An illustrious career

Valencian illustrator Ana Juan celebrates 30 years in the business with two new works The literary adventures are inspired by Henry James and Japanese syncretism

Ana Juan.
Ana Juan.Laura M. Lombardia

Fear and love are the divine daughters of the same god. They are emotions born out of hope and fanned by our memories and fantasies. They might come dressed in colorful outfits or simply in black and white, as recreated by illustrator Ana Juan in her two new literary adventures, Otra vuelta de tuerca (The Turn of the Screw) - an extension of the ghostly universe of Henry James - and Amantes (Lovers), pictorial tales of Japanese syncretism that explore different types of love.

The 52-year-old artist from Valencia is celebrating a career spanning three decades with two releases that have more in common than initially meets the eye.

"Perhaps what they share is that their author only managed to overcome her own fears by projecting them on to her images..." muses the winner of the 2010 National Illustration Award.

Since 1983, Juan has been creating worlds of her own and making those of others more visible in publications such as The New Yorker and EL PAÍS.

"I began publishing shortly after graduating from art school, where fortunately I had not been trained to become an illustrator. I approached this craft out of my love of books. However, I was always feeling restless, searching for something that I could never put my finger on.

"I never stopped painting, sculpting, branching out into a few adventures on the side, though close to my profession. Out of the 1,000 roads I have walked down, only books have brought me close to my dream. In any case, maybe one day I will find all that I intuited in the beginning, through illustration or through any other field. Maybe then we will shake hands and say goodbye."

Both new books represent a condensation of Ana Juan's work. And even though they may seem quite different, there is a secret passage that connects them, letting through the uncertainty, the ghosts, the oscillations, the restlessness, the fears, the ambivalence, and the deafening, paralyzing void created by love and fear.

From the book 'Amantes'.
From the book 'Amantes'.EL PAÍS

"I have my profession to thank for having the chance to re-read books that I enjoyed years ago, and tackle them with a different attitude, one of analysis. Knowledge breeds love. The Turn of the Screw is one of the best ghost stories around, and ghost stories are always associated with darkness and the night. But I think this story takes place in the fog that invades the imagination and makes us see our own specters.

"In fact, the illustrations are not done in chiaroscuro, as one might think; there is color in them, color associated with the English countryside and its fog, a fog where anything is possible."

This literary love was illustrated through two narrative lines that complement James' work. Although Juan was initially skeptical about the project because of the vast number of existing versions of the story, she discovered that there was still room for another perspective.

"They are two different lines of narration: in the first place, there are the chapter heading illustrations, which follow the plot in a symbolic way: the main characters become felines and rodents playing the timeless game of cat and mouse.

"On a second level, the illustrations do not refer to any one particular moment in the story, but rather try to capture its unsettling tone. At no time do these two narrations cross. The structure is like a game of Chinese boxes in which one of the doors is always closed, making us wonder about the mystery that lies on the other side."

It is a little like the love she recreates in Amantes, a book she originally published in 2001 after an eight-year process. It all began in 1993, when she was living in Paris and the head of the Tokyo-based publisher Kodansha asked her to illustrate a book with 11 love stories, narrated in eight images.

Now this book is being revisited by Spanish publisher Contempla Edelvives. Most of these stories are about love as a past memory or a dreamy promise rather than a present reality. Is there room for a new story, 20 years after the original project began?

"I don't think so. But each love story is unique and different from any other, which means other love stories could be developed infinitely... Love is only perfect in one's memory."

And as for fears, they are "the traps we set for ourselves."

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