In Studio with Leman Akpınar
Translation: Nil Şimşek
You studied painting in the fine arts department of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and then studied fine arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York. What kind of experiences have you been through finding yourself in the world of contemporary art?
It’s always been a dream of mine to be represented by a gallery even when I was a student. After graduation, I observed the routes my friends took and realized that this dream alone would not be enough to satisfy me. Also, my opinions had changed as I changed in time.
I carry on on this road independently knowing that there are many routes I can take to become visible in the art world and keep up with my life. Staying out of routine and having diversity in my life cherish me.
In 2017, after finishing my study at SVA, I returned to Istanbul from New York and a year later I rented a studio for myself where I could solely work on my artistic practice. Since then, I have dedicated most of my time working in my studio and managed to balance my time between my art and part-time jobs that strengthen me financially and mentally.
Currently, I teach both yoga classes and basic level art courses. I find a life with purpose and balance more fulfilling. I determine my priorities in accordance with my main goal in life. I love the diversity of interests in my life, which perfectly fits to my personality. My solo exhibition titled "Psychic Desert” took place at PG Basement Gallery last November. Taking actions to fulfill my wishes as an independent artist is very liberating.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned so far?
The most important thing I have learned so far is that we all have the freedom to choose our own path. Once we accept the responsibilities that come with it, step by step we start creating the life we have always dreamed of.
Can you describe your art practice in three words?
Curious, experimental and passionate/enthusiastic.
Is there any recurring theme/question in your practice?
Stylistically, the question of "What is needed more? What is needed less?". Also, conceptually “Why do I do what I do?” is a question that I visit frequently.
Is there any memorable trip that has an impact on your life?
I took a trip to the Mojave Desert, in California, which was unforgettable for me. It was a highly impressive and transformative trip for me which later on turned into a series of paintings. As a tribute to this trip, last month I pieced out a solo show at PG Basement Gallery titled “Psychic Desert” with a collection of paintings inspired by my trip to the Mojave along with two pieces of objects.
In the lives of all of us there are periods of time when we decide to get to know ourselves and find clues on how we want to lead our lives. This trip took place at a time when I was asking these questions about my life. It helped me see myself in a way I’d never seen before.The vastness and the surreal geography of the desert captivated me.
We spent a month living inside a Chevy Astro van. This trip led to a both beautiful and destructive outcome. I had gone through a deep questioning phase in my life and in order to glorify this period I wanted to capture scenes from the desert and reflect them into my storytelling as symbols and metaphors. I see this trip as one’s desire to discover himself/herself. It’s a matter of having the courage to take a journey of facing oneself.
Who inspires you?
Poet Hafız comes to my mind to begin with. It’s said he lived a hundred years before Mevlana was born. He wrote a poetry book called "The Gift" which influenced me a lot. In his book he describes the value of this life as a gift and us, humans as creative creatures in a very simple narrative without delving into Sufism. I always keep this book close to me. The sincerity and transformative effect of this book is what I aim to create in my works.
Joseph Beuys and Marina Abramovic are other figures that influence me. I admire Abromovic’s explicit, straight attitude and narration meeting up with her audience to the point of distressing them.
Which cities have you lived in before? And how did it affect your art practice?
Apart from Istanbul, I lived in New York for four years. At the end of my fourth year, I traveled across the U.S.
Moving to New York was a life-changing experience. It took me a long time to feel at home in New York. As a Mimar Sinan University graduate, at first I wasn’t able to grasp the contemporary art scene in New York. People tend to defer what they don’t understand. However I was just completely surrounded by it so I decided to gaze into what I thought I didn’t understand. It felt like throwing away my blinders and widening my viewpoint. It led me to gain wider tolerance towards new lifestyles and ways of seeing art.The more you experience and accept diversity, the more you raise your tolerance toward their existence. Throughout this experience in New York, I widened the limits of my ‘acceptance vessel’, which is a quote from Ömer Önder.
Learning to accept what I initially had a hard time understanding prevents me from making superficial criticism. Not understanding it doesn’t change its validity.
Where’s your studio located? What’s a typical day in the studio like?
My studio is located at Reşitpasa. It’s an authentic neighborhood with kids still playing on the street, locals sitting in front of the houses. What I like most about it is that it’s far from the city and surrounded by trees. There are also artist studios clustered around workplaces of automobile industry.
Sometimes I spend days in my studio to create new projects. At times I spend the whole day cleaning the place and organizing materials. When I start a new project I become an early bird working in intervals of 3-4 hours. Experimentality and curiosity leads the way. Coffee and music are absolute musts of the studio. Most importantly, I like the idea of becoming isolated, physically being alone in the studio and going with the flow of painting. All creation processes emerge when I’m alone.
Heartbreaks, hopes, fears and memories of the people I love are all in that moment. I channel these feelings into painting. At times I may control or filter my feelings but often they are reflected on what I paint.
In what ways do you use layers of colors?
It’s a stylistic aspect of my paintings. I have a fetish for using thick layers of paint. The thickness of the paint adds a new meaning to the work. As the themes in my work expresses itself through symbolic narrative, the stylistic aspects communicate in its own right.
What is your motto in life?
“Where there is life, there is inspiration”. Inspiration is not like a fairy that comes and goes. It is more like a reflection of life and art practice. Also, life is above everything. There is sadness, fear, love and hatred. I see them as transformative tools and treasure the life most.
Can you name some solo/group exhibitions that were memorable to you?
I like Alison Schulnick, an artist based in California. I visited her personal exhibition in New York and got the chance to meet her there. Also I’m really impressed with Istanbul based artist CANAN’s works. The way she lives her life so authentically and the way she depicts her nature are striking.
Do you collect any objects as an artist?
I have a strong fetish for collecting leftover materials in my own studio such as paint tubes or its package. I even preserve the epoxy remains and hang them somewhere in the studio. I also recently started to collect my friends' art works by swapping. Apart from these I collect poetry books.
Are there any books that changed the way you look at art?
Clarissa Pinkola Estes' well-known book titled ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’. It's nice that it’s listed among the best sellers. Whenever I feel confused about an issue in my life, I always find myself reading this book and finding the answers. It helped me so much that I keep coming back to it.
Can you talk about your upcoming projects? What’s next for you?
I always work in my studio and have always wanted to make a solo show exhibiting my works in the white cube. Last November I had the chance to make this exciting dream come true by holding my first solo exhibition "Psychic Desert".
In the near future I want to directly meet with viewers through making a kind of performance. I want to transcend the private and move to the public sphere.I'm in search of new projects where people can interact with my performance.