In Conversation with Yasemin Öncü
What has been your experience starting out in the art world as an artist post art school?
The biggest challenge for me was getting my master's degree. I have been accepted to Graduate School of OCAD University, Toronto in 2014. Writing my dissertation has been the most challenging yet nurturing experience both for me and my practice. After that it has become easier to talk about my works. I have had a few shows in Toronto and in Istanbul. Yet, I still do not feel I have had quite the experience I would wish to accomplish.
Most of your paintings and drawings seem to engage with monsteresque themes. What ideas are you exploring in your works?
The first time I discovered the etymology of the word Monster, that it’s latin root word stems from Monere; which translates in French as Montrer, which means 'to show'. I have aimed to use the monster as a key symbol to fit all humankind into one body in order to demonstrate that no matter what our belief and standing point is, that we are in fact all the same. To me, the monster is neutral, it’s neither good nor evil. So, you can say that I try to neutralize the gap between different extremes by equalizing them in one kind. In a way, I am showing this through the monster whose role is to show the moral of a story.
Can you explain your art practice in 3 words?
Impulsive, expressive and fluid.
Is there any recurring theme/question in your practice?
My works have been inspired by the influence of the recurring political events in Turkey. Currently, I feel less inspired by daily events and political issues but rather more inclined towards general themes. I’m trying to render my subject matter and the monsters into a more basic and neutral storyline. But it is still a process.
Regarding the symbols in your works, are they derived from a specific culture or religion?
Initially, I was inspired by ancient cultural edifices. I have done a lot of research on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Sumerian tablets, the symbols in Anatolian Kilims, the Tifinagh alphabeth etc. I have also done a lot of research on artists who have been inspired as well by the same contents. The Lettrisme Movement plays a major role in my symbols. It’s about creating a new language to strip meaning of its essence. To create a symbolism that is meaningless. The symbols to me have no meaning and I intend to keep it that way so it becomes a mystery unresolved. It’s the language of the monsters that we cannot discern.
Who inspires you apart from visual artists?
I can name so many. As a female singer, Barbara, a French singer of the late 1950's, her passion for the piano and the boldness of her lyrics, her obsession with black, she triggers my melancholic side. I am very inspired by the absurdness of French New Wave Cinema, the color schema of Jean-Luc Godard and the honest story telling of Agnes Varda and realism of Eric Rohmer. The carnavalesque scenes of Federico Fellini. The sound of John Coltrane’s saxophone and his spirituality. Jean Cocteau and his obsession with mythology. The poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire. Goethe and his color theory.
Which cities have you lived in before? And how did it affect your art practice?
I have lived in many different places throughout my life. I moved to Istanbul from Canada when I was 6 years old. Ever since I had witnessed a lot of changes in Turkey’s general environment which has shaped my perspective on certain things, I applied them to my work such as the polarisation and dichotomy within the ideological spheres. Toronto and the people I have met there during my master's studies, have been very crucial in helping me develop my expressive style. Paris has been the most influential of them all, to me it’s a city of hidden gems which has inspired me the most with every new discovery I have made.
Currently, you’re based in Istanbul, what kind of impact it has on your creative process?
Right now, I don’t feel like any city has an impact on my works. We are all living for the most part of our days on an alternative reality; the Internet. I can be in Istanbul but I still have Paris or Toronto within a hand’s reach. Reading and researching are the two major factors that have impact on my works.
Where’s your studio? What’s a typical day in the studio like?
My studio is in my apartment in Moda. Having your studio in your home makes productivity more efficient. I try working during the day to get a better grasp of the colors during daylight, but I feel more productive in the night time. If I’m painting during the day I take a lot of breaks to let the paint dry off, during these breaks I either read a book or practice playing the piano. I have been experimenting with clay lately and I have other projects as well, so I go about and work on them simultaneously.
What's your motto in life?
My motto in life is to learn new things, to be open to learning and discovering. I firmly believe it boosts my creativity.
Can you name some solo/group exhibitions that were memorable to you?
This is a very hard question. I can’t pick only one there have been many. Most recently I have been to Nam June Paik’s retrospective at the Tate Modern Museum. I have always wanted to see his work firsthand, so for now I can only say that for now. I know it’s quite the contrary of my works. But there has also been Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Isa Genzken, Miro, Picasso etc.
Do you collect any objects as an artist?
I am a book hoarder but who isn’t… Lately I have been inspired by Pierre Alechinsky's book titled La Roue Libre (The Free Wheel). Alechinsky had a collection of images, and objects that looked like a wheel which for him is the biggest discovery, he was very curious about this circular shape. I have started doing the same kind collection about windows. I don’t know where it’s going yet, we will see in time I guess.
Lastly, how have you been spending your time for the last three months during self-quarantine?
Recently, I have been writing and doodling a diary full of imagery. Apart from painting, I have been writing I have also been shooting short videos about the things I have written. It’s still a developing process…