Artist Timur Celik: The homeland of my youth reminds me that such places still exist
Timur Celik, an artist known for his political and critical paintings, spoke to GercekNews about how he first started painting and how his political stance influences his art and his life. Celik, who uses a figurative painting style, noted that he creates his work through a class-based perspective, saying, “I represent those on the bottom, the lonely, the abandoned, and the people who have left their homes behind.”
Is there a particular name for your painting style?
This is the language of figurative painting; it is staying true to form and reality while reinterpreting it or even completely copying it. This is like the ABCs of figurative painting. The language of my paintings (as I describe it) can be considered figurative, expressive painting. My art contains romance, realism, and my surroundings, and details from an object or an image.
To elaborate further, I use flat brushes and hog bristle brushes. Soft transitions are not my thing because the brush also leaves a trace on the painting. It has its own aggression, calmness, line, and mark. I'm someone who loves texture in paintings. In short, we can say the language of my painting is figurative realism to which I also add a dash of emotional realism.
How did you begin painting? What were the difficulties you faced during this process?
I had been drawing since elementary school. I decided to study art in college. As soon as I finished school, I opened my own studio. You could count the number of people in my profession by the fingers of one hand. Even though my family didn't have the economic means to support me, I stepped into this profession. I painted in Maltepe for a while, and I had a small art community there. I was participating in competitions. When I was young in Istanbul, I made my living on painting. After I came to Berlin, I struggled a bit. There was the language barrier. I needed to devote time to that, so I had to take a break for 7 years. In the last turns of my life, I definitely want to paint paintings about the truth; about the truth of myself and of the world.
"ONLY THOSE WHO COULD INTERPRET ART COULD SEE THE POLITICAL MESSAGING IN MY WORK"
When we look at your work, we mostly see political symbols. You depict political figures and events in Turkey and use them to convey a message. Has your stance in art always been political?
My existence in art, since my education, was not always directly political, but there was always a political message in my paintings that was visible to those who could read art. I painted people around me through an emotional lens related to my own life. I had the desire to convey political messages in competitions. My artistic vision comes mostly from a class-based perspective. I represent those on the bottom, the lonely, the abandoned, and the people who left their homes behind.
I took an 7-year break from my art, and when I made my return, I had become more daring as a result of the yearning of that long hiatus. In 2014, I had a trip planned to Turkey. At that time, ISIS had surrounded Kobane. The pain of that region and its people had a profound impact on me. The homeland of my youth is the landscape that makes me say, “such places exist in the world.” It almost became an excuse to love the romantic and the realists. My cause became to politicize the image of the scenes that evoke a sense of disaster.
Later, Erdogan's policies became even harsher. ISIS attacks in Rojava, bombings in Kurdish cities, tension, conflicts...
In 2015, I saw Diyarbakir and Cizre turn into a war zone on television and online. My mind went blank, and I said to myself that life cannot go on like this. I was making paintings of Erdogan while also painting scenes of war and conflict.
"THERE IS NOTHING CRITICAL TOWARD ERDOGAN, THERE IS ONLY THE ABSURD"
You take a critical stance towards Erdogan, the government, and his party. Has your life been negatively impacted by this opposition? Or has it hurt your sales?
My interest in Turkey began with the Gezi protests. Youth came out to protect their city and its trees, and I felt like we were on the brink of an urban revolution. There is nothing critical toward Erdogan, there is only the absurd. I found it funny how a person in charge of the country posed for photos in random places. Erdogan going to the AKM (Ataturk Cultural Center), the Hagia Sophia, the bridges over the Bosphorus, or in front of a building he constructed, posing like a small town contractor, was both bitter and comical.
If I were to ask about the relationship between the AKP and artists, how would you describe the AKP's approach to art?
There is no relationship between the AKP and art. Figurative painting is not even an acceptable form of art for them. Erdogan has no right to call Mehmet Aksoy's "Monument of Humanity" sculpture in Kars a "monstrosity." We have seen how he treats a work of art. They have attacked sculptures in Turkey and there have been many incidents of vandalizing art spaces. The AKP's approach to art is ideological; they don't even want to see art.
"BOTH ART AND A LOVE STORY"
Were there difficulties in leaving the place you were born and raised? How did you decide to settle in Berlin?
I came to Berlin in 1990. The city was reminiscent of ruins. I witnessed two different lives, one of the Easterners and one of the Westerners, even in their style of dressing, and this had a great impact on me. When I arrived, the alternative social circles were stronger and more organized. Northern romanticism has always been a part of my life. The light or darkness, the interweaving of objects, and the grayness of the city always impressed me.
My second visit was in 1992, and I had already traveled to almost all its boroughs. I met my wife in Berlin, and I can say that it was both art and a love story. The artistic language in Berlin was very suitable for my soul, so I burned all bridges and came here. I had a market in Istanbul, I was opening exhibitions and selling paintings, but I was not happy.
My first few years in Berlin were very difficult, but I knew that I could achieve success if I strived for it. I settled here permanently in 1993.
When I went to Istanbul, everywhere was under construction and full of pits. Horrific murders were being committed at that time. Ugur Mumcu and Esref Bitlis were killed. Turgut Ozal died suspiciously. It was as if everything was a sign for me to leave Turkey. After the Sivas Madimak incident, I decided that it was time for me to make my exit, and I left the country on August 4.
In recent years, a new Turkish diaspora has emerged in Berlin. What is the impact of newcomers in the art field?
An incredible diaspora has formed here. I witnessed people I could never have imagined settling in Berlin. Many people from the most bourgeois and elite segments, young people, academics, doctors, and politicians, especially from the art circle, came here. Artists created initiatives and opened galleries here.
Who is Timur Celik?
Timur Çelik was born in Turkey in 1960 and received his education at Marmara University Faculty of Fine Arts between 1980-1984. He has been living in Berlin since 1993. Celik, who won first and second prizes at the Tekel Painting Competition in 1987 and 1988, respectively, has had many personal and group exhibitions throughout his career. Timur Celik, in whose paintings we see political criticism, continues to make space for the many political events and figures in Turkey in his art, such as through the Helicopter painting in his "Eyewitness" series in 2020 which depicts the two citizens who were thrown out of a helicopter by soldiers.