A set of vertical paintings depicting two men with long hats on which bird cages, feathers and little shrubs are perched create aesthetic unity, harmony and sensory diversity. These grotesque figures differ from the traditions of Renaissance painting, which stands out for its observation of nature with regard to human anatomy and the use of perspective and light, and Baroque painting, which is characterized by the depiction of dramatic scenes portrayed through intense light, dark shadows and a deep color range. In that sense, the portraits, which immediately capture the viewer's eye with their authenticity, seem to blantantly reject preceeding traditions.
“Ornithologist I” and “Ornithologist II” are the first paintings welcoming visitors at the latest show of Galeri 77 in Istanbul’s historical Beyoğlu district of sloping streets. Named after the French novelist and playwright Honore de Balzac’s renowned series “The Human Comedy” ("La Comedie Humaine"), the exhibit presents a selection prepared by Yerevan-born by Paris-based artist Evgenia Sarkissian (Sare) between 2015 and 2019.
When one looks at the rest of the paintings at the show following the ornithologist duo, a unique imaginary world opens its doors with monotypic and carnivalesque characters. The portraits of Sarkissian seem like actors and actresses of this new world, which makes us question the concept of “absurd.”
Sarkissian prefers to compose her portraits with a pastel color palette by using different, creative narratives. Her figures stand before us, extravagantly created by truly over-the-top jewels and accessories like mysterious masks. The charming portraits seem as though they are getting ready to attend the opera or heading to the stage for a romantic performance.
Balzac wrote “The Human Comedy,” a vast series consisting of novels and novellas, as he wanted to comprehend and examine the whole of French society. Like in this series, each painting by Sarkissian is like exploring different people from different classes in society. Her characters all have different stories and backgrounds. In one of her paintings, you see a mask seller offering a satisfied grin as she appreciates the beauty of her masks, while in her piece "Class Photo," children express a wide range of emotions on their broad young faces, from bored to happy, while others appear to be lost in juvenile daydreams.
The artist's strange characters are portrayed as neither bad nor good. They reflect the potential of society; however, they are also posing for us. Depending on the relationship you establish with them, you can even witness the games they play among themselves.
Another important point about these varied portraits is that the artist does not use realistic elements glorifying human beings. This is where we begin to question the absurdity. Her exotic portraits echoing the irrational laughter of an absurd world is nothing more than a meaningless reaction to the parody of the inhumane condition in which we must abide by the illusory appearances, according to art critic Cem Bölüktaş. The absurd reflection of the characters makes us feel that the paintings, each with a different stage setting, are like pieces of a single whole.
Techniques of perfection
The artist's harmonious pastel color palette allows the paintings to come together in varied combinations. The colors are deepened with the glazing technique she uses. Sarkissian’s creation process is quite arduous. Carrying a notebook with her during the day and drawing, taking notes whenever she has the opportunity, the artist paints a composition she determines at the end of a development process with oil paint on canvas using a glaze technique, which was frequently used by the old masters between the 15th and 19th centuries. The technique involves applying a transparent layer of paint on another dry, opaque paint layer with the help of a soft-bristled brush, giving the surface a real sense of depth and a bright appearance while creating colorful illusions. It is a technique that adds an interesting dimension, is time-consuming and requires planned work. The gripping feeling that the audience feels when looking at the elaborate works by Sarkissian originates from this.
Briefly, Sarkissian, who offers undefined but poetic compositions without concrete and urban landscapes in the background by opening the doors of an amazing and fascinating fairy-tale world, alternating between dream and reality in her works at the exhibit, unleashes an unbridled imagination that flies freely for the pleasure of her audience. Visitors can enjoy seeing works of the artist’s first exhibit in Turkey until Oct. 10. Considering the art lovers outside of Istanbul, Galeri 77 is also presenting the exhibition online. You can follow the 3D virtual tour of the exhibition, various videos and posts of it on the gallery's social media accounts and website.
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