A Turkish-Born Artist Returns Home for Her First Solo Show in Istanbul

Renée Levi’s exhibition at art ON Istanbul marks a homecoming of sorts—the artist was born in Istanbul in 1960 but moved to Switzerland a few short years later. “Sibel,” her latest collection of vivid abstract works, is her first solo show in the country where she was born.

After a better part of a lifetime spent outside Turkey, it stands to reason that Levi identifies more with her adopted country than her native one. It is Switzerland, after all, where Levi went to school, developed a style, and built a career. She works on canvas and paper, and is known on the Basel scene and beyond for her expressionist impulses and bold use of color—two elements that are on obvious display in “Sibel.” The color palette is sumptuous, rich with watermelon reds, cerulean blues, and fiery vermilions. But her latest pieces are more conceptual, perhaps, than purely expressionist, from the mesmerizing grass-green swirls of paint in Sibel 4 (2014) to the candy cane-like stripes of Sibel 5 (2014). There’s something dense and evocative about these clusters of color: the pensive, wave-like swath of color of Sibel 3 (2014), the stark, near-frantic brushstrokes of Sibel 9 (2014), the romantic curves and dreamy Valentine-like hues of Sibel 10 (2014).

This sense of varying rhythms and textures is central to Levi’s work. The effect on the gallery wall is whimsical, even musical, a happy arrangement of colors enlivening the space even on a chilly winter day. Levi is touching on something essential in “Sibel”—something universal to the human experience. Call it a craving for color, or for beauty—certainly it’s a yearning that crosses cultures and places. That may be exactly why these works are as appealing in Istanbul as they would be in Basel, or Paris, or New York. And by the looks of the artist’s accomplishments, they are: in recent years, Levi has been chosen for solo exhibitions in museums in France, Switzerland, and Germany. A show at art ON Istanbul, perhaps, marks a departure from Europe and an introduction to an even wider audience.

Sibel” is on view at art ON Istanbul, Istanbul, Jan. 6th–Feb. 21st, 2015.

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Bridget Gleeson