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Inspirational Meetings of Masters of Artistry

There are legendary periods in time in terms of art; it feels as if the memorable painters, authors, and poets had agreed to wait in hiding until that particular time. For Turkey, that period was the 1960s, a decade during which almost all great masters who eventually left a mark on contemporary art started producing. But what made that decade so exclusive and special?

Not long ago, I was talking to Rabia Çapa, the founder of Maçka Art Gallery, about the past. Her gallery, which has been serving Turkish art scene for 40 years in the basement of an apartment building in the district of Maçka, was frequented by the intellectual minds of that time, including (but not limited to) Can Yücel, Necati Cumalı, Aziz Nesin, Edip Cansever, Füreya Koral, Yaşar Kemal, Ara Güler, and İlhan Selçuk. As Çapa talked about these meetings -she named them “vodka hours” because she would serve her homemade vodka-, I started daydreaming like a little child visiting a magical fairy land. During these roundtable meetings, Can Yücel would take a wrinkled piece of paper out of his pocket to read one of his new poems and gallery visitors would quietly listen this exciting conversation while examining the paintings. The intense feeling, expression, intimacy, and exchange of culture at the table was a source of inspiration -as essential as air itself- for those artists writing the poetry of their own lives. I’ve always has an interest in this relationship between literature and painting. To the question of why she was writing, Tezer Özlü said “to endure the world.” Ever since I could remember, I’ve always strived to understand life through books.

When words weren’t enough, paintings came in. I was surprised to discover how a painting can express everything without a single sentence. There were times when I looked at paintings for hours without a single idea. I tried to understand the feelings they evoked in me. Then I came to realize what made artworks unforgettable: their innate poetry. Something we have been hiding locked up in a chest for a long time. Coming back to the question I asked in the beginning, the most fundamental thing that made that period special was the influence of these roundtable meetings, during which poetry was always on the foreground. Today, we don’t usually see poets, authors, or painters regularly meeting at galleries to engage in conversation. From that perspective, I try to think of art as the individual rings of this great chain feeding from and helping one another for growth; when one particular ring is weak, so is the chain.

When I think about these intertwined chain rings, I start wondering about which books inspired paintings, music or poetry described on a painter’s canvas, or novels that charged up moviemakers. For instance, The Apology of Socrates, written by Plato, inspired Jacques-Louis David, who, in turn, created one of the world’s most famous paintings. Hemingway’s short story A Clean, Well-Lighted Place inspired Edward Hopper’s world-renowned painting Nighthawks (1942). Master composer Rachmaninoff was inspired by Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of The Dead and composed a symphonic poem of the same name. Regarding the source of inspiration for his films, Nuri Bilge Ceylan always cites Chekhov and his stories examining the human soul with all its layers. In my documentary of him, Ceylan described all his films as letters sent to his “soul brothers.” In his exhibition Çaylak Sokak, which made a lasting impression on the Turkish history of art, Sarkis created the pedestal of his sculptures with the music tapes of Tarkovsky’s film Nostalghia. I love the poetry in Sarkis’ conceptual works. His inspirations range from Edvard Munch to Grunewald, from Parajanov to Mimar Sinan.

I also love portraits by young artist Civan Aydın, which are, as Yalın Alpay described it, “as deep as Dostoyevsky’s characters.” When creating his striking work “Mendilimde Kan Sesleri,” he was inspired by a poem by Edip Cansever. The list goes on. “You cannot have the new without the old,” my grandmother used to say. Culture is rooted in a distant period in time and has arrived in the present through constant change. Mastery in art, unlike what people assume, is not a quality obtained by the singular effort of the artist; it’s an accumulation of the efforts and works created in the field for centuries. That’s why a true artist also internalizes the artists and artworks before his time.

Woody Allen must have also felt discontented with the present, that he took us to the culture and arts scene of Paris in the 20th century in Midnight in Paris. The film follows an American who accepted an invitation into a random car on the road and travelled to a period in time when some of the world’s most prominent authors and painters were alive. Throughout the film, we follow the protagonist as he goes on to meet the spectacular personalities of the visual arts and the literary worlds such as Toulouse Lautrec, Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse.

Nowadays, galleries may be deprived of these meetings; however, there are some good news! Closed in 2016, Maçka Art Gallery will continue its journey -initiated by the founders of contemporary Turkish art including Ömer Uluç, Komet, Mehmet Güleryüz, Kuzgun Acar, and Sarkis- under the leadership of Didem Çapa. Who knows, maybe this will bring back the regular meetings of poetry and friendship, two things art needs the most. Or maybe it will turn out the way Gülten Akın predicted, as we get more and more individualized: “Nobody has any time / To stop and understand the finer things.”


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