Painter loosens the knot

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Sercan MERIC

Balkan Naci İslimyeli, one of the most important figures in Turkish painting, has died at the age of 74. I met him when he was young. When I found out about his age and what he was doing, I started following him with great respect. I paid more attention to the İslimyeli sections in Turkish painting catalogues. Beneath his youthful appearance I discovered a deep wisdom and a weary hope for humanity. İslimyeli was the reflection of the steps of success in the field of art with the enlightenment of the republic, not only on the screen but also in the academy.

After graduating from the painting department of Istanbul State Applied Fine Arts High School, which he attended between 1968 and 1972, İslimyeli started working as an assistant at the same institution in 1973. He then attended the Salzburg Summer Academy, the Florence Academy of Fine Arts and the New York University Faculty of Fine Arts. Like any intellectual who is aware of the difficulties in building the republic, he returned to his homeland and began to pass on what he had learned to the next generations. He served his students as a polar star. For example, after İslimyeli’s death, cartoonist Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu told our newspaper: “Basic art education was our teacher in 1975. I learned a lot from him. He was always my teacher, but he was also a very good friend of mine.”


Opening his first exhibition at the Taksim Art Gallery in 1970 while still a student, İslimyeli began his artistic career painting images of an imaginary world in which linearity was evident. Towards the mid-1970s he did not entirely deviate from his fantastic trend, but instead developed a new sense of figure and an expressionist attitude.

Although we know İslimyeli for his paintings, he was a versatile artist who dabbled in poetry, cinema and literature. His poems have been published in many magazines. He was passionate about cinema and literature. In an interview we conducted in 2017, he said in his summary of the 45th year of art: “I have achieved most, if not all, of my goals. However, I could not devote enough time to my passion for cinema and literature.”

Although he says he doesn’t have time for these two passions besides painting, we can see his interest in cinema in his black and white images. In his works, İslimyeli also ridiculed the neoliberal ideology that forces individuals to be selfish. Sometimes he painted and photographed the loneliness of city people, sometimes the role of the housewife.

Keeping up to date has been one of İslimyeli’s trademarks. For example, in his 1994 exhibition Söz he tried to draw attention to communication-non-communication and the media by working on the theme of language in a spatial arrangement. Isn’t this exhibition a stance on how the ‘global village’ identified with Marshall McLuhan actually enforces prototyping?


One of the fates of the Turkish artist is to take measurements on this talismanic scale built on the East-West dilemma. İslimyeli was also weighed on this scale with a knife edge. Enis Batur, the master of our poetry, gave it the best rating: “Balkan Naci is one of our rare artists who untied the knot caused by the East-West dilemma, a nightmare that faced the Turkish artist for half a century like fate.”

İslimyeli celebrated its 45th art anniversary in 2017 with the exhibition “Remember”. In the interview I conducted with him during the exhibition, he made inspirational statements about the artist candidates, saying: “Art is the field of reflection of time, shame and questioning… Art is the greatest school, the free, original and creative.” educates people regardless of their profession. It is also democratic and questioning. greatest contribution to the education of generations.”

The first article of Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong is “Remembering”. In this article, the authors state the following sentence: “What we call good artists are, in part, people who seem to have made the right decisions about what should be remembered and what should be forgotten.”

İslimyeli was an artist who made the right decisions about what to commemorate and amazed art audiences not only with his works but also with his looks.

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