Found in translation

Many years ago, when I was very young, my grandmother used to tell me that my vocation was translation; she meant translation of literature (poetry especially) from European languages into Russian (she did quite a bit of translation from Swedish herself). She would give me heaps of books about theories and practice of translation, which I read with interest, but remained unconvinced.

As my life drew me further and further into the bilingual (and, occasionally, trilingual) state of mind I now enjoy, I saw the boundaries imposed by differences between languages clearer and clearer; my doubts about the very possibility of meaningful translation from one language into another grew ever stronger. It looked increasingly like a process in which a lot is bound to be lost, and nothing is to be found.

There are exceptions, of course: a bilingual poet can as it were regrow a poem afresh, on a new soil, in the context of their native language and culture; it is also a translation, in a sense, but it's also poetry in its own right, vitalized by a connection to the same deep source, enriched by the differences between languages (rather than being impoverished by them).

A similar process, I now find, is possible at the intersection of poetry and painting. Come to think of it, my relationship with them is akin to a nearly bilingual person's relationship to languages; in particular, to my own relationship with English and Russian: my knowledge of English as a listener and as a reader might be as good as anyone's, and it plays a leading part in the ongoing play of my life; but Russian is still my native tongue, residing at the very core of my mind and brain. Similarly, my connection to poetry as a reader is fundamental to my existence, I hear and understand this medium, but I am not a poet: only in painting can I feel as a native.

The process of translating poems to paintings has turned out to be one of the most enriching in my life so far; a process in which more is being found than I could have ever imagined in my wildest dreams. In this section of the website, I combined three small series dedicating three poems most ringingly important to me at this junction of my journey, and most fundamental to the very experience of translating poems into paintings, to discovering and feeling connections between seemingly disparate art forms, and their relation to life itself: "Life my sister" by Boris Pasternak, SILENTIUM by Osip Mandelstam, and the Prologue to "Nemesis", by Alexander Blok

My thoughts occasionally return to my grandmother's insistent advice given so many years ago, which I had never taken seriously enough before I somehow stumbled into this idea of translating poems into paintings. There is something strangely encouraging in this memory, in the understanding that she was, in a sense, right after all.