There are seven of us in Saliha Yavuz’s group for the week – nearing the maximum number of participants for Artwalk Istanbul’s ‘Studiowalk’, an exclusive tour routed through artists’ studios within the city. Today, there are four confirmed artists who are opening their studios to us, and I am told the walk may last a little longer than its usual three hours. Not that it’d be a bother; Artwalk Istanbul organises weekly tours every Saturday, and its gallery walks – ‘Artwalks’ – are gaining underground popularity with visitors who’d like serious insight into Istanbul’s art scene. Participants sample a buffet of galleries across Taksim, Nisantasi, or Kadikoy: District flavour depends on the week.
This Saturday’s walk, however, is especially plum; instead of galleries, its pit-stops are creative lairs – artist studios whose owners Saliha has convinced to welcome visitors, in select numbers. ‘Studiowalk’ takes place just once a month, or with every three ‘Artwalks’. No studio itinerary is the same as the previous; Saliha lets on the organisational challenges of confirming a studio list: artists’ schedules can be organic and unpredictable, and the itinerary shape-shifts accordingly. In Taksim, distances between studios can stretch over fifteen minutes. Gallery walks are easier to plan, geographically and collaboratively.
Yet the successful implementation of both walks is, in no small part, due to Saliha’s professional credit in the art scene. Having spent eight years working for galleries as an artist liaison, the art management graduate noticed an unplugged gap between museums and contemporary art galleries. Non-Turkish visitors, she says, often ask for the latter, compelling her to map out gallery routes to cater to the unmet demand. It sparked the idea for Artwalk.
With colleagues from her co-founded online art and culture magazine, GriZine, Saliha planned more routes, and the group’s collective knowledge and experience in the art industry ensured the project’s materialization as a lucrative business. Artwalk Istanbul commenced in November 2012, and today the company boasts a team of industry professionals as guides and coordinators. Rolakosta, a design and idea office, does its visuals and graphic designs. All of the guides speak fluent English.
Moreover, Saliha’s rapport with the city’s galleries, bolstered by five years of collaboration through GriZine, makes for fruitful organisation; the walks are kept up-to-date with the ebb-and-flow of existing galleries, and gallery histories, exhibitions, and artists are well-researched. Good communication with both gallery and artist is essential, she asserts, and it is clear that Saliha has mastered the art of PR. Today she keeps the vibe of the tour easy and relaxed, and resultantly the group warms up among itself. I arrive after the first stop, Yeşim Akdeniz’s, due to a miscommunication in location, but thankfully meet everyone en route to the next studio. As laid-back as our assembly appears, every stop invokes in it a lobby of questions to the host, from technical processes to conceptual inspiration. All present are, if not art enthusiasts, practitioners of sorts.
Artist Hale Karpuzcu, lithe, blonde, and charmingly unassuming, welcomes us into her studio, which is impeccable— even though her chief medium is oil. She has prepared a living room full of snacks and drinks, where she shyly urges us to help ourselves (usually, Saliha ensures a coffee break midway in the walks). Karpuzcu’s finished pieces line the walls, and she has propped her work-in-progress on a large easel next to a long-table of paints and brushes. We are free to move around the rooms, though everyone squeezes in the artist’s arena when she starts to speak.
A former advertising executive, Karpuzcu took to the brush full-time six years ago after she married, upon her husband’s support. (It has paid off; her works have shown in New York and Barcelona.) Children are her subject of choice, and she is particularly vested in childhood trauma. Haunting and surrealistic, Karpuzcu’s works mesmerise and evoke unease. Friends’ children are visual references, and each painting boasts six to seven layers. Because of the slow-drying nature of oil, she works on multiple canvases simultaneously. Karpuzcu’s introduction quickly turns into a discussion on conceptual angles, where the audience now involve themselves in an exchange of aesthetic ideas and philosophies. Everyone leaves satiated.
Back on the street, Saliha holds up her purple Artwalk sign to keep the group’s location in sight. Our next destination is some distance away, and luckily the small size of the group minimizes lag-time from waiting. It is cosy enough for camaraderie, and we quickly immerse in banter over our varied backgrounds and art interests. In the mazes of Beyoğlu, someone gives an excited cry. The Dogançay Museum beckons half a minute away on the street we’re at. Saliha checks her phone; our next artist is still on his way. There is time. Happily, everyone filters into the museum, greeting the black-and-white setup with concealed thrill – these are photographs by the late Burhan Dogançay, a pioneer to pinning Turkey’s contemporary art onto the world map, and into world-renown. The visit is a welcome bonus to our itinerary.
When we pour into Ali Emir Tapan’s studio, we are greeted with a smorgasbord of mediums and sources – acid-scored mirrors and soap-carved dogs adorn shelves that house books on philosophy and Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović. Tapan himself is a magnetic presence; presiding over a massive table that houses a mirror-in-progress, the artist runs through his work process in an eloquent and authoritative address, leaving one listener to remark that he is, beneath his artistry, a born chemist. Tapan’s pieces mingle chemistry and philosophy – an intriguing, experimental alliance that has the audience peering into the reflective etchings of his works, lost in contemplation.
Tapan does not restrict himself to a particular mode of art; he produces visual works as much as he engages in performance art. The soap ‘dogs’, he explains, are props for a performance piece where he strokes them with water and alcohol for ninety minutes; an exploration of tension between domestication and wilderness. He terms himself a ‘Rock & Roll kid’, skipping out of private to public domains – out of his German High School to street escapades – where his teenage exposure to the multi-cultural dynamism of Beyoğlu sculpted his current artistic headspace. He announces a show in March; it’d be on wild ponies. If we can make it, we’d be in for a treat.
Trudging down the streets towards Istiklal, we pass the German High School seamed by cafes and bars, and it almost feels like a walk in Tapan’s shoes; so this is what it must be like, an immersion in one of Istanbul’s inspirational hothouses. It is marvellous to think about.
Our final artist is Francesco Albano, an Italian sculptor who has exhibited in Venice and Milan, and stationed himself in Istanbul since 2010. We go up the stairs to a nondescript corridor, where Saliha leads us to a small, weathered door. Francesco, donning a reserved smile and a suit, welcomes us in. Stepping into his studio is like entering a surrealistic orbit. Sculptures of polyester resin compose themselves against a bare wall, morbidly fascinating. Francesco’s father was a sculptor, which saw the artist commence training at age eleven. And his skills show; the sculptures, while abstract in composition, are highly realistic in their simulation of skin. Albano is asked if his artist inspirations include Duane Hanson; he says that, primarily, it is Steven Siegal.
Albano’s works are an exploration of the five senses, and of bodily intimacy – a stimulus to reality metaphorical to the larger context of social psychology. The artist uses models in his work process, and measures skin by wrapping fabric on himself, which he then brushes with polyester. His finished works are coloured with oil-in-wax, a delicate process that involves a sharpness and consistency with temperature and colour. Albano is forthcoming with questions on his techniques and concepts, taking out his sketchbook to further enlighten us on his process of work. By the time we leave the studio, it is getting dark.
Studiowalk has managed three-and-a-half hours, and everyone seems happy with how the afternoon was spent. Saliha, ever cheerful and approachable, gives out directions back to Taksim, and the group disperses, making plans for dinner on her recommendations.
Artwalk Istanbul takes place every Saturday from 1 – 4 p.m. Pricing is as follows:
Gallery walks: min. 5 – max. 15 people / 75 TL per person
Studio walks: min. 3 – max. 8 people / 100 TL per person
Private walks: 1 – 4 people / 300 TL per group
Routes for Gallery Walks: Nişantaşı-Akaretler, Tophane Karaköy, Galatasaray Galata.
Routes for Studio Walks: Kadıköy and Taksim
For more information, check out Artwalk Istanbul’s website:
The profiles and works of the following artists can be found on their respective gallery sites:
Yeşim Akdeniz –www.piartworks.com/
Ali Emir Tapan and Francesco Albano – www.galerist.com.tr/