İrfan Onurmen
    • Trained as a painter, Onurmen developed a unique artistic language to investigate urban life and everyday experiences. In his artistic practice, he uses two modes for rendering his ideas. In one approach, he paints on layers of tulle, a feminine, transparent, delicate, light material used for bride’s veils while in the other he transforms old newspapers into masculine, opaque, rough, hard three dimensional objects. Aiming to fit the mode of expression to the concept, he uses the former when looking at delicate private situations and the later for harsh political and social issues. With both of these methods, he investigates depth as a painterly or sculptural element and as a dimension of contemporary life.

      As the main artist for the gallery, Pi Artworks, in recent years, Onurmen has won acclaim as one of the most outstanding contemporary artists in Istanbul. When painting on tulle, Onurmen creates either what he calls “Pentulle”, layers of painted tulle hung on the wall, or “Sculptulle”, layers of painted tulle arranged in a free standing Plexiglas case. As a first step in making these, he deconstructs images taken from newspaper or magazine clippings. After analyzing a clipping and reducing the image to shape, line and separating the gradations of colors, he paints these elements onto pieces of tulle and reassembles the individual yet superimposed layers so that they again connect together visually. Up close, the spectator sees nothing; only from a distance does the picture reappear as the spectator’s eye allows the layers of painted forms on the transparent cloth to merge into a discernable, yet allusive rendition of the original image. Due to the flimsy grainy quality of the fabric, faces, figures, exteriors, and interiors appear blurred and the characters in the scenes become anonymous. Showing isolated, uncommunicative people who move through rooms, ride in taxis, walk in streets, go to work, frequent bars, dress and undress, these delicate works present the private, the individual, and the personal side of urban existence. In Onurmen’s world of illusion alienation of the passing moment and lack of intimacy becomes both ephemeral and beautiful. His “Pentulle”, In the room, (2002) first exhibited in a solo show at Pi Artworks, is now in the IstanbulModern private collection. Like the other work in this series, this piece analyzes contemporary life and changes a private scene into a delicate, beautiful yet layered statement. In Untitled (2004), after visiting a bar, solitary individuals smoke and stand side by side yet alone in a crowded street while in the “Sculptulle”, Couples, (2004) a man and women perpetually walk forward through space with their backs always turned towards the spectator.

      At PiArtworks in September of 2009, Onurmen opened an exhibition that he named “Panic”. Using his three-dimensional objects constructed from newspapers, in the sixth of his “Archive” series, he investigated another political and public dimension of today’s existence. Just like his recycled newspaper sculptures, the panic felt today is a socially and culturally recycled brand generated by sensational stories from the media. By fossilizing newsprint, by rendering the readable unreadable, Onurmen attempts to neutralize his feeling of panic. By giving fear a concrete form the mysterious specter becomes reachable and seems to be at least a bit under his control. What can be a more appropriate art material for a world in which the news in media is monopolized by corporations or government? What could be more significant at a time when politicians generate fear in order to control and manipulate the public?

      Years before Onurmen began this sculptural series, he collected not only his own discarded newspapers, but also those thrown away by neighbors. Systematically he cut out and classified images of floods, murders, political assassination, war, forest fires, beautiful women, night life, people in the streets, objects of desire, cars, high society figures, cinema icons, cars, economic references etc. When he began the first of these projects, he realized he must collect newspapers for five to six months to make even one object using layers of newspapers mixed with glue. Utilizing both an additive and subtractive method to work with depth and space, he creates three-dimensional objects that may stand alone in the center of the gallery as a type of labyrinth, Circuit, (2009) or hang on the wall, Eye, (2009). These relief sculptures may reflect upon the dark side of human existence, make a new statement about contemporary life, show a picture of his city, tell a story about paranoid relationships, or connect seemingly unrelated objects and people.

      He plays with size. Some objects approximate reality while others are exaggerated or diminished. For example, Knife, (2009) the two-meter knife paper sculpture displayed in the window of this exhibition refers to the tool he uses to cut away layers of newspaper to create shapes or reveal images hidden underneath as well as to the most frequently used lethal weapon for murders in Turkey. Leaving the surfaces unpainted and seemingly unfinished, he works with texture as he juxtapositions diverse, unrelated images to present a feeling of balance, an element missing in urban life. Layering brings in the concept of time. Like an archeologist who excavates antique ruins, he digs in the background material to reveal what is not instantly evident; to discover a new headline that may be closer to the real story about what has happened. Images of war, neckties, a cell phone perhaps used to detonate a bomb, Michael Jackson’s face, a veiled Moslem woman, well dressed models diving out of windows, an eye that sees death by fire, a mouth that cannot speak, an ear that does not hear stand side by side in this exhibition to give glimpses of people frozen from fear or in the process of making illogical decisions due to panic.

      In Onurmen’s opinion, panic is a contemporary illness. To describe this problem he refers to the images from newspaper articles, television programs, and advertisement billboards, that profusely and consecutively flow through all levels of our lives. Such a bombardment functions to blur our perception of reality. Images emerge and disappear as they replace one another. True becomes false and fake substitutes for real. As the important and mundane interweave, one day’s reality turns into the next day’s lie. In an environment where reality and fiction appear to be the same, everything becomes suspicious and generates fear that manifests itself as panic. As people develop unhealthy human relationships, feel pressure to consume, desire to possess everything, obsess about their careers, lack security, become lonely, and loose their identity, panic increases. Inevitably, panic will dictate the actions of urban people who live in a world vibrating with news flashes about wars, epidemics, and natural disasters.

      It will be exciting to see the direction his new work takes in the “Istanbul Next Wave” exhibition scheduled to open on November 11, 2009, at Akademie der Kunste, Hanseatenweg, Berlin.

      Nancy Atakan is an artist and art historian based in Istanbul.

      Irfan Onurmen was born in Bursa, in 1958. He lives and works in Istanbul.

      Selected Solo Shows: 2009 "Panic", Pi Artworks, Istanbul; 2007 "On Paper and Tulle", Pi Artworks, Istanbul; 2006 "1996-2006 Figure Series", Yeni Pi Gallery, Istanbul; 2005-06 "Gray 3", Pi Artworks, Istanbul; 2005 "ArtFrankfurt 05", International Frankfurt Art Fair, Frankfurt; 2004 "Gray", Lütfi Kırdar Exhibition Centre, Pi Artworks, Istanbul; 2004 ArtFrankfurt 04, International Frankfurt Art Fair, Pi Artworks Contemporary Art Center, Frankfurt.

      Selected Group Shows: 2009 "New Works, New Horizons", İstanbul Modern, Istanbul; 2009 Scope Basel, Pi Artworks, Basel; 2008 "Artasia Miami'08", International Contemporary Art Fair, Pi Artworks, Miami; 2008 "Made in Turkey, Curated by: Heike Stockhaus, Frankfurt.