Little known artist Karaburçak highlighted in Pera retrospective

The Pera Museum in İstanbul has been hosting a collection of works by İhsan Cemal Karaburçak, one of the lesser-known masters of Turkish painting, in one of its two new exhibitions that went on display earlier this month. Karaburçak (1898-1970), a self-taught artist who refused to follow the widespread art movements of his time, had a particular love for the color purple, and his works on display at the Pera exhibit feel as though they are fresh out of a huge bag of lavender.

Karaburçak took up painting in 1930, when he was 32 -- which might be considered a little late for starting a career in art. That year, he enrolled in an art academy in Paris, where he was sent on duty as a civil servant with the Turkish telegram service. But overwhelmed by the strict rules of the school, he quit after two months and decided to work by himself. He read a lot, he traveled a lot; museums, art galleries and bookstores were safe havens for Karaburçak.

Upon returning to Turkey he quit his job with the telegram service and took up journalism with the Anatolia news agency, where, again for a posting abroad, he was sent to Bucharest. His time in Romania must have been inspiring for Karaburçak as upon returning from Bucharest he decided to take up painting full time.

He painted in almost every style; from portraits to still lifes, and from landscapes to abstract compositions, and paintings of the city at night. He opened his first solo exhibition in Ankara when he was 51. He later started the Karaburçak Art Gallery, also in Ankara, and ran the gallery for nine years at a time when art did not have too many followers -- or buyers -- at least in the Turkish capital.

Karaburçak can be billed as a maverick, an artist who had his own ways, without being akin to another, in his own time. The skies he painted were different, just like the sun, the moon, the horses, the hills, the trees and the ships on his canvases. He wanted the viewer to discover what he hid beneath his dark colors; melancholy, or maybe a pessimistic mood…

Karaburçak used to be seen as an amateur, particularly in İstanbul art circles, because he did not receive a formal education in art. But in reality he was an artist who refused to follow the widespread art movements of his time. In time, he established his own style; he even started to incorporate Morse code -- which he knew from his time with the telegram service -- into his paintings, which gradually became more abstract in the later years of his career.

Karaburçak continued painting in his tiny studio in his Ankara home until the end of his life, opening some 54 exhibitions throughout his career. His last exhibition was in İstanbul in April 1970, but he could not attend the opening, and two months later, in June 1970, he passed away.

Karaburçak had been waiting to be discovered by art circles until the ongoing Pera Museum retrospective, which lays before our eyes the works of this lesser-known, self-taught master. The show, with art historian Semra Germaner as its consultant, presents 87 canvases by Karaburçak, on loan from the artist’s family and several private collections, spread over two floors of the museum.

According to art historian and critic Sezer Tansuğ, Karaburçak was an artist whose painting style was rich in dramatic elements and imagination. “Karaburçak, who started painting after retiring as a civil servant, made quite an impression ... and decisively used his unique color scheme in his diverse and humble thematic compositions,” Tansuğ says in the exhibit’s catalog.

Karaburçak, who did not give his paintings titles, used to believe it is the inner world of an artist that is important in executing a work. “I am a painter of colors. The reason I love nature [more] when it is dark, when clouds gather, or when the soil, the trees, the buildings are washed in the rain, when the colors come out, might be because sun[light] actually kills the colors,” he used to say.
The Karaburçak retrospective runs until July 3 at the Pera Museum.

Musa İğrek, İstanbul
Today's Zaman