Thursday, May 22, 2008

Last painting...

This is my last Turkey-trip-inspired painting. It was inspired by the view from the hot air balloon in Cappadocia. I definitely have a thing for birds eye views!

And here is my photo that I based it on:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On the Istanbul Modern...

(Here's the other article I wrote for Les Arts's about the Istanbul Modern art museum!)

When I say Turkish art, what comes to mind? Calligraphy…pottery…rugs? Yeah, me too. That is why when I heard about a contemporary art museum in Istanbul I simply had to pay a visit. Although the traditional arts of Turkey are beautiful and rich, I wanted to add new images to my mental slideshow. I wanted to see what Turkish art is now.

Istanbul has had a happy gallery scene and even held a contemporary art biennial for a couple decades, but there has been no real institution before now. The Istanbul Modern is the first and only contemporary art museum in Istanbul, and it’s less than 4 years old. The Istanbul Modern is in a large beautifully renovated warehouse on the Bosphorus. I found it poignant how it’s such an industrial-chic art space positioned next to the large Tophane Mosque. The architectural juxtaposition captures how Istanbul is a mixture of old and new…traditional and progressive…eastern and western. It’s a lovely and stimulating balance.

I read a lot of the artworks as a visual conversation between the Turkish culture I was getting to know and Western art that I already understand. I spotted familiar styles I knew but with new Turkish settings and subjects. There was everything from impressionistic landscapes to minimalistic modern paintings… video installations to assemblage sculptures. To see this mutual exploration of materials and universal themes felt reaffirming to me. So even though I admitted I didn’t know anything about contemporary Turkish art before, I actually did.

There were a lot of great artists whose names I jotted down, but I’ll just introduce you to my favorite two: Erol Akyavas and Balkan Naci Ä°slimyeli.

I love when kids draw complicated structures when they don’t know how to, because it ends up this amazingly irrational creation. Like unintentional cubism. Erol Akyavas’ unhindered paintings made me think of this very phenomenon, which I was thankful to be reminded of again. His architectural structures are surreal and natural, actually succeeding at recreating that childlike naiveté. But formally they are so well composed that this prevents it from becoming too chaotic.

Working in a completely different style, Balkan Naci Islimyeli’s artwork is rooted more in reality rather than fantasy. He explores the role of the individual in a changing society, often incorporating his own writing or his portrait in his work. I appreciated the diversity of mediums he utilizes…everything from drawings to sculptures to installations. You can really see his interest in film by how he composes his pieces, his black and white color palette (he’s definitely into exploring the metaphorical shades of grey), and his articulate use of contrast.

After days of exploring traditional bazaars and mosques in Istanbul, a visit to the Istanbul Modern is a refreshing and enlightening introduction to the other side of Turkish culture. And, oh yeah… it’s free on Thursdays.

For easy-to-digest info on specific movements in Turkish art history, click here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Travel like an artist

(I wrote this for the Les Arts Turcs website)

How to travel like an artist

While traveling around Turkey, I noticed that whenever I was carrying my art portfolio then people treated me differently. Instead of being some random tourist I became the traveling artist. This means I instantly gain some sort of mystique, and a license to do things that normal people might consider odd. “Why is she doing that? Ohhh, she’s an artist...” It got me thinking about how artists experience new places differently. Here I have outlined my advice for how to travel like an artist…because I find that it encourages certain behaviors that I think all travelers can benefit from.

Take it slow.
So many tourists pride themselves on how MUCH they see. “I did 3 countries in 7 days!” But this type of travel doesn’t allow you to get to know a place at all. Artists know how to travel…instead of rushing around, you see them at cafes hanging out. They soak up the atmosphere rather than running down a list of places to see. You must do some sightseeing, of course. But I limit the amount of time each day I do “touristy things.” Then I give myself permission to simply take everything in at a relaxed pace.

Keep it real.

In my experience, I find that artists have less tolerance for artificiality. We tend to look for authenticity and strive to get to the truth of the matter. So while traveling, we want to get to know the real character of a place. For example, in Istanbul you’d skip the touristy whirling dervish show and go to one of the traditional religious ceremonies instead. It might take more research or be less convenient, but ultimately it is much more fulfilling. You can also get to know some locals rather than only hanging out with other tourists. (It’s easier to do this when you are traveling solo.) This simply requires finding out where the local folks hang out and having a social attitude. And if this all sounds too daunting, there is one easy way to get to know the real city…get lost! Wander around and simply explore new parts of town. But…take a map of course, and know where the dodgy parts of town are. We want real, but not too real.

Take risks.
You are not at home...hence, you are not at home! Therefore the rules of home do not apply to you anymore. Artists are used to people looking at them funny, so the chance to eat some dish you cannot pronounce or to hop onto the back of a motorbike doesn’t even warrant a debate. In a situation where everything is new you can let yourself look at it all with childlike wide-eyes. Travel is an adventure! Even though the unknown might be uncomfortable, you should let yourself indulge your curiosity. Because…why not? No one there knows you anyway.

Tickle your imagination.
There are always things you are “supposed to do” when you travel to specific countries. For example, in Turkey you must see Istanbul and then next on the list is generally Epheses. But on my trip…I skipped Ephesus. Why? Well, beaches and Roman ruins simply don’t fascinate me as much as exotic mountains and caves. (So I spent more time in Cappadoccia instead.) Artists are generally in tune with their unspoken needs and desires, so they tend to carve out their own individual path. By following your instinct and your distinct imagination, you can create an itinerary that is unique to your interests. And you’ll run into fewer tour groups.

Learn by doing.
I think that the best way to get to know a place is to learn about its culture. And the best way to learn is by doing. We learn more authentically when we go beyond mere fact to observing, experiencing, mimicking, and processing new concepts on a personal level. This can be as simple as learning to speak some basic phrases in Turkish. Artists tend to take this a step further by copying patterns, drawing people, sketching buildings, etc. When you copy something, you get to know it on a more intimate level than by merely snapping a photo. But you don’t have to be an artist to try a new dance, cook a local dish, or learn what traditional designs mean. When you’re looking to learn, you find that everyone has something to teach you.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mr Duck

As many of my friends know, my Mr Duck accompanies me on my travels. He's 10 years old now, so he's definitely been around! So here is the Mr Duck series from Turkey...enjoy! (Oh, I must explain the picture of him in the water at Pamukkale: some Aussies helped me place him in the water up the mountain and then catch him downstream, so I could chase him and take his picture as he floated along! It was quite an adventure for him.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Last crop of Turkish art...

Here's the rest of the art I made in Turkey! I averaged almost one artwork a day...which I think is pretty darn good.

In Goreme I befriended a family that ran a rug business, so I'd hang out in there and look at all the different patterns...

I drew a realistic sketch of Cappadocia before, so with this drawing here I wanted to do a more whimsical take on the landscape. This was the view from my room...

I used that same style back in Istanbul to draw the Aya Sofya. This was my view from Les Arts Turcs...

Anyone who has been to Turkey can verify this statement...that the locals drink A LOT of tea! And as a visitor you are always offered cups of tea (cai) in one of these cute little tulip shaped glasses. I began to wonder how much I was consuming on a daily basis! I used brown ink so it would look like it was painted with tea...

Leaving Istanbul...

These are some final pics from when I returned to Istanbul before flying home...

My last day there was a big gypsy festival down by the seaside...lots of dancing and great music!

I went with Les Arts Turcs to an authentic whirling dervish ceremony. Dervishes practice Sufi Islam, and the priests spin themselves as a form of meditation. It was very intense and powerful to experience! You can read an article about the ceremony here. (This is a stock photo, since you cannot take pictures obviously...)

My whole visit I kept making Alp promise to take me around Istanbul on his motorbike--it's definitely the best way to explore the city!

And here was the view flying out...goodbye, Turkey!

My trip was, for lack of better words, AWESOME! The trip was especially fulfilling because I spent almost the entire time with local folks rather than other travelers...and this was thanks to my friends at Les Art Turcs. Through their hospitality I was able to experience real Turkey...

Les Arts Turcs is a 10 year-old collective of
painters, photographers, artists, singers, journalists, professional guides and entrepreneurs based in Istanbul. Their aim is to meet people from all over the world, promote communication between cultures, and to bridge the artistic/cultural gaps that have formed over time. They offer classes in dance, art, language, and cooking. They offer specialty tours and workshops catered to your specific interests (from modern art to Turkish baths) in Istanbul and other regions of Turkey. And of course, they're the folks that Lonely Planet recommends if you want to see a real whirling dervish ceremony!

So I must thank can always find him here in their office in Sultanahmet. He knows everyone, and wants you to get to know everyone, too! He will greet you with a smile, offer you endless cups of tea, and he might even teach you some Turkish dance moves if you're lucky!

And I must also thank Alp, who works at LAT and volunteered to be my guide around the city without even knowing me. (His efforts to find vegetarian food for me must be commended!) I am so thankful we developed such a good friendship. Here's his picture at the nargileh cafe...

If you visit Istanbul, pay Les Arts Turcs a visit! It's a great place to meet other creative folks and chat over glasses of tea within view of both Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. And it's perfect if you need a quiet sanctuary where you can make art while listening to Nurdogan's massive Turkish music collection.

Their latest big project is the Istanbul Photo Contest...they are welcoming international photographers of all skill levels to submit their best pics of their unique city. The deadline in in November, and the top prizes are free stays in Istanbul.

Gule gule!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Pics from Cappadocia


I had a dream about this place two years ago (I even did a drawing about it) and now I finally got to see it for myself! And the fact that is was used as the set for planet Tatooine in Star Wars made it extra cool. It definitely lived up to its expectations.

I liked finding faces in the rocks (of course, most people see other body parts)...this one looks surprised.

I've never been up in a hot air balloon before, so a sunrise view over Cappadocia sounded like a great introduction.

I also hiked the Ihlara gorge...

...and explored the underground city of Derinkuyu...

...and the Goreme open air museum...

...and climed around the Selime Monastery...

...and was surprised by the vivid paintings in the cave churches. (The lack of sunlight has thankfully prevented them from fading)

The village of Avanos is known for its pottery, so I tried out a foot operated pottery wheel for myself. The results were...unique.

Oh, I'll miss sleeping in a cave! Sigh...