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Painter & Sculptor of WOMAN & PEACE:


A "Bodrum" Interview by Buket SAHIN


"An experienced artist will keep at a distance from his success. He will not let it predominate his work. Because success is conservative and stagnant. It is a plot against the development of an artist. An artist will not give up his freedom for that." Orhan TAYLAN


"The traditional culture of this land is a combination of the religions, philosophies and the arts of ancient Greeks, Arabs, Armenians, Persians and Slovaks of the Balkans and the influences each one of these had on the others. All that the intellectuals of this land gathered from so many civilizations, from so many different peoples that lived on this land was now to be negated. This is officially considered a reform. Turkey went through this negation of traditional culture very dramatically, and adopted the European institutions in all fields of social, political and economic life.. Tendencies of Europeanization of the country had started already in 1830'es. And that is when the history of Turkish painting starts. An fact, many Turkish critics agree on the assumption that Turkish painting in the western style starts with the depicting of shadow.

Shadow ( and perspective) is, as you all know, distinctive characteristics of the European renaissance. Turks, Persians, Indians, Chinese or Egyptians did not make use of shadow nor perspective in the European sense. Shadow  and perspective were problems of philosophy, of different ways of thinking, of beliefs.

Painters of different cultures painted things in their own styles, it was not the superiority of one compared to the other that differentiated them, but their different ways of thinking.

“The renaissance with its new style, in fact, is a negation of all painting of the previous major cultures of Persia, India, Mesopotamia, China and Egypt.. These paintings used to be a painting of intellect. İt was what they knew and what they believed in that they painted. Whereas The Renaissance introduced a painting of vision. This aspect of the art of the Renaissance could also be discussed as a deviation in the history of civilizations. As the religious subjects of the dark ages faded away the masters of the high Renaissance like Caravaggio and Velasquez and Rembrandt, turned to paint life itself, and whatever was surrounding them. While European philosophers elevated the importance of the individual; painters discovered the correct sentence to go with it;” I paint what I see". Thus the freedom of the artist came to mean that he could paint whatever he liked-the way he saw things-, and be completely free from the Aesthetical preferences of the community surrounding him. This subjectivism in art was convenient as far as the market was concerned. But , as time passed by, the art public became increasingly suspicious and unconfident and unsatisfied and at last indifferent to what is being done as modern art. Today we have two main trends in what we call modern art. The more powerful trend supported by the art market is what starts with Marcel Duchamps and follows up to Andy Warhol, and conceptual art and installations of ready-mades etc. The other trend is weaker, but in my opinion sticks firmly to the depiction of human drama, and is represented by Matisse and Picasso. The last twenty years of modern art -or we could call it post Picasso period-is often said to be "İn risis". İn fact, it is going through a phase of negating the negation of the Renaissance”. “Greenberg, the American critic put it very clearly when he declared that” the painting of our time is whatever is done on a two dimensional flat surface." Today, many painters all around the world are painting, not what they see around them, but their opinions on what they see, their thoughts, their fantasies. This is already a negation of the Renaissance culture. İn a country like Turkey, this means the negation of the official negation.  Now, parallel to the policy of globalization, (if this policy does not turn into the invasion of the world by the American art market), a democratic trend in modern art is rising throughout the world. Democratic in the sense that the intellectuals and artists of different cultures are getting to know, to understand, to respect and to learn from each other. This is no longer the time of the rising of nation-states. This is leading contemporary art towards new universal forms of expression that are no longer national forms.  And this will create, all over to world, a new democratic culture, new ways of thinking and new forms of art. This, I believe, is going to be freedom of Turkish art, and all art in the world."


*Notes taken from Taylan’s Mediterranean Conference XXII Dowling College-Istanbul University, Istanbul in 2000 on Taylan's Contemporary Turkish Art and a Global Problem.. 

* * *

On Experimenting Sculpture:

One day, after many years of experience as a painter, I decided I wanted to make sculptures. At the moment of the decision, I was facing two major problems. What to work with, so that the material should be fast to model and be durable and fine and elegant at the same time? I was certain that I did not wish to do any casting or molding because I wanted every single touch on the material to be the final touch; just like in painting. This was the first problem. After about a year of investigation in the studios of sculptor friends, I came to the conclusion that I was right about eliminating the stage of casting, because it looked to be very similar to what printing techniques do in painting in the sense of limiting an artist in his freedom of expression. This is why I chose to work with easily melting metals.

The second and more important problem, in my case of course, was to set up a language of form similar to what I do in painting. That is, creating a field of freedom in the construction of the image by eliminating the third dimension. Traditionally sculpture is defined, among others, by one of its irreducible specialties; by the third dimension. But in my position, my way of looking at the matter presented to me no other solution from that of starting with a metal sheet, as I would with a sheet of paper and ending up shaping it in a three dimensional space. As I was freed from the necessity of modeling my figures in the third dimension, I used the third dimension as a means of expression when needed. It was not that I intended to declare this to be some brand new idea, but my need to be able use a free language of expressing myself. That is how my expression ended up in this kind of  a language in sculptural form.

 I have this unspeakable passion on Taylan's colors -  seems to me that he has a great sensitivity to color.( I certainly feel his colors are very dominantly soft, yet romantic. I understand that he uses a mixture of representational and abstract styles by using oil colors on a simple acrylic base with a special brush… Honestly, the blues & shades of redness touch me quite deeply and awake all my wonderful memories from my last trip in Spring - 2002 to Bodrum's fish villages on Aegean coast where I had the privilege to visit his workshop.. I can secretly peek at his workshop in the back of his house and say that one of the things he is doing passionately is painting, in a way, to balance the conditions surrounding us in which we lose our "ordinary lives – as he does on his each morning & night in Bodrum days, whether picking up his fresh fish from a neighboring bay with his innocent looking but mighty boat or simply pouring his glass of raki under his grapevined garden cardak with utmost breathtaking view of Aegean Sea and not surprisingly accompanied with balladic songs of Thesalloniki.. ." I am trying to elaborate on his note,  "Where exactly is the mystery of a painting hidden? In the painting or in the painter?".. and I silently agree that some things cannot be communicated with lengthy explanations and are best left unspoken.

* * *

- You started a controversial debate regarding the painter's pricing of his works should be same whether purchased from his own workshop or from a privately owned gallery… What are the biggest challenges you face each day as an artist in today's politically & economically challenged Turkey, specially on verge of documentary painting?

Since the military coup in 1980, we have been facing the nationalist and with the last form of government is a Islamic governments. These conditions forced me and the artists sharing my political view, to stay away from government supported organizations, official galleries run by Minister of Culture, various private organizations and TV art-shows favoring political view of these governments  ..

Due to my reputation, they are not interested in my works neither! But, at the end, this conflict creates limitations on my professionalism, but at the same time it helps me focusing as an active alternative artist in a constantly producing art environment.

- How does your artistic expression help with those challenges?

Painter & Sculptor Orhan TAYLAN

- Unless there are dramatic conditions such as being in a war; I try not to exaggerate the atmosphere of my paintings. I try not to be overly dominated and carried away with such extremes except conditions like being in a war.. I try to sensitize my work atmosphere and not being influenced by any potential temporary conditions. Yes,  I want my works to be democratic & alternative, yet remain intellect  and prevail as cooler heads..

- Historically, paintings depict illusionary themes, such as landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes or figurative images. At one time paintings were being referred to as windows to the world. Your paintings invite the viewer to enter into female body and reach beyond their illusions. In a sense, they are more like a Looking Glass than windows. In your Gallery booklet, you mentioned that your mentors are the  masters from the culture that you grew up in, not necessarily the acclaimed art masters of Europe. If you could meet any artist alive or dead, who would you choose?         

- I'd say Jackson Pollock. He had quite intense connections with Mexican leading artists and then was influenced from Picasso, and other European painters post the famous drippings period. However, I believe there is a big drama for why he returned back to his further searches on design. It would be so wonderful to chat all about this with him and open a bottle of whiskey.


- What are your thoughts on contemporary art? Who will have an influence in 100 years time?

- Art history contents many periods. Some reached their peak levels for maybe twenty-thirty years but then gradually disappeared. I believe that the move we name 'Contemporary' will be one-day remembered as a deviance as well. Let me be clear on this comment by framing it within its political boundaries. Contemporary art is another form of hostile takeover in world of art through globalism and monopolization of international corporate governance in our modern days. This governance has been creating a GLOBAL art environment that can be easily manipulated and directed through the curators of Art-Gallery ownership's controlled and chosen by corporate holding incorporations which as a result lost its interaction & connection with intellectuals and  sincere art loving public. I believe that eventually this manipulated and hostile situation will be replaced by a truly democratic-global art environment...

- Which one came first? Your initial art discipline was painting and later experimented in Sculpture.  Your career has spanned many different mediums - painting, design, revolutionary poster publishing, sculpture - which do you prefer to work in mostly? And, how did you develop such a diverse creative

- Neither in Eastern Art, nor in pre-renaissance European Art;  artists did not limit their works just with painting or sculpturing . Generally speaking, an intellect artist can not limit himself with any form of art. Any well-educated artist will interact with politics, science, physics as well as art itself and will keep creating. Isn't this the most natural and awesome result of being an artist? I believe that human being's  curiosity and talents has no limits and therefore I also use different mediums of art, not only limited to one kind of technique or use of material.


- Excitingly, I've noticed a number of references to breathing in your paintings. The matter of breathing is something to be understood.I feel some of your paintings are like form of praying for female body!
Another phrase of yours I've made a note of is "Mysteries of lives lived in our bodies." That part, "lived in our bodies" ˜I find that very interesting. All that "sculpting the body," and so on, I'd say it reflects the obsession with surfaces you mentioned earlier and not really an interest in the body itself, strangely enough. Certainly not being present in the body, as you say. (or am I speculating?) And when I think about it as you're talking...what model do we have in our society that would lead us toward ourselves in the way you're speaking about..? I think these things are not easy to articulate. Which leads me to this question: What is it that painting can do that words can't?

- This is the hardest "QUESTION" I've been ever asked in my life! Due to its challenging content, I will not easily pass on it. (However, I have to work more on this question later on).  Words can create strong images in our brains that never existed before. However, the paintings will enrich and add new meanings to these unclear images existing visually in our dreams, memories and fantasies. This is all I can say for now regarding this question that actually I could write a book on it. I am thankful to you for providing me such an interesting questionnaire..

- Thank You, Mr. Taylan.

Orhan TAYLAN. Foto Buket SAHIN, Demirkoy, Bodrum, June 15 2002

Orhan Taylan's No-Face-Women on Canvas’ in Asmalimescit..

"Orhan Taylan does not place his painting in a particular school of art. He prefers being a master in his art to teaching art. He thinks it virtuous to defend democracy against prospective putschists and defenders of the sharia. He does not live abroad. He lives in Asmalimescit/Istanbul and Bodrum, he paints."

On Asmalimescit, the deceptive secret old city of new Artisans: - There are many beautiful streets and beautiful buildings in old Beyoglu, though many are in a state of tragic neglect. Foreigners, in particular, tend to be romantic about these neighborhoods, however decrepit, because our own inner cities are either new or have suffered from a blight of "urban renewal" that has destroyed the atmosphere forever. Since 1535, and even before, the region of "Pera" (which means, in Greek, "the opposite shore") has been considered "foreign" and somehow un-Islamic, a place where there were always bars, where glamorous Russian princesses scandalously danced the waltz with men, and where French was the language of preference. Most people are aware of the grand and wedding cake architecture of embassies which proliferate between Galatasaray and Tunel -- The French, the Swiss, the Swedish, the British, Polish, Russian, Dutch and Danish whose naughty wives and daughters attended the balls of Pera at the turn of the century. Then there were the Levantine, Greek, Armenian and Jewish merchants whose ancestors still lend their names and tastes to the turn of the century buildings which remain in Beyoglu today. This area called Asmalimescit has little in the way of imposing or pompous heritage -- these narrow streets haven't made the history books or tourists guides because they were primarily residences of merchants rather than pashas. Today they are dark and run down, yet each is permeated with a darkly romantic history, full of the very dust and tears of the past which have not yet been swept away to please the sensibilities of tourists or middle class Turkish families. For unlike the rapidly gentrifying techno culture of Beyoglu, Asmalimescit is still "the opposite shore": marginal, off-beat, left wing and artsy. In fact it's probably the last place in Istanbul where old hippies, foreign or domestic, can still feel at home, remembering the Summer of Love, '68, before they had to grow up and get jobs. Asmalimescit is in every way reminiscent of the original Parisian "Left Bank" which is now a tourist trap full of overpriced restaurants, a far cry from "artist's quarter" of Hemingway's era. One of its greatest assets is the narrowness of its streets which have basically ensured that cars, that great bane of urban life, can't get through to choke the life out of hanging vines, Art Nouveau tiles and pavement bistros. A few people who work down there, mostly connected to the few remaining sweat shops that took over when Beyoglu was in decline, may try to insist on their right to park in the narrow alleys. But the artists and small cafe owners are fighting back with bathtubs full of geraniums, sometimes even knocking holes in the pavement to let a vine tumble out of the cracks - adapted from Molly McAnailly Burke.

“Nowadays nobody tends to believe that an artist without a fancy car could be a good artist. It might not be a car he is after but wings. Would the total value of the jewelry worn by a lady who tries to despise sagacity and virtue, make her right?

Artists have always been empirically dubious in terms of success. In their opinion, the contemporary criteria of success may not be in harmony - like a dress of a transvestite that doesn't fit the ground it's on- with their criteria of what is good art.

Success in our days, seems to be more reachable than ever. But the difficulty in reaching it lies in the fact that those who control the distribution of success are in obscurity. Many young artists wish to come up with an art that is original, unseen and unexecuted. Whereas good painting does not really point out the theme or form of painting, but the painter. A persons’ self is particular and unique. The painter, while dealing with life around him, reveals himself. The secret of the success -which is hardly an aim- of an artist lies in the historical overlapping of subjective and objective factors. This may occur, irrelevant with the quality of the art produced. Or, an artist may never meet success although having worked hard, if times are, let's say, times of a military coup or of calamity. But after all, does all this have much significance? Where exactly is the mystery of a painting hidden? In the painting or in the painter? Could an artist, hide behind his work? Could he produce an acceptable style that does not reveal his personality frankly, and say that this is his art? An experienced artist will keep at a distance from his success. He will not let it predominate his work. Because success is conservative and stagnant. It is a plot against the development of an artist. An artist will not give up his freedom for that”…Notes written for the catalogue of the N.Y. exhibition, Sep.2000

 "A persons" self is particular and unique. The painter, while dealing with life around him, reveals himself. The secret of the success -which is hardly an aim- of an artist lies in the historical overlapping of subjective and objective factors. This may occur, irrelevant with the quality of the art produced. Or, an artist may never meet success although having worked hard, if times are, let's say, times of a military coup or of calamity. But after all, does all this have much significance?” I believe to define oneself in a limited capacity is to restrict one's creativity. I must push the envelope and challenge myself as an evolving human being. My credentials as a visual artist are impeccable, as my curriculum vitae reveals".

Biography of Orhan TAYLAN

Born in Samsun in 1941, of a Thesalloniki descendant father and painter artist mother from a Pasha family of Istanbul. Graduated Roberts College and the Fine Arts Academy of Rome. Two years of military service in an Anatolian village as a primary school teacher. Graduates the Fine Arts Academy of Rome and returns to Turkey. Membership to the Workers Party of Turkey. Mural paintings, posters for democratic organizations and trade unions, drawings for progressive publications. First solo painting exhibition in 1968. Besides painting, his early years' works consist of ceramics, posters, theater designs, photography and some cinematographic work. First marriage Works on ceramics, graphics, stage design and experimental short films. Group works with sculptor K.Acar, cartoonist T.Oral and other artists. Military coup, taken in custody on a midsummer midnight together with wife and cartoonist T.Oral. All his archive and hundreds of books destroyed.

Group exhibitions in Paris and Berlin.
Draws the countrywide popular poster for the 1st of May, winning 1st prize in the International Poster Competition of the World Federation of Trade Unions, Prag. First mural painting execution during the International Arts Festival of Antalya; 'Prometeus', acrylic on cement, 110m2. Chairman to the Visual Arts association of Turkey. Divorce. Another major mural painting 'Our World'; acrylic on cement, 70m2, Metal Workers Union Building, Istanbul. Military Coup of 12th of September. Destruction of the mural 'Prometeus' in Antalya by military command. Birth of son, Ferhat. Detention for eight months, by military court with the accusation of being a founder and board member of the Turkish Peace Committee. Exhibition of 'paintings from Maltepe Prison', in the City Gallery of Istanbul, Taksim. Second detention by the same accusation. Exhibition of 'Paintings of Longing' in Ankara, organized by his wife Melek, while detention continues. ‘82- Detention for three years for being on the executive board of the Turkish Peace Committee. Nomination of the 12 detained peace movement leaders for the Nobel Peace Prize.End of a detention of 38 months. International exhibition in Liege Museum, Belgium organized by the Amnesty International; 'In honor of Turkish Painter O.Taylan, political prisoner'. Participation in the 'Face to Face' exhibition of friendship with 15 Greek and 15 Turkish artists, in the Melina Mercury Cultural Center, Athens, Greece. Leading positions in artists' organizations (1975-1978). Organized mural painting symposiums in Antalya International Art Festival (1976-78). Exhibitions in London, Amsterdam and Moscow within "Turkish Highlights" exhibitions between 1988 and 1990. Solo gallery exhibitions in United States, France, Germany, U.S.A.,Switzerland and Greece. Lives and works in İstanbul and Bodrum.


Buket’s note: Taylan’s  current works can be seen at the Karsu Tekstil Art Gallery at the Gazeteciler Sitesi, Yazarlar Sokagi, No: 26 Esentepe, Istanbul from now until May 2nd ..

I will continue on “O.Taylan interview PART II” on my next trip to Istanbul in Fall ’03 in his workshop in Asmalimescit…I’d love to add my heartfelt thanks to Mr.Taylan for giving me such valuable opportunity on this interview and mostly for his gracious hospitality in BODRUM – my beloved town of Halicarnassus

E-mail: buketsahin@hotmail.com

Buket Sahin, April 12, 2003, Weehawken, NJ.

This issue is dedicated to the Peace Process of SRI LANKA & prominent Turkish author Yasar KEMAL

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