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New Turkish Post-Impressionism: 'Houses at L'Estaque' in Teşvikiye

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Until Jan. 20, 2018, Ariel Sanat will exhibit ‘Houses at L'Estaque,' showing works by the contemporary Turkish artists Selim Birsel and Sinan Logie in a succinct, relatively modest display within the neat gallery space on the second floor of a historic, upscale apartment building in the ritzy Teşvikiye neighborhood of Istanbul bordering Maçka Democracy Park.

In the footsteps of Paul Cezanne, two of Turkey's most radical creative thinkers returned to the landscapes of L'Estaque to advance the original inspirations that birthed post-impressionism

In the summer of 1870, Paul Cezanne dodged the Franco-Prussian War draft and found respite in a village he knew from childhood, L'Estaque in Provence. The year he spent there before returning to the capital was just what he needed to break away, both from the mounting social pressures and the inescapable artifices of his unbridled genius. He had single-handedly presaged modern expressionism during his "dark period" in Paris the decade prior, using a palette knife to carve into paint his exasperated illustrations of rape and murder in brazen contrasts of color. The landscapes of L'Estaque opened his eyes wide enough for him to see an opening into the emerging impressionist movement.

"Houses at L'Estaque" revives the muse that fired the imagination of Cezanne, who ultimately evolved the painting styles of his contemporaries into a liminal category known as post-impressionism. Inside the second-floor gallery of the Narmanlı Apartment building, the exhibit at Ariel Sanat displays the works of Selim Birsel and Sinan Logie, two Brussels-born, genre-defying artists who continually innovate new creative niches in Turkey. Its walls span three rooms, spare and direct in presentation, though with elegant aesthetic fusions of traditional modernism. Alongside one another, the works of Birsel and Logie reveal the bridge from impressionism to post-impressionist expressionism which Cezanne initiated.

New Turkish Post-Impressionism: 'Houses at L'Estaque' in Teşvikiye
The exhibition will run until Jan. 20, 2018 at Ariel Sanat, two floors up in the elegant Narmanlı Apartment building in Teşvikiye.

In the year 1932, the Narmanlı Apartment building rose above the demolished foundations of a mansion owned by a descendant of Ottoman royalty. It was one of many that appeared at a time when street names and numbers were still inconsistent following the dissolution of the imperial establishment. Its interior retains original fixtures and furnishings, showing off the high styles of the bygone upper-class during the golden, early days of the Republic era when Atatürk still lived. Adjacent to the lush urban valley of Maçka Democracy Park amid the trendiest of downtown core districts, its neoclassical columns and Ottoman mantle open into a brilliant, spacious marble foyer leading to the live-in doorman (kapıcı) who fulfills a heartwarming convention among the old Turkish society. He appears as receptionist and keeper below an outmoded Zenith clock and beside the antique, bronze-hued cast-iron shaft elevator to invite guests up.

On the nose, at 4:00 p.m. sharp last Thursday, the doors to Ariel Sanat opened quietly, and unceremoniously to commence the three-month "Houses at L'Estaque" exhibition. Artist and collector Bilge Alkor founded the gallery as a place not merely reserved for shows, but also to foster research and collaboration among the diverse parties involved in the production and curation of local and international art. Her impulse was based on a flash of insight drawn from the mythological figure of the sylph in Shakespeare's "The Tempest." In the gallery, the airborne aesthetic is clear, as the descriptive elements of "Houses at L'Estaque" float in pieces across variously framed loose fragments of pages. Within them are pearls of appreciation to illuminate the intent of the space as parallel with the central vision of abstract art, namely to make the invisible visible.

New Turkish Post-Impressionism: 'Houses at L'Estaque' in Teşvikiye
"Being Neighbor to Homer" (2017) by Selim Birsel is his only stand-alone work displayed for "Houses at L'Estaque" and is likely the most intelligible with its lucid colors.

And further, as espoused by an anonymous typewritten piece of paper tacked to the wall in the entranceway, the art at Ariel Sanat is displayed to have the effect of the echo of a question in the mind. "In the beginning there was no beginning," it reads. "Whatever happened has happened in the middle." Finally, before leading those in attendance to see the works of Selim Birsel and Sinan Logie, the curatorial note makes an eloquent plea of spiritual respect to Mt. Sainte-Victoire, the mountain in Provence where Cezanne painted the second of his two most important works of post-impressionism. The first is known simply as "L'Estaque."

Norgunk Publications designed the conceptual framework of the exhibit. Housed inside "riverrun," the freshly-opened literary, arthouse cafe complex near Istanbul Modern named after a line in the anti-novel "Ulysses" by James Joyce, they purvey the art of Selim Birsel, as well as Bilge Alkor among others with a strong, collective style. For his part in "Houses at L'Estaque," Selim Birsel is showing 18 watercolors on paper. The first of them is a series of 14 pieces heavily filtered in a rusty maroon tone, painted from 2007 to 2013 and titled "Night." Its running motifs deliver the essence of post-impressionism into the contemporary, as he fuses the shapes and textures of L'Estaque's architectural exteriors through carefully studied homages to Cezanne's pre-cubist forms.

Late in 1998, Selim Birsel interviewed with Beral Madra, who at the time worked for the Turkish architectural magazine, "Arradamento-Mimarlık." At present, she is chief curator at BM Contemporary Art Center near Ariel Sanat in Nişantaşı. They spoke at length. Birsel, who was educated in France, began by saying that there was effectively no more than 10 contemporary artists working in Turkey, and that curators who were not also artists were few and far between. Fast forward nearly two decades and Madra has curated over 120 international exhibitions while Birsel exhibits his art in Turkey still deeply informed by French cultural history and its famously inspiring landscapes.

As an inheritor of early postmodernism, Birsel is far from a landscape painter. His works are multilayered and employ mixed media techniques into reflexive foci. And yet, an overall sense of approachable beauty, while stark and often challenging, is refreshingly present in the highly contemporary contexts of the work. His second series of three watercolors are shot through with a green haze titled "Moss City." They are airy reflections on the sylphic resonance of Ariel Sanat that he completed in 2014 yet which align very closely to "Night." Finally, the stand-alone piece, "Being Neighbor to Homer" was newly conceived in 2017 and is arguably his most publicly intelligible piece in the exhibition, as it pictures the houses at L'Estaque suffused with a lucid charm, permeating with coruscant, architectural forms of shadow.

The triptych of paraffin and ink on paper titled "Fluid Structures (Phase 13)" made in recent months and another ink on paper, "Fluid Structures (Phase 12)" from last year comprise the extent of art by Sinan Logie at the "Houses at L'Estaque" exhibit. They are framed abstraction at its finest, puzzling dichromatic intrigues that ruminate on the source of modern primitivism and depart from post-impressionist methods to deconstruct country houses into aspects, qualities, pieces and transformations of visual ideas. "Where structures are creating differences and categories: Limits; fluids are following the path of continuity between elements, carrying information and linking structures together, to provide them the possibility of change," Sinan Logie wrote in 2000 during the early days of his Fluid Structures project in an essay now pinned on the wall at Ariel Sanat, allowing him to remotely justify his exploration of the creative space where matter and energy commingle out of sight.

"Houses at L'Estaque" maintains a tradition that sparked Fauvism and Cubism, as its pioneer Georges Braque, and the later abstract iconoclast Wassily Kandinsky found a peculiar creative regeneration among countless others in the spirit of the land at L'Estaque, a place where Cezanne first captured early modernism in his post-impressionist painting. In the eyes of Selim Birsel and Sinan Logie, the storied landscapes of Provence continue to revolutionize the forms of art and the nature of perception, offering artists, curators and aesthetes revisions of the global architectural landscape with a liberating, universal scope.

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