Abstracting Turkey

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Sep 22, 2013 - Page 12

Rhythm, lines and Turkish tradition are among the words used to describe the art of Devrim Erbil, a key figure in the development of modern Turkish painting whose artistic career has spanned more than half a century. The National Museum of History (國立歷史博物館) is currently holding an exhibition, Poetical Abstraction From Istanbul (詩意的抽象—來自伊斯坦堡), of work by the internationally-renowned artist, including recent abstract paintings and textile-art, that eloquently illustrate his preoccupations with motifs such as birds, trees, rhythmic composition and the cityscapes of Istanbul.

Born in 1937 in the carpet-weaving province of Usak, Central Anatolia, Erbil studied painting at the respected State Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul during the 1950s, and soon garnered recognition as an abstract painter at home and abroad. A prolific artist who, at the age of 76, still reportedly works seven to 12 hours a day, Erbil has also served as an academic at several art institutions in Turkey and helped to influence a younger generation of Turkish artists.

Although trained in the abstract tradition of European masters such as Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian, Erbil nevertheless seeks inspiration in the culture, tradition and landscapes of Turkey, particularly Anatolia, the Asian part of the nation. He renders Istanbul in intricate lines and shapes and always from an aerial perspective. From a distance, the city’s maze of streets, mosques and the Bosphorus, a strait that is part of the border separating Europe and Asia, appear sketched or engraved on the canvas and often painted in vibrant colors of red, green and Turkish blue. A closer look, however, reveals an immense complexity composed of straight and broken lines, curves and their variations in various hues.

Erbil’s abstract paintings are also suffused with images of nature. Subjects like the flapping of a bird’s wings or the branches and leaves of a tree, which seem to expand and grow to infinity, are often unrecognizable, while a sense of rhythmic motion and dynamism is deeply felt in the artist’s intricately detailed rendering.

Believing that art is made for sharing, Erbil has worked with a variety of media that ranges from mosaics, ceramics and stained glass to tapestry. Among them, Anatolian carpet occupies a special position in the creative world of Erbil, who once said that carpets are the Turks gift to humanity. Several of Erbil’s textile-art works that adopt ancient weaving techniques are on display at the museum, aiming to change the viewer’s ideas of carpets not only as a piece of decoration on the floor but as an artwork that can be hung on the wall.

■ National Museum of History (國立歷史博物館), 49 Nanhai Rd, Taipei City (台北市南海路49號), tel: (02) 2361-0270. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm. General admission: NT$30. On the Net: www.nmh.gov.tw

■ Until Oct. 2