In Mesut Karakış’s paintings, the artist comments on the relation between the forms, spots and colors while drifting towards a more direct figuration. Though his latest works are mainly influenced by patterns of nature, the emphasis lays on a concern of creating colorfulness utilizing depth, effects of emptiness-saturation and transparent transitions.
Every painting begins with surfaces being treated one layer at a time as part of a personal composition. During this process, each acrylic color layer which are themselves the product of different densities of paint reapplied according to composition and color palette, is redefined by interacting with both the previous and the next layers. After sheeting of the surface is finished, individual layers are thinned and reduced by being sandpapered and patinated according to the plan of each composition. Through this process of reduction, the colors and textures in the lower layers become evident and come to surface, revealing a whole new look and impression. The depth and the textural value of the work when seen from a distance, together with the flat, smooth surface of the canvas while looked closed enough to touch, serve to create an effect of illusion on the audience.
THE TENSION BETWEEN FIGURE AND FORM
For more than 150 years, the dispute regarding the role of representation in visual art had parted the world of painting in two groups. On the one side, a large number of artists underlined that freedom and pure originality could only be achieved through a formalist approach to painting. Only then, its psycho-visual impact could be fully released, and art would give up its ancient role of telling stories in order to illustrate matters of the world.
Another large group of painters underlined instead the power of figuration and narration in their oeuvres. Thy believed in the socio-political dimension of art, where individual stories are merged with political history.
At the end of the 20th century though, abstraction and figuration made peace with each other as the postmodern condition of art exposed that formalism and narration do not necessarily have to be opposites or anti-poles. It even went so far that both approaches can be mingled for more adequately reacting to the multi-layered character of today`s highly complex realities.
In this context, the work of Mesut Karakış is a good example for an artist who bridges between the spheres of nature and abstract art. His formalist approach to painting does not hide its sources in the real world and creates so an appealing aesthetic that shifts between representation and abstraction.
For a figurative painter, a tree, for instance, is a subject with an individual life, an appealing story, and even a spiritual aura. The artist shares the stories of its being with the spectator, for whom the tree becomes a part in his own mindscape.
For the abstract artist, the tree is a complex form with lines, shapes and textures. Here, the tree becomes an element of a painterly matrix. The formalism of this artistic act turns realistic references into pure aesthetic matters of abstract art. Its aesthetic pureness aims for a sublime-like stimulation.
Karakış’ artistic development has led him from figuration to abstraction, an evolutionary road that is valid for most representatives of non-objective art or informalism. In earlier series, the referential character of his paintings was stronger, and elements of society and of nature were more concrete. Though, even then, dealing with language, culture or trees, not narration but art-internal issues were of his main interest.
In his current work, the level of abstraction has strongly increased, so that now the self-referential and autarkic character of his paintings is dominant. The pieces show highly dynamic matrixes of lines, thin shapes, complex textures and appealing bride colors.
Mesut Karakış has developed a sophisticated and individual painting technique, which shifts between construction and destruction. During the composition of his pieces, he constantly creates and erases parts of his paintings to formulate his characteristic aesthetic of blurredness and clarity. In the production process, he reveals underlying layers of paint by erasing parts of the upper surface. In this act, shifts of color merge and mingle with each other for creating an extraordinary psycho-visual effect.
The background of his works is mostly white, or lightly colored for supporting the visual effect of the overlaying matrix in the foreground, where a complex texture of horizontal and vertical lines is often formed into a large rectangle-like field. Inside this area, which covers most of the canvas, uncountable lines and small color-shapes formulate a vibrant field that stimulates the retina as well as the mind of the spectator.
Karakış uses mainly warm colors, which he contrasts with black and white in order to support the aesthetic power of his paintings. Already Goethe and Kandisky, as well as Rothko and Newman understood the strength of warm colors, and the importance of complimentary contrasts. Like lava-streams of a volcano, in Karakış’ paintings, red and orange appear frequently in a complex net of swirling stripes and multiple forms. The strong qualities of the colors find a nice counterbalance in the dynamic design of the composition. Together, they form abstract images that have deepness and powerful momentum.
Marcus Graf: Dear Mesut, in the context of your second solo show at Galeri 77, I would like to review with you the current state of your latest series. It seems that the new pieces present some new aesthetic tendencies. Now, the grid appears as leading form. So, let us start with the meaning of the new geometry in your paintings. How did the grid appear?
Mesut Karakış: First of all, thank you for being here for me in my second solo show and many thanks for your support. In this series, I think that my journey of abstraction shows itself more clearly. In my most recent works I tried to use horizontal and vertical lines in a more methodical, symmetrical and balanced way to better form a sense of completeness. As a result of several parallel or crosscutting lines that are different in terms of thickness and passing through different layers of depth, the grid form appeared.
Graf: Compared to the former rather lyrical and organic forms and compositions, now geometrical structures are dominant. What is the conceptual meaning and aesthetical function of the grid in your current work?
Karakış: As a notion, lines are the very basis of art; they are the element that shapes artworks, makes them visible, realizes them. The forms of lines and their interrelation produce different effects on us. The horizontal lines are static in character, they echo with motionlessness; meanwhile the vertical lines are rather dynamic. Crosscutting, systematically thinning and thickening lines also create an optical effect on the surface.
Graf: An important topic in composition is space a.k.a. the illusion of deepness of space. How do you evaluate its meaning in your current works?
Karakış: I do not apply illusion of deepness to define objects in my paintings. I try to achieve that effect by using the base elements of art; instead of defining objects I utilize the contrast in the aggregation of said basic artistic elements.
Graf: In the current works, the grid seems to relate to geometrical structures that we know from our urban life. Some works look like facades of buildings, other seem to relate to digital matrixes. How do you design the composition?
Karakış: I think of colors, the layers of said colors on the surface and the lines that shape them as a whole. In other words; my journey begins with spots which I create with colors, I then form them with horizontal and vertical lines. I strive to create surprises in every single frame of grid. Repeating and equal grids, coupled with different visual effects in each one of them presents a unique experience to the audience.
Graf: You talk about surprises. How much is deliberate and how much is coincidental in your paintings?
Karakış: Even though I commence every painting with a clear purpose, the variables in material play a central role in the direction of the painting itself. These variables are mostly the moisture in the air, drying time of the paint related to the heat, fluidity of water and my own state of mind J These coincidences may also become deliberate practices by the next painting.
Graf: Do you do sketches or maquettes before the work?
Karakış: I don’t do sketches or maquettes.
I apply my own technique instead of traditional methods. I simultaneously create several paintings, each with a different dimension and phase. During these phases, I sometimes cannot control the water, so I have to rely on my instincts and continue experimentally. Each of these phases actually provide me with new discoveries and experience, and I begin to create a draft of the next painting in my head.
Graf: You paint without using a brush. Could you please explain the technique you use?
Karakış: Technically, my preparations for a new painting begin with applying acrylic paint on the surface of a canvas using a plastic scraper, according to the pre-planned composition and color palette. After drying, each layer of color which I apply repeatedly (minimum 20-30 layers) covers the one before. Following the process of covering the surface, I tone it down using water, and reduce it further using sandpaper and I patinate it. With this I bring the lower layers of color to the forefront. As you move towards the depths of the painting from the surface, every layer of paint brings an effect of space and space-fullness; creating a whole new look. The depth and the textural value seen from farther out, along with the flat, smooth surface of the canvas when seen from a touch’s distance serve to create an effect of illusion on the spectator.
Graf: There are many layers of colors in each work. Some appear on the surface. Some stay below other color fields. How do you decide on the colors?
Karakış: I enjoy vivid, warm, torrid and passionate colors. Sometimes I bring together contrasting colors on the palette. Sometimes what I seek is the harmony between the colors, depending on the intensity of my emotions. Mostly, I am captivated by colors that create a vibration when together.
Graf: You work with small and large formats. How do you decide on the size and format?
Karakış: I enjoy rectangular surfaces. I generally use them vertically. I think my works are better to be seen on vertical surfaces. My current working conditions are not fit for doing larger formats.
Graf: You work in serial manners. At the end of each series, a learning outcome occurs, from which an artist gains new insight in concepts, forms and techniques. What is your current learning outcome from this series?
Karakış: When I first discovered this technique, my initial experiments consisted of horizontal and vertical forms. Later these compositions branched figuratively. In these two years my first works appeared, which took place on my first exhibition. After my first exhibition, I tried to strengthen the optical effects of the balanced and geometrical forms with a more methodical, symmetrical, holistic approach. Thus, I tried to carry over the linear crosscuts which I enjoy very much to my new compositions. As I’ve mentioned before, every painting I create provides me with new experience and discovery, fueling my excitement further.
Graf: Would you then say that your current work relates rather to Op-Art than to formalist Abstract Art?
Karakış: Yes. Even though I adopt a formalist approach, I think my recent works are closer to Op-Art movement.
Graf: So, how do you evaluate the meaning of perspective and dynamism, two interrelated concepts that play major roles in Op-Art, in your current pieces?
Karakış: The main goal in Op-Art is to create an effect of illusion based on depth on a flat surface and visual perception via a composition of geometrical lines and contrasting colors. The reason my works seem close to Op-Art is the use of forms and contrasts emerging from horizontal and vertical lines crosscutting each other evenly.
The main thing that sets my work apart from Op-Art is that every similar form created by horizontal and vertical lines also possess unique spots and colors. I seek surprises not in the illusions of repeating forms, but in the deepness between layers.
Graf: In your current paintings, besides bright colors, the amount of white and empty fields increased. In many of your geometrical works, the upper part is intensively formulated, while the lower parts are simpler, showing less structures, colors and more white parts. What role do white and the empty fields play in your current pieces?
Karakış: In my latest works I tried to achieve a more attractive and alluring impression, by contrasting the elegant touches in the small details with the bigger spots throughout the painting.