Anna Laudel Contemporary presents “Epochs”, a solo exhibition of recent works by Turkish painter Gazi Sansoy.
“Epochs” brings together a selection of Sansoy’s thought-provoking paintings, produced over a ten-year period between 2008 and 2018. Art Radar profiles the artist on the occasion of his latest show.
One of Turkey’s top contemporaries
Gazi Sansoy was born in Istanbul in 1968, and is one of Turkey’s top contemporary painters. Sansoy graduated from the Graphic Department in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Marmara University in 1993, where he also completed his master’s degree in 1996. In 2007, the artist founded and ran the Ütopya Platform Art Gallery until 2015. Sansoy has exhibited widely in Turkey, holding many solo shows and participating in numerous group exhibitions across the country. He continues to live and work in Istanbul.
Painting as social commentary
Gazi Sansoy comes from a well-established artistic Turkish family, who are known for their involvement with the creation of satirical political caricatures during the late Ottoman Empire. Inspired by his satirist grandfathers, Sansoy has developed a unique approach to painting that brings together appropriation and social commentary. He is best known for multilayered, large-scale paintings that mix the painterly languages of Western art history and Ottoman culture, as well as erotic representations of contemporary female figures taken from the media. His paintings are visually dense, eccentric tableaux and reflect his sardonic sense of humour.
Synthesising tradition and modernity
In particular, Sansoy uses the miniature figures that populated the canvases of Abdulcelil Levni, a court painter and miniaturist in the so-called Tulip Era of the history of the Ottoman Empire. The Tulip period lasted between 1718 and 1730, during which time the Empire held a less politically antagonistic relationship with Europe. The name derives from the craze among Ottoman court society for tulips (like the Dutch before them), and symbolises a period of relative peace, economic prosperity, social liberty and flourishing support for arts and culture. Sansoy’s paintings combine the stylistic influence of Levni with that of his Western contemporaries, such as Rembrandt and Ingres, and the tropes of Renaissance painting.
Articulating the tension between tradition and the contemporary, Sansoy’s works further bring together disparate images from popular culture, arranged in raucous compositions and painted in a photorealist style. His visual humour is both absurd and subversive; he paints each figure with an equally democratic and ahistorical brush, irrespective of culture, time or location. As he has said of his attitude to iconography,
It’s intuitive. When you put a picture of Kim Kardashian next to an Ottoman miniature, the humour’s there already. I don’t have to work on it a lot.
In spite of this, the process by which Sansoy creates his works is intricate. The artist stores a folder of visual inspiration on his computer of images gleaned from the internet, which he adds to daily. From there, he makes the collages digitally, an extended development of design and editing which can take up to two months, before finally rendering the work in paint once he has settled on the final composition. Even at this stage, Sansoy remains open to chance and creative license.
Speaking to Art Radar, Sansoy discussed the role of the artist:
I don’t believe that a painting, which is produced with 100% consciousness can be beautiful. It is much better to proceed with little planning. It is necessary so that I can look at the painting again and again with the same excitement, I should be wondering why I painted that way. Like the mystery of Mona Lisa smile, just like we have been wondering why she smiled that way…
Sansoy further reflected upon the influence of the Renaissance and Ottoman history:
Renaissance painting has an immense importance in the enlightenment of humanity and in accepting the value of science but also with its exceptional and unique art pieces, Renaissance has a big impact on art history and on many artists of our time including myself.
I enjoy Ottoman History as much as I enjoy painting. It is not just my physical appearance looking similar to my grandfathers but also our spirits are alike. In addition to my father’s skill in painting and music, I received his emotional and psychological attitudes. That’s why I feel like I live both in the past and in the current time and feel like I lived during the Ottoman Period.
“Epochs”, Sansoy’s inaugral exhibition at Anna Laudel gallery, is organised around five bodies of work installed across all three floors of the gallery. Produced between 2010 and 2015, the show includes several examples of his iconic “Miniatures” series, which combine pastoral and religious scenes from the history of art with human forms of the present day. One such work is entitled Attack on Rice (Who are we?) (2012-13), reflecting the artist’s questioning of history and culture.
These are displayed alongside the “Faceless” works, in which Sansoy takes portraits by European artists such as Raphael or Leonardo, and colours over the flesh of the figures with bright, block colours. This creates a marked chromatic contrast between the temporalities of the works’ creation, the figures and the present day.
“Nude and Covered Up Tales / Arabex” (2008-10) are a series of paintings that incorporate photographs taken by Sansoy himself of the anonymous people he encounters on a day-to-day basis.
Two further recent bodies of work, “Divine Milk” and “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Istanbul, Dervishes” make reference to Sansoy’s family history, and its imbrication with the social and architectural fabric of Istanbul. In these works, Sansoy has been influenced by the legacy of his forebears: in particular by his grandfather Muderris Ziya Bey, a satirist who dared to mock Abdulhamid II – one of the most enigmatic and vengeful sultans of the late 19th century.
The exhibition also features a short video portrait of Sansoy, filmed by the photographer, video artist and composer Balamir Nazlıca. The film is part of Nazlıca’s series of video portraits of contemporary artists in their studios, entitled Unconcealment (2017). Through these films, Nazlıca presents the world as if through the eyes of the artist, and reflects upon the poetic nature and political potential of the creative act.
In its position as a nexus of the historical and the contemporary, Istanbul itself plays an important role within Sansoy’s work. In conversation with Art Radar, he said:
I have a longing for old Istanbul, that’s why historical buildings of the city have always inspired me. The old buildings in my paintings mostly exist in real life but most of them are demolished and disappeared. I have always wondered who lived in those houses and what kind of lives they had. In my paintings, there is always a crowd in front of the houses; maybe my mind tried to bring out the life inside of the houses.
Through their humorous and ironic appropriations, Sansoy’s paintings mock the decadent state of contemporary politics. As in one painting, where religious figures bow to piles of Euros, Sansoy likens our present moment to that of the late Ottoman Empire. In a period of increasing cultural censorship, the works and their subversive underpinnings hold particular resonance to artistic life in contemporary Turkey.
“Epochs” by Gazi Sansoy is on view from 11 January until 23 February 2018 at Anna Laudel Contemporary, Bankalar Caddesi 10, Karaköy, Beyoğlu, 34421 Istanbul, Turkey.
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