All is Illusion: A few thoughts on the Twins Series of Mehmet Yılmaz / by Marcus Graf

Marcus Graf

 

“My way of joking is telling the truth;

 that is the funniest joke in the world”

George Bernard Shaw

 

         Photography plays a fundamental role in the birth of modern art, where it especially altered the idea, meaning and function of painting. It changed the way we see and understand the world. Next to Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, photography has built the fundaments of modern art, as it helped to destroy painting’s duty of being an instrument of and for representation, illusion and communication. That is why, during the 19th century, it has led painting into a deep crisis, as its 500 year long story of illusionism ended the moment a machine occurred that could mirror reality better, faster and cheaper. So painting was forced to direct its gaze from the outside world lying behind the corners of the canvas directly onto the surface of the painting itself. As the outer reality of the artist became hostile territory, he orientated his focus into his inner world, an area the camera could not reach yet.

Yes, photography forced the artist to create images that the camera could not. As the result, the aesthetic of modern painting became based on abstract, deformed and destructed aesthetics, which abandoned realistic representations. In this way, the camera supported painting’s intrinsic orientation, which increased from the mid of the 19th century until it reached its peak in the schools of Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field Painting and Minimal Art. A crisis in the history of art was born, which helped painting to step forward to reach another level, a modern dimension, in which nothing else but art itself would matter. That is why, paradoxically, the birth of photography co-caused the end of traditional painting and the beginning of a new phases in paintings history. It meant the death and resurrection of painting.

 

 Twins – Clash of Visual Worlds

For over 150 years now, the art of painterly realism ranges from the imitation of nature, over to the representation as well as reproduction of reality and finally to the creation of images of utopian or dystopian world views. Today, simultaneously, dozens of forms of realistic painting styles exist. They reflect, analyse and criticize the status quo we live in. In this context, Mehmet Yılmaz’s series Twins discusses aesthetic, formal and conceptual characteristics of photography and painting. For him – and this makes his artistic inquiry extraordinary – photographic images and photo-realistic painted ones are the same.

In Twins, Yılmaz discusses some of the above mentioned matters of photography and (realistic) painting in a radical and spectacular way. In his quest to reveal the differences and parallels between their images, the series causes fascinating clashes different visual fields by letting them face each other in one work. The brush of the artist meets his camera in a diptych. On both sides of each piece, photographic images function as the carrier of visual data. On the left, photo prints are mounted onto the canvas. On the right, the same object is shown, now in a slightly different position or seen from an alternative angle and painted in a photorealistic manner. The photo print stands for itself and reflects its version of reality. The painted side imitates photographic reality and especially in the latest examples, reveals the relativity of its objectivity.

Mehmet Yılmaz understands himself as a narrator of current truths, and believes that his oeuvre is always about stories, narration and visual notes concerning our individual and societal story. The artist works in series, where every series has its own conceptual framework and formal features. Twins was firstly developed while he was working on a previous series called Unfavorable, because Indecent (Sakıncalı, çünkü Edepsiz) where he used images of animal heads for criticising the current government. Some of these images were digital prints, whereas others were painted by hand. This gave the works a collage-like quality, as the printed and painted images created a visual clash within the composition of the work. Later, because he wanted to spread these two techniques all over the canvases, in Twins, he found the right conceptual and formal opportunity to do so. Every painting in this series consists of two canvases, which are connected with a hinge. The canvas on the right is not a copy of the canvas on the left, but it is designed as its twin, and the figure on the right is not the copy of the figure on the left, but it is painted as its twin. The hinges, which connect the two parts of the work, also function like symbols for a dialectical relation between the two images. Mehmet Yılmaz’s claim in Twins is that a photograph is a picture, like a painting is a picture too. For him, basically, some pictures are done by hand while some are done by a machine – just like some pullovers are made by hand, and some others by a machine. That is why he considers them as equal.

Although the works in Twins appear to be photorealistic paintings, their main issue is not ‘reality’. Yılmaz is not a photorealist artist, and therefore neither interested in nor concerned with issues and matters of photorealism. His series solely aims at questioning the meaning and quality of painting. The reality it refers to is concerning internal matters of art like illusionism, representation and reality construction as well as the fundamental being of painting.

Yılmaz is aware of the currently rising interest in realism, which according to him results from its attractive, sometimes spectacular technique, and its objection to modernist aesthetic, where realism was degraded and abstract art was hailed. Besides this, current tendencies in the art world towards using visual technologies, where video and photography, by their very nature, record realities, and therefore narrate realities, supported realism’s popularity. For Yılmaz though, reality is a prison where it is impossible to escape. That is why, the artist aims at playing a game inside this prison, where he plays with illusionary reproductions of the world, and so calls attention to the essence of painting.

The Twins-Series, which he started in 2011, currently consists of more than 20 diptychs. There, we see images of people, self-portraits, tools, stones and part of trees being set in landscapes. The works are beautifully made, and masterly crafted, which gives them the aura of aesthetically and technically high value. At the same time, the works are based on serious art-theoretical grounds, while they question basic issues of the art of painting. That is why, a great balance between aesthetic and concept exist in the Twins, which protects the work from being neither too formalist nor to conceptualist. In 2012, Yılmaz started to leave the painted part of the diptych unfinished in order to reveal the painterly character of the work. The painting should be understood as such, and not being perceived as a photo. At the same time, and that is why I like the works of this phase especially, the incomplete form causes the mind of the spectator to fulfil the image. So, he changes his role from being a passive receiver and spectator to become an active participator and creator, who forms and finishes the figures in his head.

Another important characteristic of the series is the use of the hinge joints. Thanks to them, Mehmet Yılmaz can play with the canvases within the space, as he is not limited to the flat wall of the gallery, and therefore can put works into corners or even exhibit them freestanding in the room. In both cases, the painting loses its two-dimensionality and gains an installative dimension.

In the end, Mehmet Yılmaz creates diptychs, where the through hinge joints connected photo and painting parts, as a whole, give the spectator the chance to compare two images that aim at mirroring the world we live in. That is why, Twins is not simply copying or reflecting reality, but deconstructing it in order to go beyond our known and review the way we understand reality, visuality, and the visual culture of mass media. At the same time, this series questions the given state of realistic painting and photographic images. Therefore, Twins discusses the status quo of realistic painting and the visual reality we face every day.

 

Marcus Graf; Assoc. Prof., Yeditepe University, Fine Arts Faculty,

Art Management Department, Resident Curator, Plato Art

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