Art Radar profiles ten Turkish artists to look out for.
Positioned as the gateway between Europe and Asia, Turkey boasts of a diverse and dynamic contemporary art scene. Art Radar features ten Turkish artists whose work is going places.
The Turkish art scene first started to develop in the 1980s when the privatisation of the Turkish economy benefited art galleries. The first Istanbul Biennial in 1987 was a key milestone for promoting art in Turkey that educated local audiences and created international visibility. Since then, art production has flourished due to the passionate involvement of young artists and gallerists and the establishment of profit and nonprofit institutions.
Established in 1998, Pi Artworks is a prime example of a gallery that works hard to promote international exposure of Turkish art. In October 2013, it became the first Turkish commercial gallery to expand to London and introduce Turkish artists to a British audience.
Ten of these exciting artists are profiled below.
Volkan Aslan (b. 1982, Ankara, Turkey) works with found objects, in particular decorative ceramic statuettes and ornaments that remind him of his childhood. What has now become his trademark figurine art involves a procedural, ritualistic process. He repeatedly shatters these ornaments, recompiles the broken pieces and then amalgamates them into hybrid configurations. In doing so, Aslan evokes the surreal in the unexpected and interrogates the malleability of memory and time.
Performance artist Nezaket Ekici (b. 1970, Kırşehir, Turkey) studied under Marina Abramovic at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Braunschweig or the Braunschweig University of Art, and the physical and emotional intensity of her work matches that of her teacher’s. In Emotion in Motion, which lasts over many days, Ekici painstakingly covers a space completely with lipstick stains through repeated kisses transforming an act normally associated with love into a never-ending act of torture.
In Balance (2012) Ekici stands blindfolded in a transparent dress covered in butter and holds two heavy scales containing butter knives. Hanging around her in the space are pieces of bread that viewers are invited to pull down and butter using her knives. Ekici’s arms shake with the weight of the scales: eating buttered bread is the only way to lighten her load and yet is also an act which will eventually leave her naked under the transparent gown.
One of Turkey’s most influential portrait artists, Horasan (b. 1965, Turkey) works across a wide range of media including ink, printmaking, photography and oil painting. He is best known for his large-scale and multi-layered oil paintings, which are highly textured with intricate filigree patterns.
Horasan’s most recent body of work focuses on the toll of time, humanity’s quest for immortality and the defiance of the human spirit against the ravages of age. Although modern man is forever obsessed with youth and beauty, the all-powerful agent of time eventually renders everyone as equals. In Horasan’s depiction, aged human faces become sexless and indistinguishable in gender but retain a certain grace, beauty and dignity.
Nejat Satı (b. 1982, Izmir, Turkey) utilises technical innovations to re-think the practice of painting. Mixing acrylic paint with a viscous, quick-drying gel to create his own signature material, Satı applies this to his canvases using either a brush or squeegee. He then further works with the surface, for example by adding pressure until the dried paint cracks. The result is a dynamic, experimental body of work with varying outcomes.
While the abstract nature of his work recalls western painters from the post-war era, Satı’s unique gel-wax material dries into a hard, plastic surface with a high gloss sheen. This pristine finish evokes the sensation of mass-produced commercial goods and represents the antithesis of the individuality of paintings.
The work of Gülay Semercioğlu (b. 1968, Istanbul, Turkey) is reminiscent of colour field abstract paintings but with one important difference: instead of paint, Semercioğlu uses deftly spun wire mounted on wooden frames. Her masterful manipulation of the wire creates delicate textures and patterns that effectively mimic a painter’s brushstrokes, and yet a strong sculptural dimension is present on account of the light-reflecting qualities of the intricate three-dimensional surfaces.
In addition, the artist’s recent works take singular units of nature as their starting point and use them as metaphors for life. As a result, Semercioğlu’s work walks a fine line between dualities and contradictions: balancing painting and sculpture, light and darkness, and meditating on the relationship between part and whole.
Mehmet Ali Uysal
Mehmet Ali Uysal (b. 1976, Mersin, Turkey) originally studied architecture in the mid 1990s before moving on to sculpture. He explores the relationship between artwork and gallery space, probing our understanding of the dimensions and perspectives of our surroundings.
For example, Uysal’s 2013 Istanbul exhibition “Painting” features blank frames embedded in gallery walls that are invisible at first instance. Such installations enable him to work in the space between presence and absence. Through the work he also questions the changing value of painting and critiques the power of galleries, museums and the art market. Another work, Skin 2 (2010), built for the Festival of the Five Seasons in Chaudfontaine Park outside Liege, Belgium, also manipulates space to effect flawless illusion.
Osman Dinç (b. 1948, Denizli, Turkey) grew up in rural Turkey. Even at their most abstract, Dinç’s sculptures recall the farming tools he used as a child when tending to his family’s fields. His output alternates between large-scale freestanding edifices in public spaces and smaller sculptural pieces, and his choice of material is predominantly steel and glass.
Dinç follows a working philosophy that creates the least possible intervention to his raw material, minimising waste and retaining its inherent sense of weight and solidity. Upon completion, the work is treated with nothing more than protective layers of epoxy resin such that the earthy brown colour is preserved. The result is sculpture somewhere at the crossroads between Arte Povera and Minimalism.
Nancy Atakan (b. 1946, Roanoke Virginia, United States) has lived and worked in Istanbul, Turkey since 1969. Starting out as a painter, she gradually progressed to adopt an interdisciplinary and inter-medial approach involving video, text-based and photographic work.
Atakan is influenced by Nicolas Bourriaud’s idea of relational aesthetics and likes to combine both the autobiographical and the fictional in her art. In Mirror, mirror on the wall (2012) Atakan takes the viewer through a personal exploration of what the mirror sees: from her own face to forlorn scenes in the urban landscape of Istanbul’s current massive rebuild. Whether about the human face or urban buildings, Atakan explores concepts of beauty, self-reflection and self-worth.
Ayten Turanlı (b. 1951, Eskisehir, Turkey) works with ceramics and large-scale sculptural installations. She studied ceramics at the Fine Arts Faculty of George Washington University from 1994 to 1996 and at Clayworks Ceramics Studio in Baltimore from 1996 to 1997. Turanlı currently teaches at Pi Artworks as its Ceramic Studio Instructor and Director.
Cobblestones (2010) and Untitled (2011) feature wall-mounted sculptures which display intricate, elaborate craftsmanship to effect a mesmerising illusion of malleable steel. Under her masterful hands the material seems to come to life, and the effect is graceful, disorienting and haunting at the same time.
The work of Ummuhan Yoruk (b. 1979, Izmir, Turkey) is inspired by the bonds created between people who have shared traumatic experiences. In Mat Series (2012), she creates flat, life-sized cut-outs of human figures from coloured polyester and then lays them across the gallery’s floors. Huddled together in couples and groups, it is as if these individuals have collapsed from exhaustion or were forced to the floor as a result of violent explosions. Viewers and gallery visitors who step into the space tower over such victims spread out beneath them, creating a gap between the privileged and the persecuted.
- Contemporary visual culture from Turkey and beyond – in pictures – March 2014 – Istanbul Modern presents an exhibition for its 10th anniversary highlighting contemporary art from Turkey and its neighbours
- Contemporary art in… Istanbul: Art Radar guide – November 2013 – Art Radar‘s art guide series, ‘Contemporary Art In…’, kicks off with a visit to Istanbul
- Turkey’s art in troubled times: Istanbul gallerists’ view from the ground – September 2013 – Art Radar interviews three contemporary art gallerists from Istanbul to find out more about Turkey’s art scene during changing times of street protests and civil unrest
- What’s in a name? Inaugural ArtInternational in Istanbul – exhibitor round up – September 2013 – despite legal issues that forced an eleventh hour name change from ArtIstanbul to ArtInternational, Istanbul’s newest art fair does well
- Turkish art market: ignored no longer – CNN – February 2012 – Private and corporate collectors are playing a key role in the development of the Turkish art market
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