Taner Ceylan's Olympian quest

We caught up with the multitasking painter to talk about how an olive grove funded his new project

By Esra Özen |

One of Turkey's most influential contemporary artists, Taner Ceylan, is currently gearing up for the first leg of his ‘Olympos Exhibitions’ series, for which he has chosen 10 artists to create original works dealing with the common theme of portraiture.

Set to take place at Sadık Paşa Konağı, an abandoned Ottoman-era mansion in Cihangir, the project was funded by an olive grove owned by Ceylan near his house and studio in Olympos in the south of Turkey. Not knowing what to do with the olive oil he produced, Ceylan turned to the late businessman Ali Dinçkök, who advised him to create a boutique line of oil and organise a yearly exhibition with the proceeds from the sales.

“I wanted the exhibition to be in an independent space” says Ceylan when we sit down over coffee in Cihangir. “The aim has always been to introduce artists with art galleries, and you couldn’t do that in an institution, so it had to be an independent space. I had seen Halil’s [Altındere] exhibition ‘Homeland’ at Sadık Paşa Konağı in 2017 and he helped me a lot with mine.” While Altındere’s exhibition only made use of the upper floors, with the encouragement of architect Fahrettin Aykut, Ceylan decided to venture down into the basement – though his cleaning personnel were apparently not as keen. “The derelict mansion looks something out of Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’” says Ceylan, “both eerie and majestic.”

The show will be Ceylan’s first foray into curating, though he shies away from the term and likes to think of himself as its organiser. Ceylan began working on the project over a year ago, when he reached out to artists who had been on his radar. Conceiving of the commissions as a “masterclass”, Ceylan encouraged his artists to go beyond their comfort zones. “Rugül Serbest paints selfportraits that feature enclosed spaces so I encouraged her to portray herself out of doors, surrounded by nature” says Ceylan. “Another one of the artists, Hakan Çınar, is a talented sculpture who can mould marble like Rodin. I challenged him to interpret Francis Bacon’s portrait of Pope Innocent and convey the painting’s sense of movement using stone.” “I’m a painter!” Ceylan exclaims, not used to the tempo demanded by his hands-on approach. After our interview, he will be going straight to the printing house to sort out paperwork for a book that will accompany the exhibition. Edited by Süreyyya Evren, designed by Vahit Tuna, and with photography by Reha Arcan, the book will feature essays on portraiture contributed by contemporary artists including Ali Kazma, Canan, Şükran Moral, Nuri Kuzucan, Leyla Gediz and Erinç Seymen. As Time Out Istanbul’s first art editor, Ceylan is no stranger to writing himself and has penned essays about each exhibited artist that will also go in the book.

Though there’s still a week to go until opening day, Ceylan has already started thinking about the next instalments of his ‘Olympos Exhibitions’, which will continue exploring classical topics like landscape and still life. “The news has spread and we have started getting submissions from around the country” Ceylan says. Before we part, the artist also tells us that he’s currently prepping for an upcoming solo exhibition, his first in Istanbul since 2005, for which he has been working on a large painting since last August. With all of this going on, anyone else but Ceylan would be looking to the Olympian gods for help.

‘Olympos Exhibitions I: Portrait’ is on view at Sadık Paşa Konağı between March 6-23.


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