Illustrator Andrea Popyordanova is Asymptote’s guest artist for the July 2016 issue. Her beautiful collages reimagined scenes from thirteen texts in our Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, Writers on Writers, and Multilingual Writing Feature sections. Guest Artist Liaison Berny Tan interviewed her about contributing to Asymptote and how she develops her unique imagery.
Berny Tan (BT): The illustrations you created for Asymptote have this wonderful effortlessness about them, even when they’re composed of so many elements within a single frame. Could you take us through your process of conceiving and executing each piece?
Andrea Popyordanova (AP): I usually look at the most powerful descriptions in each text. I trust my intuition—if I vividly remember a particular expression or moment in a text, I visualize that. I start by composing the image in color, and then lay down the details that complete the whole. It’s all very quick, all about recreating a feeling or a striking image in my head. There isn’t really a process; it’s more of trying things until there is an image that works.
BT: You have a great way of visually setting a scene that feels almost like a memory of the narrative itself. In your editorial work, what are the challenges of balancing image and text, especially when you have to capture the text in a static image?
AP: I try to be slightly more analytical. I focus on the point of the text, and emphasize or extend it with my piece. An illustration in a magazine functions as a highlight of what the illustrator thinks is important in the text. I also try to figure out what’s appropriate for the readers of the article, and to match the style of my work to the publication.
Translation, like marriage, is the art of making things work; so it should be no surprise that some of the best translations in literary history were made by married couples.
Frequently this is a matter of convenience, or at least begins that way. One partner is fluent in one language; one is a better writer; one has more time. Talents assert themselves and sacrifices are made, until eventually the two sides work things out enough for the garbage to get taken out and the dog fed. The book gets done, in other words, which is another way of saying that the labor that produced it disappears behind a finish so perfect that it confuses pets and makes guests wish their own lives were so spotless.
For Willa and Edwin Muir, the Scottish couple whose translations of Franz Kafka, Hermann Broch and many others introduced English-language readers to some of the greatest German modernists, translation was a gift and a curse. On the one hand, it offered them money and a sense of accomplishment; on the other, it encroached on the writing that both of them, at different points in their lives, considered a true calling. But no matter how they thought about it, translation remained a means of survival for the couple: a lifeboat in which they bobbed, happily or at odds, through some of the most treacherous waters of the 20th century.
Earlier this spring I attended StAnza, one of Scotland’s major international poetry festivals. After an early flight from Stockholm to Edinburgh, I boarded a bus taking me to the east coast of Scotland. The bus made its way through twisty and narrow roads, overlooking green hills on one side, while the other faced long, golden sand dunes and black rocks coated in seaweed. Two hours later, I arrived at the city of St. Andrews, or as the Scots say it, Saunt Aundraes, the home of the festival.