997), a fish suckles at a woman’s breast. Even stranger: Nails protrude from one of the fish’s bellies, and one of the women appears to be made of rope. The drawings vaguely reference motherhood—Rocca gave birth to two children in the 1960s—though she keeps the work strange and surprising enough to defy easy interpretation (much like dreams themselves).
For most of her career, Rocca has maintained a studio at home. As a young mother, she could easily run between personal and family spaces, stealing time to continue her practice. This intersection of creative and domestic life has always enriched her work, giving it an intimate and moving quality. Rocca pointed out one work, Teta (2012), which celebrates the connection between both spheres. The drawing repeats the shape of a teddy bear against different backdrops, framed within a grid. “This was my grandson’s teddy, Teta,” she told me. “It was his little love object.” They used to play hide-and-go-seek with the cloth bear. One of the patterns, behind the figure, derives from Rocca’s couch.
Even though her kids are long grown, the way children understand and process the world has stuck with her. Her oeuvre has always considered how language and images connect at a fundamental level. Before they learn to read words, of course, toddlers learn to read pictures. Rocca keeps children’s pre-readers in her studio, which teach the pre-literate to distinguish between related and unrelated images (she gave the example of a depiction of three men, one wearing his hat at a different angle, leaving the reader to point out the slight divergence). “When you look at a drawing or a painting, you’re reading the image,” said Rocca. “At least in the kind of work that I do.”