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Taner Ceylan: Still Life in Painting

Together 115x180cm – oil on canvas / June, 2007

Taner Ceylan is a Turkish painter. He lives in his flat in solitude outside the city center of Istanbul and invests tremendous labor in his hyperrealist works. He has a very emotional relationship to his paintings too – Sometimes he falls in love with them, sometimes he cries out of frustration when a tiny detail does not work out. In an interview with BUTT Magazine, he says he takes his inspiration from happiness and adds ‘I must enjoy my process because it takes ten hours a day, for weeks and months.’ The artist takes photographic images as a starting point and digitally enlarges these, manipulating them as he works in oil on canvas with the purpose of injecting ‘emotion’ into his work.

Karanfil Hasan 80x120cm – oil on canvas / June, 2006

Aaron 32x50cm – oil on canvas / March, 2002

Apart from happiness, male beauty seems to be a major inspiration for Ceylan. Early works often contain male nudes, semi-nudes, couples in extravagant settings. Later, nudity and sexuality becomes more graphic. Then there are extreme abstractions of male subjects, such as a serene room/terrace composition or a flower detail in a garden. The latter is John Currin, obviously an homage to the American painter who is famous for his often explicit, grotesquely distorted portraits.

The Portrait of Nuri K. 32x50cm – oil on canvas / 2004

John Currin 50x68cm – oil on canvas / 2009

In Ceylan’s more recent paintings, it is observed that the perspective of the artist is becoming less romantic and more confrontational. The body is still in focus yet it is now problematised, portrayed in considerably challenging contexts in all its glorious fictionality, rendered almost political. An increased technical mastership in hyperrealism is also noticeable in the artist’s later work. One can see these especially in The White Center, Nirvana, Transporter and Still-Life. Some of them are pornographic and we are not allowed to show them here but you can view them on his website: http://www.tanerceylan.com/

Ottoman Complex of 1881

1881, the first piece of Ceylan’s ongoing ‘lost painting series’, features a young, blue-eyed blond man with an aloof, villainesque look in his eyes standing in front of a white background holding a cigar as the smoke floats out of his half open mouth. He sports a supposedly Ottoman attire, more precisely a fez, and a flamboyant brooch on his chest. In contrast to this, the white light projected on the young man, almost like a stark flash of a camera feels unrealistically contemporary. In this respect, the painting looks like a still from a shooting for a fashion magazine, or even a paparazzi photo, rather than an oil-on-canvas portrait. This deliberate play with chronology and artistic style of the work immediately brings up the concept of authenticity, indeed more interesting when considered together with the title of the painting, 1881 (lost painting series).

1881 (lost painting series) 140x200cm – oil on canvas / 2010

1881 is a date of particular (even totemic, we dare say) significance in Turkish/Ottoman history as it marks the birth year of the founder of modern Turkey,  Atatürk. With the subtitle ‘lost painting series’ Ceylan implies that he is unveiling an unknown but precious artefact, thus tapping on the issues of (false) history-telling and a sense of pride drawn out of this (false) history. In an interview, Ceylan says, ‘The young man in the picture doesn’t have any sentimental relationship with the Ottoman Empire, besides the costume he’s wearing.’ Allegedly, Ceylan even heard him saying ‘Even the empire falls I’ll keep on living in Paris.’

These historical figures (both the birth year of Atatürk and the ‘Young Turk’ on the painting) or even the history of Ottoman Empire itself attain celebrity-like value in this work. The look in the eye of the man, who persistently stares at the viewer and poses simultaneously, is not inviting. Call it autoerotic, or ‘oriental’ turning back onto itself in vanity, 1881 represents a form of narcissistic self-consciousness. And it sells, as well. At an auction held at Sotheby’s, London, in April 2010 the painting was sold at £121,250 almost tripling its pre-sale high estimate.

This is even a greater success than that of Spiritual, which was sold at £70,850 in 2009. (Spiritual was painted in a depressing period of Ceylan after the artist was expelled from the university he was lecturing at.) Long ignored by the local art scene, now Taner Ceylan is rapidly earning the recognition he deserves in Turkey especially following his artistic and commercial success out of his country.


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