Above the Ground, Behind the Walls, and Beneath the Base

Istanbul Artist Collective
Jan 27, 2019 10:01PM

A few thoughts on the current state of the work of Seydi Murat Koç

Above the ground series no-:7 | 2012 | Acrylic on canvas | 175X145 cm

Since 2007, Seydi Murat Koç has developed an artistic work that critically analyses the world we live in, and positively contributes to current discussions about the notion of contemporary figurative painting, which today ranges from the imitation of nature, over to the reproduction of reality and to the construction of alternative images of utopian or dystopian world views. Today, merging various aesthetics, techniques, and concepts of city life, Koç painterly creates comments on our reality by deconstructing urban patterns and reviewing the social infrastructure resulting from the concreted disaster we live in.

Since his series Facing, Hades, and Tangent, Seydi Murat Koç focuses on urban matters, where often strange interrelation of objects and figures with architectural elements question the current state of our existence. Already in early works of the Facing series like White Galata (2006) or In Front of the Taboos (2006), and in later pieces from the Hades series like Hades III (2010), the artist created clashes of diverse architectural monuments that became the stage for surprising and mysterious incidents. While in these series an expressive character, caused by the mixture of unique press techniques, photo collage and the use of strong and hasty brush strokes, is predominant, a calmer atmosphere is given in the works of the Tangent series. Here, paintings like Haydarpaşa (2011), Galata (2011) or AKM (2011) show a strong influence of graphic art and design due to their collage-like character, their non-textural and monochrome colour fields, and their rather minimal aesthetic. Though, the work’s calm gets always disrupted by a visual and intellectual tension of a sudden threat of an intruder that seems to attack the depicted buildings on the ground. Graphic art and design started to gain influence and power in his work since the Bouncing series. Since then, the graphic character of his works draws relations to the state of post-industrial life in the metropolis, where everything that we daily use is developed by designers and produced by machines. In this way, Tangent marked an important change in his working method, as Koç shifted from unique printing techniques to serial digital printing techniques. This change matches perfectly the industrial character of the images that he uses for his paintings. Besides this, Tangent presents Seydi Murat Koç as socio-politically engaged, because his works criticise the given policies regarding the ongoing wild gentrification process of Istanbul, which threats its urban texture by aiming at destroying architectural monuments like AKM, İMÇ and other important buildings. The pieces of this series formulate an opposition to the given state of populist politics, and present the artist as an activist, who understands painting not as a formalist concern but as act of protest and criticism.

His current series Above the Ground marks the return of the human figure in his work. In this series, mostly solitary, young women are shown in deconstructive and deformed architectural settings. While being on top of a building and looking down onto the deep ground of the city, the figures seem to be untouchable like a king standing at the highest peak of his castle. Standing on top of the world, sometimes like in surreal fairytale, the often winged women look like they would leave the city in order to escape the chaos on the concreted ground. In other works, classic sculptures and torsos are placed in the cityscape, and create a strange clash of heterogeneous codes. In general, a strange alienation effect surrounds the paintings of the current series, which, regarding the composition and conceptual framework, is more complex than the Tangent series. Seydi Murat Koç aims at raising awareness towards the importance of architecture for a positive and more human construction of our urban and social infrastructure. Using examples of great buildings of worldwide renowned architects like Frank Gehry or Norman Forster, the artist reveals the poorness of the urban face of Istanbul. In this sense, the works form a critique of the general architectural ugliness of our metropolis. In his latest works, Koç removes the buildings out of the rectangle limits of the canvas in order to erase the background and to focus solely on their architectural character. At the same time, these works have a rather object-like character by transforming the flat canvas into a sculptural painting in the tradition of Frank Stella. The buildings on these works do not exist, but are created by the artist in a collage-like manner using parts of buildings that he chooses from his image archive. Using sampling and copy-paste techniques, Koç cuts, edits, decomposes and newly recomposes architecture according to a heterogeneous and pluralistic aesthetic, which neglects function and rationality in favour of aesthetic and visual expression. The painting’s radical collage-like aesthetic, its formal character and non-descriptive colour use, which transforms it into a pure visual element instead of a significant aid, causes the work to go beyond a simple reflection of reality, and form its own versions. At the same time, especially these pieces strive towards an abstract aesthetic, and could be read as a hint for following artistic experiments, a further direction in his artistic development or a future direction of his oeuvre.

Wherever his works will lead him too, due to his artist journey so far, Seydi Murat Koç plays an important and influential role in the scene of contemporary Turkish painting. In times of a booming figurative and realistic painting scene, where young artists and art students often inconsiderately use transfer and copy methods just because of its spectacular look and technical advantage, but without considering the importance of conceptual and formal stringency and consistency, Koç is an example of a painter who reflects his medium, renews the language of figurative painting, opens up new aesthetical horizons, and forms transdisciplinary discussions between painting, graphic design, new media and architecture. At the same time, Seydi Murat Koç goes beyond formalist attitudes by not simply copying or reflecting reality, but deconstructing it in order to go beyond the known. That is why he creates works that question the given state of realistic painting, reviewing the images of our mediated visual culture, and form a critique of the current state of our urban life. In this way, Koç discusses the status quo of realistic painting and the social reality we cope with every day.

Marcus Graf

Istanbul Artist Collective