“More than Half a Lifetime.”
… I came into the world on 1 July, 1927 at Rumelihisarı in Istanbul. My birthplace at the top of the hill was a house set in a large garden with many trees such as pine, chestnut, horse-chestnut and others. From the day I began to crawl, I began my acquaintance with nature ….
My mother .. was very interested in Art and was one of the two women who played an important role in my becoming an artist.
At the beginning of the 1940s, I made the acquaintance of the children of Prof. Clemens (Emin) Bosch who had come to our country as his wife Johanna was Jewish. She was the other woman I mentioned who, with my mother, helped me to establish my identity. A real intellectual, this tall, elegant woman, whose red hair reached down to her waist, knew Latin and spoke French, English, and Turkish as well as German, her mother- tongue..
Following a delightful childhood in wonderful natural surroundings, I spent my youth with this highly cultivated family. Michael (Cemil) was the oldest of the five siblings and the same age as me.
In the afternoons, we used to hold musical séances and play the records that Prof. Bosch had brought with him from Germany. Our music room was Cemil’s bedroom.. After closing the shutters to darken the room, we used to listen to music on the gramophone for one and a half to two hours, in worshipful silence.
There was no place for lies or trickery in my life with this family, and it was with them that my appetite for reading increased. I set aside the time between the evening meal and bedtime for reading. At that age a saying I read and took to heart was one by the English poet Alfred Tennyson: ”Consider your opponent to be as least as intelligent as yourself”. These words have played an important part throughout my life in preventing me from falling into negative attitudes and in the overall development of my personality.
My Years at the Academy
An important event of the successful years I spent at the studio of the Academy, which I entered in 1945, was to encounter Jean Cocteau. He came through the door together with my teacher! This was an unbelievable and impossible dream for us. Cocteau’s words,”Your work is more successful than that of the students at the Paris Academy“made us very proud.
Immediately after completing my military service, I found myself in Rome….to study fresco-painting at the Fine Arts Academy of Rome! It was like a dream! I was face to face with the actual paintings of artists from Botticelli to Michelangelo, Raphael to Titian, from Andrea Del Sarto to Correggio, which up to a year ago, I had only seen in prints. On one side was Castel S.Angelo where Cem Sultan had been imprisoned and the final scene of Tosca takes place; on the other the Theatro Argentina where Rossini’s Barber of Seville was first staged and where the Saint Cecilia concerts took place which I went hungry for three days at the end of every month in order to attend.
The Return Home
On my return from Rome, I was greeted by a request from Ordinarius Professor Emin Onat, Rector of Istanbul Technical University, and my former teacher, Nurullah Berk who wished to have a fresco made for the Taşkışla Building of ITU. ….
In 1954, as well as my exhibition at the Maya Gallery, I participated in the competition organized for the 10th anniversary of the Yapı and Kredi Bank on the theme of “A Picture to Illustrate Various Productive Activities in the Economic Life of Turkey” with a painting 3.00 x 2.00m in size. The judges of the exhibition consisted of Kazım Taşkent, the founder of the bank, and the eminent art critics and historians, Lionello Venturi, Herbert Reed and Paul Fieren who were participating at that time in the first and last International Art Critics Congress held in this country. Ten people, including myself, were judged worthy of awards in this competition.
In the 1950s I worked on frescos and mosaics and in various techniques, for buildings, hospitals, hotels and offices…
While working on interior decoration projects, I used my knowledge of the techniques and elements of pictorial art colour, form and space as required in architecture. While painting I subconsciously expressed my interest in interior space. My combined interests earned me success in both fields and gave me the opportunity to work comfortably at my art without having to make concessions.
In the 1960s….as a family, we made the decision to move to Germany. There I worked [as an architect and an interior designer]…My design-projects for well-known firms such as DEGUSSA, Mercedes, and BASF were implemented, as were those for the interior of the first three stations of the Frankfurt City Metro, the Werner Reimers building and the renovation of the Senckenberg Natural History Museum. ..
As Frankfurt is situated in the middle of Europe,… it was not difficult for me to go to important artistic events in Frankfurt itself and the towns and countries around it. [Among them], the exhibition dedicated to the founder of Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, held in Stuttgart in 1968, and, in the same year, the Henry Moore exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London. But it was in an exhibition of Paul Klee, held in Stuttgart in 1967, that I found what I had been searching for. My new point of departure was a watercolour work by Klee on a small plaster tablet with a gold background.
The first symphony I ever heard, way back in my childhood, was Beethoven’s Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony, which I listened to with worshipful awe, at the music séances held by the Bosch family. …One of the reasons why my life is based on music today is my belief that Beethoven, rather than being a human being, can only be a god of music. Otherwise, what name can I give to those musicians who raise human emotions to the greatest heights?
My Understanding of Art
Since character is formed by time and place, I have always wondered how a person who does not know nature, who cannot tell a human being from a tree, can understand Beethoven, or how a person who does not know the work of Palladio can receive any pleasure from Italian opera. ……..
Under the influence of music, I always wanted painting, a visual art, to be truly dynamic. First, as music is abstract, thinking that a painting should be abstract also, I took this as my principle, after doing some research. During my final years at the Academy, I concentrated my research in abstraction, reasoning the visual counterpart of music had to be abstract in painting also. I held an exhibition at the Istanbul City Gallery, following which I decided not to hold another exhibition until the problem of the dynamism I was looking for had been resolved.
In the 1960s, during the course of my research in Paris, Rotterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam and other cities, I had the opportunity of meeting artists of the Kinetic Movement. I saw their work again in 1968 at the fourth Documenta Exhibition in Kassel, the most successful exhibition of its kind. Play of light, use of various objects and materials that did not depend on canvas or anything else except a defined space, prevented these works from being reproduced else where.
My own desire was to achieve a clearly defined dynamism on ordinary canvas without the use of auxiliary objects. The small work by Klee, only 21×11 cm, was a touchstone for me, and helped me to resolve the problem of making a transition from three dimensions to four, thus uniting my lifelong desire with the means to achieve it.
I would like to end this short account of my sixty year art life with these words of the German artist, Sigmar Polke:
“Those who see things the way I do are those who in time have truly grown up within my heart.”