Mehmet Bayraktar Aesthetics
Possibly the strongest feature of Mehmet Bayraktar’s painting is its ability to create an idiosyncratic opportunity for communication. What’s more, the artist attains this originality very subtly, simply and with a straightforward attitude. He never cuts corners, assuming an attitude of “because I said so.” As he depicts the ordinary moments of daily life within perhaps the simplest cross-sections, he establishes a powerful and unique relationship with the viewer. The mystery behind this success is not easily explained, because the paintings in question are rather understated and “non-expressive” when it comes to the artist’s skills and technique.
Undoubtedly, “the figure” is at the core of this communication. In any case, it would not be hyperbolic to consider Bayraktar’s paintings “figurative.” This is why, figuration as a central element holds the keys to the Bayraktar aesthetics. At first sight, the figures appear endearingly simple with their light, naïve and fragile demeanors. Yet, it is easy to sense that this appearance is misleading, as they also have a decidedly powerful, and almost monumental effect. It is surprising for these figures, which are completely and unabashedly liberated from plastic elements—except for movement—to have such an impact. Besides, they are also quite light. It is as if they have forfeited their specific weights for something more valuable. In other words, so much has been removed from these figures, and what remains are just those that ‘belong’ to them. Perhaps this is why they don’t withdraw or run away from us, even if they don’t dive forward in front of us either.
The powerful yet light nature of the figures is so advanced that, they don’t need faces or eyes in order to communicate. There is nothing for them to tell ‘by looking,’ just as they don’t care whether or not we comprehend the ‘meaning’ in their eyes. It seems as if, the things they are whispering to us are completely different.
The second salient element present in Bayraktar’s painting is his choice of subject matter: remarkably significant cross-sections taken from ordinary moments. We can perceive the depicted scene right away, just as we can envisage the movement within that particular moment. This familiar and dynamic state immediately pulls us into the painting. We get excited, because I think, being embraced by an artwork, even if we are aware of its laborious process, and to understand it easily would make everyone happy. Yet, things don’t work out that way! And, for good reason.
This state of being embraced by instantly familiar “emotions,” always reminds me of the reactions given by readers of “best selling” books. Holding one’s book close to heart and exclaiming “I’ve found myself!” is understandable for readers, but to think receiving such a response was the sole intent of the artist would be naiveté. It would, of course, be exorbitant to describe what real art intends, yet there needs to be more to it than nurturing the ordinary reader’s unending ego. Shedding our emotional baggage and gaining new insight regarding life or inviting us to a different kind of communication (a more genuine communication)… Or remembering that we are not situated at the center of the universe, and that there is a “reality” which transcends us…
I think this is what a good painting should do. We should be able to enter the painting and enjoy ourselves in the comfort of familiar scenes while also feeling unsettled with a desire to step out. This obviously is harder than determining a specific target audience.
Mehmet Bayraktar is up for a challenge. He invites us to rejoice while “finding ourselves” in these familiar scenes, just as he invites us to step back and take another look through the mathematics of the other aesthetic elements. And at that exact moment, something surprising occurs. A startling visual form appears and levels almost everything to equal footing; a form that I had been trying to describe as the simplicity of the figure. This is a novelty, and it yields that indescribable feeling: Uniformity!
In order to elucidate this, it is perhaps necessary to elaborate some more on the figure.
Bayraktar’s figures seem to have been drawn at once, without him ever taking his hand away from the canvas surface. They have such continuity. And, this also applies to all the other objects and elements in the painting. A single line can both be the hand and the foot, just as it can be the glass or the fish. At the risk of caricaturizing the painting, this continuity and “uniformity” of the lines also bring forth a significant reward. In other words, everything can be moved to the same level through this continuity. And, we can consider these misshapen hands, the fish on the plate, the upside-down heart, and the flower that seems to stretch out from the table (as well as the dog with the bandaged leg) with the same interest and “love.” This is an extraordinary style. It is a style that offers ample opportunity—I can’t even imagine how many authors would give their right arms for such a style in literature.
When it comes to art, what’s at stake is how the technique of representation, namely, the aesthetics of the work is conveyed. What is less talked about is whether this technique offers enough opportunities or not. While a good technique is only capable of expressing so much within its limited means (those tedious ultra stylists), a wide-reaching technique grants infinitely more opportunities of expression. Such opportunity is also the source of the artist’s credibility and our trust towards him.
Mehmet Bayraktar’s practice is also fueled this way. Those distorted hands and feet could have seemed awkward within a different unity, yet in a Bayraktar painting we have no doubts as to whether these are hands and feet. Furthermore, we take it in stride because the hierarchy of the line doesn’t favor any of the elements in the painting over the other. What, then, does such aesthetics show us? We certainly are not re-discovering the hand and the foot, but perhaps we are reconsidering the idea of the hand and the foot in our minds to realize how absurd or obscure this idea can be. Indeed, which details of a person’s hands and feet do we remember? (Unless there is sentimental value involved). Even though they are the foundations to a posture or demeanor, how central are the hands and feet to the reenactment of a gesture in our heads? In Bayraktar’s paintings, the hands and feet have the same standing as they do in our perception (namely how they are in real life). And this offers a wide variety of opportunities for expression. Take the painting titled “The Crossing” for example, and consider how introverted the figures become when their hands and feet are removed, or what happens when transparent shoes are put on these feet…
The Crossing: They evoke a feeling of deprivation with their minimalist forms and a demeanor which suggests they could move out of the painting any minute. But in this buoyancy, there is also an elusive heaviness...
This must be what they call illusion in art. In other words, the artist represents an object in such a way that we believe it (just like we believe that the actors on the movie screen are real), and this illusion provides us with a new way of seeing with regards to life.
Bayraktar’s consistent, humorous and minimalist approach is able to bring everything on common ground in such a way that whatever he depicts, the moods or the body movements in that painting not only make us believe—despite their incredulousness at first sight—but also offer utterly different impressions. Take for instance, the elongating arms and legs in the painting “Psychoanalysis”… We witness these limbs in such a leveling aesthetic that we don’t need any other enforcement to sense the phallic reference in their extension. Yes, the tie also extends, and that is one of my favorite jokes. Then again, what would one expect of the psychoanalysis of two men…
Of course, it is difficult to describe this aesthetic solely through its leveling attitude. Perhaps one needs to come closer to hear the voice, the whisper behind the lines, and if not, move one step back to take it all in.
Mehmet Bayraktar is more of a genre painter. His subjects are from daily life. He doesn’t offer any divine messages, a modern discovery or a postmodern twist. His paintings don’t portray people who promise things, just as the paintings themselves. They are neither overly optimistic nor desperately pessimistic. Yes, they are somber, but they don’t agitate. Ordinary people, in ordinary moments… Of course, there is a significant mathematics to their aesthetics, but that is not a display of talent. Well, then, what is it that impacts us? What is it that drags us to those simultaneously familiar and unknown moments, hurling us from one side to another between the past and the future?
First of all, there is an amazing skill involved in the cross-section he takes. He extracts such an instant from life’s clichés that the painting almost becomes timeless. The scenes in the paintings are of the intersection of the past and the future, rather than the “frozenness” of a moment. They feature clothing and artifacts from contemporary life, but these are not indicative of a particular period, quite the reverse, they convey something, which transcends that period. For instance, the young snobs with careers and the pretty girls portrayed in the painting “MEETING” probably reflect what takes place in the meeting rooms of countless office buildings today. Moreover, it is not rocket science to guess that those slim ties and belts will soon go out of fashion. Yet, the body movements, the appearances as well as the several other dynamic postures are all telling us something. These people are all the same… Those who have attended such meetings recognize how it is this monotony that’s discussed and contested (in spite of the uniform feet inside those transparent shoes) as opposed to the specific discussion taking place, and that this “style” of men and women are essentially the same. And as they keep looking at the painting, they smile and shiver a little, realizing that unless there is a substantial change in the world, such meetings will be repeated infinitesimally. (Perhaps there is also a feeling of futility beyond this uniformity. Whatever you conceal yourself or the meeting with, it is still you and everything is futile).
Who knows how much has been lost in terms of aesthetics, in the name of attracting attention because the artist can’t do it without emphasizing his/her strength in the artwork. Idealizations, glorifications, technical bravado and chaotic expressions… The difficulty of encountering a new visual imagination that can stand out, especially after the bombardment of messy visuals we are exposed to everyday makes this understandable. Yet, more often than not, this very attitude guarantees that the work will end up in the dumping ground of history.
This is what strikes me the most in Bayraktar’s painting. There is no idealization; yet, his imagination is still lively and striking. And, I think the secret to this is in the communication.
On one level, art provides us with the opportunity for a true communication with life and with one another: a unique communication between our desires, experiences and fears, and those of others. Naturally, there is no rule as to how this can happen; yet, there is also no doubt that a painting is an aesthetic opportunity for communication. In other words, it affects us as long as it can accomplish this.
The communication between the artist and the art lover is decidedly a reciprocal interaction. For the artwork to be understood, it is necessary for both parties to reach an agreement with regards to it. Although a lot has been said on this matter, there is no consensus in terms of idealization and glorification. In my opinion, the mind needs to be cleared up before one can be alone with an artwork. And, unless there is “a mutual sacrifice” (perhaps I should say forgetting), it is useless for this to happen unilaterally. For an artwork’s thematic “object” to convey its specific existence with all its starkness and meaning to the art-lover’s perception, both the artist and the art-lover has to abandon their selfish existence (in terms of communication). I think this is the only way one can be alone with an artwork. Obviously, no meaningful communication can be generated through an artist-audience interaction that only desires to satisfy its own ego.
Bayraktar’s artworks are so removed from idealizations, glorifications and bravado that they already are making the biggest sacrifice. In addition to not carrying any messages or judgments, they don’t position people or objects within a hierarchy either. There is no sexist rhetoric here, and no ideological standpoint with regards to life, nor is there a biased position underlining the artist’s choices. In a manner of speaking, these are humanist and democratic paintings… Perhaps this is normal for “genre” painting, but if we are faced with a new imagination, and if the painting’s impact is independent of its technique and ostentation, then there is an aesthetic success that requires examination. Bayraktar displays a “democratic” attitude with both his treatment of color and light, and his use of lines as well as his figurative style. And by virtue of this attitude, one can easily observe the inherent “humor” of his paintings.
The perspective rendered in the paintings is usually from right across the canvas; either eye level or from slightly above. Yet, this is not a belittling angle, on the contrary, it is a kind invitation allowing us to see much more. More often than not, the light source is in the middle, and preserves its strength (its luminosity) even towards the corners of the painting. Frequently displaying a preference for primary colors, the artist fills the background with a practically egalitarian symmetry. In short, there is no idealization and etc. in the Bayraktar aesthetic; everyone is as they are and everything is as it is, they are all equally important or unimportant; namely, uniform. Time period is today, but rather than a frozen (static) moment, it is an impartial cross-section where the past and the future neutralize each other. What I’m referring to is the artist “forgetting” himself, as opposed to taking on a nihilist attitude. Derived from the essence of sacrifice that I’ve mentioned above… Perhaps this is why, the viewer also needs to make the sacrifice to look at the painting with a clear mind, free from biases, and abandon all aesthetic comparisons.
I have a feeling that movement is of utmost importance in Bayraktar’s works. The figures are always in motion, and this movement emerges with the least amount of detail possible. While the simplicity of the figures can fall short in demonstrating the saturation of the movement, Bayraktar makes up for this with his strong brush workmanship, the power of primary colors and the texture created by the subtle lines he achieves by scraping along with a spatula. The figures could have begun to float if not for that color and texture, but somehow everything regains its specific weight. This voluminous movement is visible in all of the figures by virtue of the linear integrity mentioned above. Better yet, the figures can establish a relationship with one another as well as the objects through this movement. Perhaps this is why even though Bayraktar’s paintings usually seem like depictions of ordinary moments, the wealth and power of movement dissolves the commonness of this captured moment. This movement is able to lay it down even more clearly as it is aided by the perspective illusion frequently used by Bayraktar. After all, it would have been otherwise impossible to convey the force and authority of the taster’s leg in the painting titled “The Taster.” Or if the green that forms the table’s contour in “The Diners” hadn’t attached itself to the background with an egalitarian manner, the table’s disruptive perspective wouldn’t have been so sympathetic, and it would not have been possible to portray diners around a round table—one of the toughest scenes for a visual artist—with such an easygoing approach.
Then again, I feel as if there is something completely different that these paintings are whispering to us. Whenever I think about the artist’s aesthetics, I seem to start hearing that voice, that poetic whisper, and I truly enjoy it.
UNCERTAINTIES AND INCONSISTENCIES
There are also elements, which maintain their uncertainties within these paintings. The vibration of linearity… I don’t know how far one can further the understanding of linearity that receives light almost directly and turns in on itself with the frail waves of its contour. Sometimes one can observe a particular disruption of the communication between the contours of the figures and the rest of the painting. The connection of these contours with the rest of the painting needs to be resolved for the sake of integrity, and the risk of caricaturization or “pastiche” should be eliminated. I admit that the works from 2017 have reached certain maturity, but I wonder whether this uncertain vibration will evolve into a cubical saturation or maintain its uncertainty in the artist’s subsequent works.
In conclusion, it is useful to talk about an issue I have not dealt with before: the understanding of aesthetics I was referring to when I said that we can view the painting’s elements with “love,” in other words, “love” itself and “truth.” Of course, I am using these overly depreciated words with their aesthetic meanings. First of all, I’m referring to love independent of the watered-down interpretations of the concept, and separately from the context of lover-loved.
Love is a wild form of education regarding the “reality” of someone else. (Todorov refers to this in his book “L'art ou la vie!”) The artist is distanced from originality unless he feeds his creativity with this wild “love.” For instance, unless an author surrenders his own reality in pursuit of the character’s reality, his text begins to resemble a cheap puppet show. The goal, of course, is to pursue “the truth.” Again, when I say truth, I am referring to the communication, which the artist embraces with his aesthetics (and which the art-lover is embraced with his/her own style) as well as his experience and standpoint. What’s in question is not the truth “within us,” like in that naïve saying. On the contrary, it is the truth outside, in a word, in a color or under the light, which embraces life and meaning alike...
Although we don’t want to accept that pessimistic assumption that suggests we can’t both understand and live life, we can’t ignore that there is some truth behind it either. The artist, of course, is not trying to decipher the meaning of life as he shops at the market with a bag in his hand; he is toiling away with (or maybe in search of fresh fruit and vegetables) the anxieties of life. But when he comes home to write and draw, he tries to understand and make meaning of life while also experiencing a completely different life (living). It’s also the same for the art-lover. With art, we step back to take a look at life, and live it anew. As such, we realize that, at least fictitiously, life is not just a dream of ours. I believe that there is no power other than art that can accomplish this. I think that aesthetics should be addressed through such an understanding of “love” and “truth.” At least, this is what appeals to me. And I have tried to maintain this standpoint while assessing the aesthetics of Mehmet Bayraktar’s paintings. Besides, only then was I able to begin to understand what these paintings were demanding from us. Only then did that voice approached me and whispered:
“Such is life…”