I like to illustrate books where the contents and literary proposals differ greatly from one another. I believe that this is the most fascinating aspect of the act of illustrating, and this certainly is the greatest challenge that the illustrator can face. In my work, I always hope that my interpretation of the text is not unique. I try, most of the time, to create doors – real secret passageways that allow people to have their own single view. Therefore, I am always concerned about not overly conditioning the reader. I believe that the act of creating images does not come directly from the words, but from in between the words. Thus, my concern in creating an adequate image for each text, that may or not match my personal taste, or my vision of art. That is why I have no intention of being recognized from a book to another. In my work, I would like to replace the word style by approaching method. The text is the origin of everything. It is impossible to illustrate without loving literature. It is impossible to illustrate without loving to read.
I see the illustration as a creative process similar to the work of an actor who plays different roles – which requires some training in order to conceive a character.
Taking into consideration this concept that guides the way I see the illustration, I would say that if we, for instance, supposedly adopt the method developed for acting by the Russian theatrical director, teacher and actor Konstantin Stanislavski that emphasizes the psychological motivation of the actor stressing the importance of the actor's inner identification with the character for the relation text and image, this practice would not be suitable to the illustrator, due to the realistic and categorical identification principle of the actor to the role proposed by Stanislavski. As an illustrator, I believe that the identification above mentioned would be faithful to the text, almost a mirror image, but would be unreal in relation to the illustrating art. I believe thus, that the illustrator needs a certain critical distance from the text.
I see the illustration style as a unilateral mechanism, an unlimited pre-adoption of the text. The illustrator does not take into consideration gender or literary intention, when he is interpreting. Actually, he has learned along the years to draw his own drawing. In other words: he does not apprehends the text in order to learn, later, the adequate drawing to that text.
Along the 30 years of my career, I have illustrated a diverse universe of texts, from Christopher Marlowe (Faust), Victor Hugo (Pecopin), Michael Ende (Momo) to Brazilian authors such as Ana Maria Machado, Rogério Andrade Barbosa, Luciana Savaget and one of the greatest Brazilian children's literature writers, Walmir Ayala. How could I have a unified concept and image when illustrating writers so different and contradictory among themselves?
I find that distance is fundamental. I believe that when I illustrate a book I am in the illustration but I am not the illustration.
In the presence of a text, the illustrator is not before – the form comes from literature, which is a secret to be interpreted by images. I see the illustration as a literary gender, where the sentences are built through the alphabet of signs and symbols. Using this criterion the illustrator develops and interprets what can be illustrated. And what can be illustrated is not always what is literary relevant to the writer. Back to the analysis about the theater for its approach to literature, I have studied this relation along the years, that is, theatre and illustration, although I had an interest for the cinema. I have been working for many years with animated films in parallel with my work of illustrator. In order to understand the work of illustrating, I got myself closer to the theatre rather than the cinema due to the theatre conventions and syntaxes, as well as the relation of the actor with the text. The live sequence film is a basic reference to my work in animated films.
I have studied the oriental theatre, especially the Japanese one, the Kabuki and No theatre that have influenced the Russian film director, Sergei Eisenstein and the playwright Bertold Brecht. Watching and reading the work of these two authors I have succeed, at least I hope so, to make an inference with the illustrating act, something that I have always been worried about. Following Stanislavski's paths, I understand that the illustrator should not be dominated by the text, as an immersion and catharsis process. I do not understand the meaning of distance as indifference and alienation, as I also do not see illustration as a tempest of passions, like in Romanticism, nor an autistic language.
I believe that a distant and critical elaboration of the text would make more authentic and faithful both literature and my work as illustrator. Thus the style, something preexistent and predictable, would be incoherent. It would be a prêt-à-porter image. The truth would not be in the constant solutions but in the own contradiction of solutions found in each text. As each writer has a different style, I believe that the best thing would be – and this is my constant search – to have nothing before nor after in terms of image. In other words, when creating a book, the ideal thing would be not to have a visual solution that could be repetitive.
Curiously, this working process – although its relation with an essentially figurative language as that of illustration – could be defined as here and now, which is the basic premise of the abstract art.
The book Tapete Magico written by the renowned author, Ana Maria Machado, which I have illustrated, is a good example of the difference between approach and style. The four tales narrated by the author have different themes and topic. It was not the author's style that defined the four graphic solutions I have found for the book, but the subject and the theme. This kind of behavior depends on the book even on the graphical aspect of the word.
In other books I have tried to concentrate my formal research directly in the plastic form and on the way the writer writes. I would call this process literary-visual: the book Língua de Trapos by Adriana Lisboa, which I have recently illustrated, is a reference. The delicate, round, sinuous way used by this young and talented poet inspired me to search for solutions in volute forms.
In other situations, I try to put myself distant from the subject or theme of the book and this is what happened when I illustrated the above mentioned work. I realized, on pages 18 and 19, that the poet used 29 times the letter O. This detail guided me to another kind of plastic fidelity to the text: I made use of circular forms that would be, in graphical terms, a substitute for the sound obtained by the Os exploited by the poet.
The relation word-sound and image-text are an example that takes us to the book Songs of Innocence by William Blake who has an influence in my work. In the illustrations of Língua de Trapos if we had a previous style it would be impossible to reach these conclusions and findings, extracted from the relation text and image.
Another example of this relation where a previous style would not be possible to make an interpretation is the book Viva Jacaré, which I illustrated in 1983. The author of this book is Cora Ronai who has a lyric style in the beginning of the book and a tragic and pungent one in the end.
I would like to call the attention for two aspects used in this book as approach of the text. First of all, the fact that the book changes its plastic solution (I do not want to use the word style) as the words become gloomy in the text. On pages 12 and 13 I split the words, even the syllables and illustrated them. My intention was to make a visible interpretation of the beautiful sound of the Portuguese language at the right moment that the writer narrates the alligator's joy when waking up on its natural habitat.
I believe, and this has been the basis of my work, that fidelity to the text is not in worshiping the illustrator, but in the sincere and professional impersonality of the search of the writer's truth in each word, sentence, syllable and letter.
Facing a text to be illustrated, my intention is not to be more than a writer. I just do not want to be an extension of the writer in the form of images. On the other hand, I am conscious that it is not all that is said in literature that has a graphical aspect. That is, it is not all that can be illustrated. There are moments when the abstraction of the text is so intense, that any image would make it vulgar. Nevertheless, it is common to have a textual expression that does not fit the transcendence of certain images – any word would be unnecessary to explain it. In a text, there are many things that cannot be represented and not every image can be explained with words.