Burcu Percin Interview

Marcus Graf

Marcus Graf: Dear Burcu, for your upcoming exhibition at Gallery ON, you are preparing a new series of paintings. Could you shortly describe the series regarding its aesthetic and content?

Burcu Perçin: Compared to my previous paintings, the basic difference of the works in this series is that there are now graffiti on the walls of the spaces I create. In addition to my paintings, there are now images, figures, inscriptions, texts –and new forms of interpretations inspired from them- from the graffiti I run across on the streets or indoors.
There are many desolated plants and facilities, where maybe hundreds of people came to work with great hopes in their hearts. Unable to adapt themselves to the ever-changing global circumstances of our times, these plants are now deserted. Having lost their function, they are abandoned and forlorn. The present forsaken state of these plants create a sense of emptiness, loneliness and void in one’s heart. The presence of graffiti on these deserted, abandoned, inhabited and fading places somehow wet my curiosity and excited me.
In this series I called “Wall Power”, I wanted to tackle with how anonymous figures draw and write on walls in an attempt to claim rights on these places. I tried to question how they try to express their power on the walls.
In most cases these walls are turning into realms of freedom, where young people overwhelmed under pressure (due to their concerns/fears for the future) express their feelings, ideas and political views, which they cannot communicate in the society. In a way, through these walls, these people are meeting their need to share and voice their feelings, ideologies by leaving a mark or trace.

M. G: Your works, although originating from photo-collages of different parts of various spaces and objects, are always based on real existing locations. In this current series, you are dealing with images of abandoned industrial interiors. How do you select the spaces? What draws you to the certain focuses that you select inside the locations?

B. P: First of all, I pursue forms, colors, textures and visual richness. And I believe that I can find all of these together in these places.
Then I decide which of these items should be a part of my paintings. My need for taking the entire work under control leads to the formulation of the collage. Without allowing any randomness, I piece the collages together, only from the photos I shot. So, the design process in fact starts during the photo-shooting.
I make a brand new space definition based on a synthesis I come up with from the photos of the outdoor and mainly indoor spaces taken during my visits to different countries, regions and cities. This way I underline the changeability and interpretability of everything.

M. G: How does the story and history of the chosen building influence you during the painting process?

B. P: All these places share a history. They were all hosting crowds once upon a time. They used to be dynamic industrial plants and buildings. The common denominator is their present desertedness. Currently, they are all lonely, abandoned places….
One of the places I used in my paintings is a factory in Beirut. It was war-ravaged and burnt down. Another place I used is a theatre building. Despite its war-ravaged state this theatre has an interesting architecture even as a ruin. Another example is a 550-year-old industrial facility. Now abandoned, this plant had served during the Ottoman reign… Together, all these buildings and places can be a part of my paintings.  I can safely say that, this way I am trying to give immortality to these abandoned, forgotten, forsaken places, which I personally find very impressive and striking.

M. G: Although these industrial ruins have a strong aesthetic impact, which results from their beauty of nostalgia and impermanence, I know that you consider the socio-political context of these builds important as well. Could you describe your aesthetic and contextual interest in these buildings?

B. P: The sense of imprisonment and loneliness in these places is a theme, repeatedly dealt with in my works. I can say that as sub-themes I am alluding to concepts like unemployment and privation. I am aiming at making paintings which do not refer to directly a political incident but imply an ideological criticism. For me, a complete separation of art from politics is basically impossible. Then again, we cannot conclude that I am painting with propaganda purposes.
In my art, I am rather trying to question the globalization notion with reference to certain socio-political issues including the termination of production, and thus, unemployment and environmental problems.Interior spaces gained importance in my paintings. During the course of time, they became the predominant element of my works. This evolution has been the driving force for my quest for a new style. I cut masking tapes and stick them on the canvas in certain patterns. After the completion of the painting I remove the tapes. The contours, forms, motifs I come up with, after the removal of the tapes, generate the constructive underlying structure of my works. And eventually they became the main element of my paintings.
The contours, I create with this ever-changing technique, symbolize the sense of effeteness and fade out of the place and sometimes the effort of naissance and survival.

M.G: In early exhibitions of yours like at Pi-Artworks in 2005, next to paintings of landscape and industrial buildings, you painted situations, in which human figures were the protagonists. In the last years though, the human figure is absent, and the spectator only sees remains of his existence. Why did the figure vanish?

B.P: For I have been dealing with the loneliness of objects and spaces for a while now, I did not feel the need for human figure. In my late works, I wanted to put emphasis on the desolation of factories, warehouses and dockyards and highlight the terminated production in these plants, buildings. Therefore, there was no need for a human body anymore. In these works, I am building a connection between the natural life vs. life shaped by man, culture and technology.
In my first solo exhibition (Jan 2005), I depicted human figures and manmade objects in natural spaces (the woods). The way I view the outskirts of the city from very heart of urban life, the way I look at the periphery, at the non-industrial, from the center, brought me back to the epicenter of the industry.
During the same period based on some personal experiences I produced a series of portraits. Some of these works were not a part of the exhibition but were included in the catalogue. On those days, I felt the need to draw self-portraits and the portraits of family members and my entourage. It is really difficult to explain why I wanted to do certain things or why I choose certain images. I suppose, the best explanation would be that these images are the best examples representing the synthesis of my inner world.

M.G: In your current series, the spectator can see graffiti showing human figures? Is this a return of the figure in your work?

B.P: In my works, even when I do not use the human figure directly, there are always definitions and traces referring to human nature and lifestyle.
The reason why the figure image is included in my late works is my use of graffiti images. I started to place some of the figures I keep seeing in the street paintings on the walls of the spaces I design.  Clearly, I reinterpret these figures while placing them in my productions.
Frankly, I also wonder how these figures will evolve after this point and how they will shape my painting.

M.G: Let us come to the technical side of your work and let us discuss your painting methods and strategies. Your paintings draw a close connection to contemporary realistic painting. Currently, there is a wave of young artists using data projectors, photocopies and photos as the base for their work. Often, artists use realistic representations because they are spectacular, impressive and tell the spectator a story. As people like stories, they get drawn easily to the work. How do you see the current development, and how do you see your work in the current environment?

B. P: Obviously, I am producing with a contemporary art conception. However, while using a contemporary/current language, I keep my distance with the up-to-date (i.e. current, daily) trends and of course with the fast-mass production. To me, those who manages to stay away from what’s fashionable are closer overrun the time. I prefer to use an idiosyncratic, distinctive and experimental technique.
In the collages, I go for a rather realistic style. On the other hand, I have an expressive attitude, complementing the planimetrical look of the objects I depict on canvas. In addition to the photographic acutance, we may also find abstractions in my productions.
Generating thick paint smudges and blisters on the canvas, we see sometimes very aggressive paint use. However, now and then, my paint use becomes quite controlled. Therefore, visually speaking, I find it quite difficult to categorize my works as “realistic art” in the strict sense. Then again, my themes take root from social realism. In this context, I believe that I am building a bond with the social realist Turkish artists of 1960s and ‘70s. I find their inner worlds close to mine. Especially, Nedim Günsur’s work titled “Maden İşçileri” (Mine Workers) influenced me deeply. Some of the other painters I feel close to in this sense are Neşet Günal, Cihat Burak and Nuri İyem.
The objective of art is to express or views, thought and feelings about ourselves and the world we live in. Its methods and techniques may vary… When I define the spaces I am currently working on, I benefit from certain elements of realistic painting. We may say that this is the expression of my inner quest.

M.G: I believe that next to their narrative and conceptual dimensions, an important reason for the certain and outstanding character of your paintings is the structure and form of your paintings. In this series, the work’s aesthetics results from photo-collages that you produce before every painting. How and why did you start using photo-collages as that the base of your paintings?

B. P: While drawing you somehow feel the need to look at a direction…When I was a student at Mimar Sinan, I used to look at the mirror and draw countless self-portraits and interior spaces surrounding them. After a while, when I needed to create a source, a mediator for my works, I started to shoot photos of spaces and states.
However, after a point photographs alone did not suffice to generate the fiction and composition I imagined.  So I decided to produce collages. When I am making collages with the photos I shot in different places, I am highlighting the changeability of everything through a new space definition I make.

M.G: Why do you take the pictures yourself and not use ready-made images like many other artists today?

B. P: I want to personally see the places I draw. It is important for me to spend time in these places and feel the atmosphere. I believe this way I can better convey the spirit of these places and objects and better reflect how these places were lived in, in the past.
In addition, while taking photos, I really enjoy and benefit from producing art in a discipline other than painting.

M.G: In times of photoshop and other computer programs, you still create your collages by hand. What is the reason for this?

B. P: There is a great difference between a handmade collage and photoshopped one. I think, they inspire completely different visual effects and feelings. In order to observe this disparity every now and then I try collages with photoshop.

M. G: The collages themselves look like independent works with an autonomous aesthetic and value. Why do you feel the need to transfer (without using data projector or other “copy” techniques) to bigger canvases and create a painting out of them?

B. P: We can argue that in general there is a similarity between the paintings and collages. Yet, I do not feel that I should transfer the sketch/collage mot-a-mot. When I stand before the canvas I always play with the composition and forms. I add, omit things or I may change the frame itself… Therefore, making a transfer on canvas would limit my freedom area. Moreover, for the moment, I believe that such a transfer and copy technique would not be consistent with my painting understanding.

M. G: How would you describe the painting process?

B. P:  In recent years, I have been starting to produce my works by making a transparent prime coat, which maintains the color and ton coherence of the sketch. In this technique, I work faster using acrylic. Then, I design various forms with paper tapes. Sticking these forms on the canvas I prepare the background of the painting.
As I start painting, the body starts to move as a whole. This way, I can interfere in the canvas from different angles. Holding sway over the entire composition requires physical power and performance. In general, with large-scale paintings, I start from the upper left corner and continue working towards the bottom right. Certainly, most of the time, I go back to previously painted spots, for retouching.
In the past, I used to complete a greater portion of the painting on the floor. Still, I frequently lay the painting on the floor and observe and work on it. For some reason, I believe that when it lies on the ground I can examine my works more easily. This way, I feel that I have a better control over it.

M. G: How do you see the role of color in your paintings?

B. P: In my paintings, the choice/use of colors may vary depending on the feelings, impressions the images and places I pick leave on me. I prepare a color palette according to the composition I picture in my mind, to my perception about the space involved and to the image I wish to convey to the viewer.
The graffiti, a recent adjunct of my paintings, have a peculiar color language, involving brightness and contrast. Adding this image to the process diversified the colors I use. We can manifestly see how the colors I used started to vary after the colored contrast graffiti images started to be an evident part of my works.
The espace, generated through the use of contrasting colors along with the presence of dark/light, illuminated/shadowy and perspective relationships, has recently become a more evident element in my latest works.
Along the multi-colored areas, I am using colorful grills, elements supporting the coherence, which help me create more silent areas.

M. G: Since 2008, more and more you are using tape strips for outlining the objects and buildings in your paintings. What is the advantage of this tape-method against the use of a pen or brush?

B. P: I started to use tapes as a tool in 2008, when I first felt the need to delineate straight and clear-cut lines in my works. By the end of 2009 and all through 2010, these lines and forms I make with these paper tapes have already become the basic element of my productions.  It was not a decision made overnight.  Through the course of time, I felt the need to use these masking tapes more often, especially when building the skeleton of the architectural structures. How and to what extent the tapes became a material of my painting process evolved and varied depending on the images I picked for my compositions. Furthermore, the blanks created by the tapes helped me design new layers and textures on the surface. This process developed under my total control. Thanks to the tape use, the blankness-fullness balance on the surface constructed a new rhythm as well as the rigidity vs. smoothness contradiction.

M. G: As a new element, you introduced spray color and stencil techniques in your latest paintings. What do you gain from it?

B. P: I have been always open to the quest for new materials. I am not the kind of artist who would adopt a certain paint use, technique or brushing method and repeat it over and over again. I used spray paints in my last 6 or maybe 7 works. I applied stencil in only some details of my last 3 paintings. I think that these materials, which I employed very recently, are indeed strengthening the narrative aspect of the theme I am working on. Plus, I believe that they enrich the painting by bringing in some sort of dynamism.