Ali Omar, a Syrian artist living and working in Istanbul, has opened his first personal exhibition at Gallery Eksen called 'Portraits.' When talking about his artwork Ali Omar said, "There is one thing that I know for sure and that is the desire that guides me and guides my search, and the temptation of what I try to grasp, understand and discover makes that desire stronger." The visual speech that Ali Omar presents us reflects the depth of his queries. It is also his attempt to grasp these desires and temptations which now take shape as portraits. The exhibition contains a series of portraits that Omar has created both in his hometown in Syria and in Istanbul and along with his portraits you can also find a couple of his statues. As Ali Omar has previously stated, his aim is to create visually beautiful dimensions that belongs to modern beauty and the human core although it debates the issues of belonging, identity, ego and the dialectic relation between body and spirit. Ali Omar's 'Portraits' exhibition can be visited until Aug 13 at Gallery Eksen in Nişantaşı.
Daily Sabah conducted an interview with Ali Omar on how his art has evolved throughout the years, how the city of Istanbul impacts his artwork, his artistic process and much more.
Daily Sabah: In a previous interview you said that you decided to focus on painting as a profession at the age of 13 and that you had discovered that you where the happiest when you painted. In this context can you tell us a little bit about how you started painting and how you've evolved in your artwork throughout the years.
Ali Omar: Yes, just like you said, I decided to focus on painting as my profession at a very young age. Even when I finished high school my only desire was to study art. As the education system required at the time, I had to have other choices in case my dream of being an artist did not work out. My brother would ask me what I would want to do if art was not an option and I would say "I will probably do military service" because there was nothing else I wanted to do.
DS:Your artwork was also exhibited as part of the 'Multiple Existences' exhibition which aimed to bring together artists, who have lived or is currently living, in Istanbul. What kind of an impact does the city of Istanbul have on your artwork?
Omar: When I started with portraits, it was for my graduation project. I can say that I came to Istanbul to study the human being. In Istanbul there are so many people and so many cultures living together. There are lots of pictures to see in Istanbul and a lot of history of course. You can live in any part of Istanbul and imagine how it was one thousand years ago. These aspects help the study of the human being and add to the colors of the city
DS: Other than the city you live in, what else is a source of inspiration for you and your artwork?
My desire to paint is always the same, anywhere I go. Even when I was living in my small village back home, I was spending a great deal of time painting alone. I've traveled to many cities and in all these cities I had the same desire to paint. So what I mean to say is, it's not really the city itself but it is about how you are looking at the city and the people living there. Most of the paintings in my "Portraits" exhibition was created here in Istanbul, but there are however some painting that I painted around 2011 as well. I can not pinpoint what has changed in my artwork when I have changed cities so I like to leave it up to art lovers to decide.
DS: You previously said: 'My portraits tend to admire reality, but not to be enslaved by a reality that might not have beauty in most of its details." In this context what is the message you wish to get across with your portraits?
In a painting I'm looking for something beautiful. In real life, you cannot escape from reality and your own body. But you must have some space for your imagination and the things you desire. I don't want to be materialistic and at the same time I don't want to be so far off as to only think about the spirit and soul because this will separate you from real life. We cannot interact with the metaphysical energies around us because we are only a physical body. In my portraits you can see a physical body but what I aim to get across is the aspect of being in one place and also another.
DS: What is the artistic process behind your work? How does a portrait of yours come to be?
Franz Kafka once said that his works were not autobiographies but at the same time they were not keeping secrets. I don't use any models for my portraits. Sometimes I feel like I have meet these people in my dreams. I feel as if the monsters inside of me are wanting to escape and this can only happen when I am painting. Sometimes i think that somehow the portraits look like me or someone I know. When my cousins come to my studio and see my work they say that my portraits look like my uncle or some other relative. In my childhood I spent a lot of time with elder people which may be the reason for the portraits of someone old.
DS: How would you evaluate the art scene in Istanbul? How would you compare it to the art scene in Syria?
This is a difficult question for me to answer. When I first came to Istanbul, I met with some people who helped me with marketing. But I'm still in the process of figuring out the art scene in Istanbul. I'm researching the history of art in Istanbul because there is so much to learn. The art created in the Ottoman era and the art created in the republic ear is so different and I want to learn how they have affected each other. In Istanbul there is a lot of art and a lot of modern art and it's good to see it. I like to go to modern art exhibitions as it's good to see whats going on in modern art because I would consider myself to be more classical. If I had to compare it to art in Syria the biggest difference is the modern art scene. The new art scene consists of photography, video arts and installations and this isn't something common in my background. There are only a few artists who work on modern art in Syria which is not like Istanbul.