Arts and Culture

Taner Ceylan: Homophobia imported as an object during modernization process

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Taner Ceylan told kaosGL.org about the process of preparing the current exhibition “I Love You”, pleasant reading!

How do you feel after such a spectacular exhibition? 

I’m not an artist who can feel happy or peaceful after the exhibitions. I get butterflies in my stomach, a little bit of sickness, a little bit of excitement, curiosity... Do my paintings being added into a new collection? Who buy them? Who writes about me? Or why is it not written? Many questions wander in my mind. Of course I’m aware of all these are weird artist paranoia and exaggerations but it will continue until the end of all process, apparently, there is no escape. (he laughs)

It is not the first time that you’ve worked with Sotheby’s but this is different. How was the process?

Sotheby’s opened their galleries in London three years ago, since then they wanted to have my works. We worked with them during several Auctions of Turkish Art and my name was mentioned a lot with them, it was good but we became too familiar.  For this reason, in plain words I ran away from them for a while. However, I accepted their offer eventually, and I prepared a special series for London. This kind of exhibition occurred by seeing the city life, people, and museums persistently. Painting phase was as rough and painful as the exhibition itself. Each painting bred each other and they coalesced at last. Those were tiring days.

And of course there is another subject that we wander: is that still you the most expensive Turkish artist alive? 

I haven’t got any idea about the market nowadays but it would be nice if it were I. I hope it will increase more and I can go over my limits. 

“...the price my paintings reach isn’t a manipulation of the gallery”

How were these prices determined?

There are lots of parameters! From your International exposure to market volume of the point where you are present… Yes, the prices of my works are high for our country but it shouldn’t be forgotten that; I asked the price of a small Richter painting in Art Basel, it was about 60-70cm of size and its price was 6.5 million Euros. Total art volume of Turkey is about 4 million. One painting of the guy is more than total art volume of another country. And evenly Europe’s conditions are tough in comparison with us. It is not very easy for an artist to reach this value. The price my paintings reach isn’t a manipulation of a gallery. It happened in time by entering into some collections.

Unfortunately, we cannot work with the galleries in Turkey at these standards. There are also some physical reasons of this. For instance, I wanted to exhibit in Moma but it was impossible to bring to Istanbul the person who could do this. Yet, you can be visible to these kinds of people if you are in the right place. They pass by the gallery, they stop by your opening for half hour after work and you are noticed. My works have been rising in value through these coincidences and of course the efforts of my gallery Paul Kasmin.

Yet I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Prices may go down or increase but there is only one thing that I can promise: I will continue working hard to create even better art works than I did before.  

“When you get in front of the canvas, truths come to the light, you can’t lie to yourself”

Your exhibition starts with The Man of Sorrows and finishes with I love you, how many years of your life does this process symbolize?

This exhibition took 1.5 year to create but you can say 1.5 year plus forty eight.  This is the last period of my entire life and you cannot snatch one part away.  It is the phase from the first boxer I made to the last one, from the first self-portrait I made to the last one and the exhibition shows my last status, my today.   

So, what is the last status of yours?

The conditions which we are in, are known, Heaven plighted by Jesus, the hopeful world of John Lenon do not exist. The world is dark. We learned this. I don’t know what kind of light would come up from this. Actually I’ve been always a happy man. I make a great effort to pull the good, people around me know this quite well. But truths come to the light when an artist gets in front of a canvas.     You cannot lie to yourself. Just like in this series....

“Isn’t ‘I love you’ such a dangerous phrase in reality?” 

Your painting called The Man of Sorrows is a wooden statue exhibited in Prague by Pedro de Mane. The exhibition opens with this painting and also it is the earliest painting of the exhibition. Why did you choose that?

I saw The Man of Sorrows in an exhibition advert and had a crush on it. This wooden statue made 600 ago, has less detail in comparison with the modern day plastic realistic statues. But it contains all the tragedy related to the humanity. Squinting of the eyes, his open mouth, reaching forth, willing to suffer...  Acknowledging death. It tells clearly the relation between God and Jesus. One says “I want you by my side because I love you” and the other one says “I’m yours!” This feeling impressed me a lot. The paintings I’ve done after The Man of Sorrows has came into existence with the same feeling, same tragedy.  

Isn’t ‘I love you’ such a dangerous phrase in reality? It is such a selfish, harsh sentence. There is nothing like ‘I love you unconditionally’. Says: ‘You’ll be mine”. Couldn’t God find another solution there? Could have said ‘No don’t die. Don’t suffer. Be both mine and humanity’s.’ for example but he didn’t, did he?

By the way, Catalogue has been very stylish indeed; the book is appealing with its black fabric cover and golden leaf details. Yet sorting is different from the exhibition. The Boxer and Jesus have been placed in a way to see each other in the exhibition hall but they’re far from each other in your catalogue. Why is it different?  

Catalogue has been placed in chronologic order; however gallery has been placed to my delight. I want these two paintings to look each other. Because both the boxer has a conceding like Jesus has. Social, religious and sexual aspects of conceding intertwined in that painting exactly like Man of Sorrows.

The writing of Erinc Seymen in the exhibition catalogue, explains these two emotions quite well; the person, who suffers, doesn’t feel shame, in master slave pair, the one who you see is not the slave, actually he is the master, says Seymen.  

“The one I used in my painting was from “Jesus blessing” but with me its emphasis completely changed and became “Jesus regretting”

And the next painting, it is not possible to separate London from the theatre, triple stage plan, and Shakespeare. In Messina there is a theatre stage special to here, isn’t there?  Jesus, figure and reflection trio...

Yes, in fact similar scene has been played, I was impressed myself. The one I used in my painting was from “Jesus as a blessing” but with me its emphasis completely changed and became “Jesus as regretting” and says, “What have I done? This wasn’t actually what I wanted.”

On the floor, in front of him a man in pain, hands and feet tied.... Everybody is sorry. It’s very dark really. However here, I objectivised with reflections and the feeling has changed. As the figure turned into a marble object, it became elegant. And also it became a trio. Together with Jesus behind, the theatre stage has come into existence and the situation became bearable for both the audience and the figure itself.  In this way, pain has become viewable and visible.

“In this picture; I really want God to see our grieved condition. I desire him saying, “What have I done?”

Do we also see here God accepts humans? Do we view these two entities, human – God, to become one step by step in I Love You painting?

This is actually dilemma of an artist, painting is not a kind of documentary, and it is also not true.  All these of course are sick thoughts of an artist. And art exists in discrepancy. In this painting; I really want God to see our grieved condition. I desire him saying, “What have I done?”

And on the other way, I also question this desire of mine too. My main subject is already humanistic acceptance. Whatever it comes, comes for goodness in Sufism; there is always the philosophy of don’t worry, eventually everything is going to be alright. As a matter of fact there is a dervish called (Centre) Merkez Efendi, why Merkez (Centre)? As he was passing from apprenticeship to mastery, his sheikh asked him “What would you like to change in the world?”  

He replies, “I wouldn’t move any stones from their place, I would leave everything their own centre…”

For instance I’m very unhappy since the animals are eaten, and mass producing. I’m uneasy to live on this planet which has full of this harm. There is a flaw here. There is a problem. But if I go back to Merkez Efendi, everything should be left in their centre. Because, somehow flow always changes for the better. I also experienced this.  The days I received death threats, the bodyguard hired by my gallery for me, became my closest friend, my right hand.  He got me to make a driving licence, he got me to buy a studio and so forth. My life has changed, got better. Well, I shall owe gratitude to all those making death thread, as they caused all those progress, shouldn’t I?

Namley, humanistic acceptance also needs to be comprehended.  We don’t know what’s “good”, what’s “bad” come into our lives. The things we called “ bad” today can take us a good tomorrow.

“...we say world is going bad but it has never been peacefull”

Do you put a destinist approach among the things you accepted?

Of course I don’t let myself go. Who can we trust? To our families, to our friends, to the people around us… How much do can we trust to God?  But there are also realities like these; for instance, we say the world is going bad but it has never been peacefull.  Middle Age, 1940’s, slavery phases… Even universe is like this; black holes, explosions, collusions… Violence, injustice, in a welter of blood. I’ve got a lot of contradictions in me; I don’t know what is what and how to approach all these. (he laughs).

However I’m sure of this; I’m for forgiveness. Because than communication happens and peace comes closer.  The world needs a Godly forgiveness, right now. 

“Did somebody really hurt us that much? Did we continue to love that person despite of this pain? Did we make love with somebody who slaped us? Let’s be honest, didn’t we feel pleasure with pain at least for a moment in our lives?”

Can we say maturity age to the period that you are in? You seem to accept your dilemmas and conflicts, and be in the period called maturity age for artists. 

I don’t know whether I’ve got matured or not but, at least I see, I’m not in the condition that I ignore things anymore. We’re in the same situation as all the citizens of Turkey. We cannot ignore things anymore, can’t just say, “I don’t want to see.”  It is same in my last portrait, we were drenched in blood but we are still standing. We got worn out. We got tired. Well, so what? I smoke my cigarette, continue to do my job…

“...I bought some of my paintings back. And beside more expensive than I sold… I said they should be with me, I did crazy thing!”

You’ve made two paintings by being inspired from a group called Bandage Boys who tie themselves according to Jesus’ custom and get whipped. As I was viewing them, I’ve had a feeling that your sense of beauty and romance has changed. Definition of love has also become different... Can you tell us little bit this new condition?

My source is again Renaissance, baroque, and classic art again and the aesthetics they have. But they’ve got emptiness of Adnan Çoker on them. Since the Lost Paintings series, I haven’t used places, or landscapes, as I want to draw attention to the body. Here I used black backdrops. 

These two paintings you mentioned, they would have looked utterly different if the bodies weren’t whipped or harmed. Whilst the owner of that body hurts as well; the rosiness of that skin, with its open wounds sinks the heart of everyone that touches him, there is a body that will hurt everyone it touches. His hands position is beautiful like in Renaissance. And this chaos exposes the viewer an unusual romanticism which has a lot of questions.  Did somebody really hurt us that much? Did we continue to love that person despite of this pain? Did we make love with somebody who slapped us? Let’s be honest, didn’t we feel pleasure with pain for a moment in our lives? This is a different situation that we don’t know. But, it is a subject we know exist and are observing.

The Boxer has a similar romanticism. He’s looking into your eyes; he is in contact with you.  Exactly like the wooden statue; tempting, it has a sexual tone with a vengeance but contradiction exactly starts right here. There is blood, pain, beauty, romance, love too... I can’t describe either. Actually my real problem is the burst of this pure and indefinable feeling out. I want pain and pleasures appear in the painting with all purity.

“Everything starts with falling in love with a figure”

Perhaps its source comes from Classical European Art but the mood you mentioned is exactly our current social situation.   

Yes, I live this contradiction myself.  I’ve got a lot of complaints, a lot of trouble, haven’t I? About animals, about people, about what ISIS does to homosexuals in the east... It’s easy to cut my throat and go, isn’t it? But I’m here, in Istanbul. Why? Because there are things I enjoy, I love Sun, I’ve got cats, I love food, and I love my partner. Now, it is possible for me to live in London or New York, but no, I’m here. I have to buy my bread from my baker, go to my greengrocer every day.  I am tied to my roots.

These lands are different, this is Mesopotamia, and you cannot finish by digging, its energy is very high but I don’t think it’s peaceful though.  Olympus for instance, they built such buildings, marble roads, houses, columns... Incomprehensible beauty. And then you see another civilization had come, burned, destroyed, terrible battles happened, and it alights on itself. Its energy is very complicated, its conditions are tough but its beauty is great.  I’m exactly like in those paintings; I complain, I suffer and I choose to live it. Just like all of us.

“Homophobia imported with hats and dresses as an object during civilizing process”

Church has no tolerance to homosexuality but actually there are beautiful male figures like you use on all over the walls.

Of course, especially in medieval period, severe penalties were applied to homosexuals.   People were burned. Artists had always some privileges nevertheless they suffered a lot. That’s why paintings are always encoded.

Since the beginning of Renaissance, those figures were painted with platonic ecole and on the basis of Plato doctrine in Hellenistic Period. An old man and a young boy; wisdom and beauty; when they come together they express the ideal, and divinity. Since many of the artists used platonic doctrine as base and most of them were homosexuals, paintings have full of codes. They reflect their desires and desire objects to their paintings secretly. In this way, although it was a big sin, churches ceilings could be filled with naked male figures. These were realised and covered after Michelangelo, they were naked until that period. 

“In Istanbul, it’s the easiest thing to get into a bed with a heterosexual man. There is actually an area with such, open, tolerance, keeping the custom. There is continuity of baths, bars. When you know the codes, Istanbul is the biggest gay heaven.”

In Ottoman time, the situation was way too different. You refered these in your previous exhibitions.

Yes, in Ottoman the situation was different. They kept the homosexual custom they absorbed from Byzantium. The specialist in Topkapı Palace say, at the most splendid time in palace if there were 300 hundred female bondwomen, there were 100 men too, always one – third. Or when you read Ottoman Sultans by Ekrem Koç, Sex in Ottoman by Murat Bardakçı, a perception comes up to the light without marginalization. There were very famous baths for example and I dedicated my Karanfil Hasan painting to this period. That period, as Ottoman and Europe were showing reverse progression to homosexuality, they crossed in the Turkish Republic period.  

Homophobia imported together with hats and dresses as if an object during civilizing process and presented as a crime notion. It was taken as immorality exactly as presented by church. But has it disappeared? Have those old customs completely disappeared? No. In Istanbul, it’s the easiest thing to get in bed with a heterosexual man. There is actually an area with such, open, tolerance, keeping the custom. There is continuity of baths, bars. Once you know the codes, Istanbul becomes the biggest gay heaven.

However we completely lost our legal rights.  None of old rights exist now. Violence, hatred has been gradually increasing, assaults never stop to transgender individuals, homophobia is increasing, and especially in East an unimaginable violence is exercised. As Europe has got its marriage right with the flags in their hands, we’ve gone absurdly in a bad direction. To take these deprivations back, associations are striving madly, fighting, and making efforts. 

“This is the most superior part to have love with paintings; you do not suffer from separation”

Now, I’d like to touch on one more subject. I have to ask you as a novelist; do you write the stories of your paintings? Do you set the plot on paper?

No. I believe in the thing called inspiration, I’m a mystical guy, and I don’t engage in writing or even drawing, I directly start producing on the computer. However I can’t say that I do everything.  I always work knowing that I’m the channel for something.

“In Turkey there is a very big volume of production and we have a potential that we can do much better jobs than London and New York”

Many novelists aspired to paint and when they were describing writing a novel, they compared it with painting. Orhan Pamuk also admires painting. What do you liken  painting to ? 

Orhan Pamuk made a portrait of mine and it’s very beautiful! (Smiles)

Painting is like starting a new relationship, experiencing a new love. Everything starts with falling in love with a figure, this figure covers all my life, day after day, waking up with it in mornings, adding a green, a bug, a string, one more leaf, and waking up with it another morning again, being with it again, I don’t want to finish this relationship, this painting, I want to continue to that love. It happens in every painting; it’s repeated and is not possible to finish the relationship. I tried it.

I finished one of my paintings, put it in a cupboard, and I realized that I imprinted it in my heart; each brushstroke is still with me. It’s still fresh and new. I even bought some of my paintings back. Even more expensive than I sold them. I said they should be with me, I did a crazy thing!  But then I realized they have actually never gone anywhere; them being on the wall, in the cupboard or at somebody else’s home changes nothing. That love, that togetherness neither disappear by finishing the painting nor by canvas leaving. 

Actually in real life the relationship of an artist doesn’t go well, partners always get jealous. This is actually normal, for me there is always art first. Because everything else has gone but only art has remained with me. This is the most superior part to love paintings; you do not suffer from separation.

“To paint like me, you have to accept deep silence”

You’re very romantic (I smile) Well, Let’s talk about tomorrow; how about young painters?? Is craftsmanship still ignored in Turkey?

No, it isn’t ignored, it was insulted many years but technical perfection has gained importance recently. Of course you can’t expect a great technique from a twenty five year old, craftsmanship is always relative, and needs effort.  Yet there are very talented names. However these days the most essential deficiency is emotion. Deep silence is needed for emotion to come to the light.  Unfortunately today, to find deep silence for young people is very hard because of snapchat, communication speed of our time. It’s hard for them. To paint like me, you have to accept deep silence.

What’s that “deep silence”?

Completely being quiet for five, six hours, stay alone with yourself and the canvas. Then your relationship with the canvas starts. There are people who will do this, I’m sure; there are a lot of talented young people. But of course, kitchen problem needed to be solved. And also art dealers should become competent to present them to the world. There is a great art production in Turkey, it has to come to the light.  

Your path has lifted spirits of many. It opened the path for young artists, and increased the sympathy of galleries.  

Yes, the reactions I got are very positive. I am hopeful about young people.  In Turkey there is a very big production and we have a potential that can do better jobs than London and New York. My advice to confident young people, they should go forth immediately. At the moment young painters go into a loop on the internet. We should support them, I do my best and I support some of them as much as I can. I know I have lifted the spirits of many. It pleases me.  The most important thing is; that we all know by now, no need to die; it is possible to be seen. 

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