These large scale canvases at first glance seem to be quite close to his Neo-Expressionist works from the early 80’s. But in fact at a second reading one can see that those works are a synthesis of Baykam’s several periods. Collages from endless sources melt together with layers of paint. These works mature in much longer periods of time.
Baykam labeled this series as ‘Voyeur of History’. He makes several references to old masters, Rubens, Picasso, Duchamp, Carracci, Andre Breton as he has always done several times since 1987.
THE PURSUIT OF RIGHTEOUS SUNS
Hasan Bülent Kahraman
'Voyeur of History' Catalog Galerie Lavignes-Bastille, Paris, 2012
Baykam’s recent works that stand before us embark the quality of being a synthesis of his artistic language and art which he developed and matured over long years since the 80s. This art that has been produced for thirty years has been influenced by the different waves and fluctuations of various periods with their dissimilar artistic expression and understanding, but has also in reversal influenced and penetrated them in depth. This art’s landmarks have been developed in a wide range of cultural pot and gathered in it various tendencies. Ergo, it is divided up to different periods in itself. However, the periods in question are not oblivious to one another; on the contrary, they have influenced each other directly.
This aspect in Baykam’s works is not only related with the interacting loops of his art here-mentioned.
It’s also in relation with the account settling and confrontation of that painting with Western and eastern
culture. All these cultural and external facts distinguish the style qualities of Baykam’s works by coming
together and intertwining. Understanding these is the preliminary “must” for grasping the visible and invisible of the examples in his latest series. Besides, recent works are totally correspondent with the previous ones and extend them to the most far out points they can reach. Because these paintings, in spite of intersecting with other periods of the artist in certain aspects, create their own specifies, open new frontlines and prepare new processes and cornerstones. In order to understand these, we need to evaluate other periods rapidly then bring to light these recent works with the problematic that shape and create their authenticity.
Bedri Baykam’s re-emergence in Turkish visual arts scene coincides with the early 1980s. After wrapping up his education in France and in the USA, rebelling against some subjects, no one at that time even dealt with (for which he can still be considered as a precursor today) and defining himself as a “cultural guerilla,” he returns to Turkey and starts exhibiting his works. Turkey, comparing with the West holds a posterior position in the early and mid 80s. Except for some scarce examples, no one noticed the progress and innovations occurring in the West, especially in the USA. To that day, still very few classic examples and styling of figurative paintings existed in the art scene. Whereas, during those years, in Europe and in the USA, very crucial progresses took place in the arts.
USA in particular held a more different position in that aspect. The leap that start- ed after 1945 has completed certain movements that have evolved in the mid ‘70s as intertwining loops. The hard to grasp, hard to understand constraints of “post-paint- erly abstraction” developed through the pushes of artists such as Rothko, Reinhardt, Kelly, have later quickly conceded their place to pop art that gave its first fruits with Hamilton in England.
The American art, while adding different dimensions to itself via contributions of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg at the same time was developing the minimalism of Andre, Serra, Judd and Flavin, which again was filled with hard-to-understand elements for the general audience. Nonetheless, this was not enough. It was also branching out to happenings with Jim Dine, Kaprow and to body-based feminist art with Schneeman. The ‘80s sat on this grand tradition. This strong art extending to every which way around, with the fruits of a new generation in the beginning of the new decade, turned itself towards a new path, hard to compare with the precedents. The big leap occurring on both ends of the continent got itself into other quests with Schnabel, Fischl, Koons and Salle. Also Sherman, Levine, Kruger -whom all later came to be labeled with different movements- contributed to this period. Contemporary art was flourishing in the land of these names and several others.
New expressionism was the most important movement, the common denominator of the period in question. Baykam’s first works seen in Turkey some thirty years ago had already been understood within this range. These paintings emerged simul- taneously with Schnabel’s works in a whole different geography in the early ‘80s, and carried new expressionism to Turkey. These works differed rapidly from those of the German new expressionism with their problematic and stylistic concerns. Baykam’s works -supported by broken mirrors, collages, graffiti and figures- did not only form a very strong painting language but also made a whole out of certain political and historical fragments via a solid expression.
Now, all those works have reach the wholeness of a meaningful book and gain different associations when seen all together. In those paintings, a richness that reflects the zeitgeist catches the eye. On one hand there is a struggle with the Western art and on the other hand a seizing of the present day’s paint- ing reality with a profound intuition, an intense sexuality and as well as the passion of transform- ing the present day’s reality. The fury to create a whole different world builds up the background of Baykam’s work during that period. He is no stranger to any of the formal techniques used over those years and carries within himself the passion to suck those in and absorb them. Hence his graf- fiti on the walls of NYC. These graffiti, which un- fortunately are no yet gathered in a separate book, do not only reflect his Inner Landscapes (a series of Baykam, from 1987) but also contain in certain aspects, cultural emphasis, interrogations, and ac- count settings.
Here it is necessary to point out a basic characteristic of Baykam’s that appeared vividly starting with those times: Since then, the artist always kept himself within the periphery of a very expressive
perspective. This is an outcome of him comprehending the art thoroughly. Art with Baykam is
not an insipid, introverted, isolated “thing.” It is an extension of his struggle with life. This is sort of why his canvases are so “crowded.” However, we should not forget a noteworthy point: In his explanations where he talks about a particular period, it becomes clear that the works which seem as if they were hastily created were actually born throughout a long, intensive process. Moreover, he is not bound with just the canvas. His expressionism will lead him to other activities. These are not always political but also artistic activities. For example, he would be doing live per- formances on theatre or musical stage. Previously, he had already written scenarios and shot films.
After returning to Turkey, his expressionism blossomed towards different areas. At the same time, a more political language started weighing heavily upon his works. However, politics, especially in the early 90s is not exactly a canvas and a painting reality. He starts some new type of “constructions,” most likely under the influence of his American experiences that we mentioned earlier and to which Turkey stands estranged in that period. They are not only expressionist but also striking, in fact, startling works.
Baykam develops fresh attitudes in that period’s new emerging political and social status and puts out installations, performances (even though spread to different time periods) such as The Box of Democracy (1987) and Book Burner (1988). For example, he participates in the first İstanbul Biennial with a work called Sin Room (1987). Again, this striking and sort of disturbing in the means of its erotic content work that lead the audience to an inner self-confrontation, features the period’s stunning femme fatale movie star Hülya Avşar.
Starting from the 90s, this fact turns into a “practice,” which Baykam will never abandon. Baykam, in some these works, which develop into happenings, is in a Dadaist action and he clearly states it. Later a wrestling match, dedicated to the memory of Arthur Cravan, in which women take part, will occupy a huge place in the Turkish paparazzi, totally out of its original context. These works of Baykam, established on a social base, are really an explicit extension of a Dadaist and an anarchist search.
This section in Baykam’s art appears as a never-forgotten, never-pushed aside, never-paused leitmotiv: The resurrection through today’s perception and conscious- ness, of what was lived and what already has become history. This is what inter- twines Baykam’s works with the problems of the recent political times history in a way that would include his personal choices and preferences: Reinterpretation of the historical through a personal perspective. These are extensive, important interrogations that do not exclusively reflect the political field’s events but also blend them with art history.
Here, we need to dig deeper into two aspects that are shaped while the men- tioned approach and perspectives are crystallized in Baykam. First a sentence, which took its place in his works before and after the 90s: this has been done before. This sort of motto, above all, is a reference that shapes art history’s backbone. This ex- pression signifies that art comes from separations and fragments and from the rebel- lion against chronological, modernist, progressive perception. This is the reshaping through Baykam’s hands of the historical writing that proliferated in the mid-90s.
The historical one is not about itself; according to this, in time it takes shape by fertilizing with other facts. To quote Anaksagoras, a pansperma understanding can be mentioned in this perception. During those times, the emphasis on the fact that nothing is restricted to him, pushes Baykam to new initiatives both on political and artistic levels. On the political level, Baykam is busy internalizing the recent historical events in Turkey and around the globe. The coup d’état of May 27, the Kemalist era’s major moves, the events of 1968, Che, Deniz Gezmiş, Fenerbahçe -they all reshape around his political choices of those years.
The reinterpretation of the historical in this manner emerges on a different level in Baykam’s works. In the ‘90s, Baykam starts a new series in a very fast and impres- sive manner. These are the remakes and reinterpretations of previous generations’ classics. In these remakes (Real-Fake series), Baykam differs from the other paint- ers who have worked in the same field.
Looking back on art history, we can recall, for example, how Picasso reinterpreted the works of Velasquez, Ingres, Manet. This is Picasso’s unique, almost never-seen-before account settling with older artists. Picasso, who had radically and drastically changed his approach and language a few times throughout his career, has now built another category with these enquiries. However, even though there are some theoretical aspects of Picasso’s approach that will be built later on, it is not actually easy to talk about any theoretical grounds that were taken into consideration, before the making of the painting. Regardless of a posteriori interpretation, Picasso shakes and tests painting with painting.
Whereas Baykam departs from two important points. First as we said before, he is occupied with the reinterpretation of the historical on different levels. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, re-handling and rewriting of the twentieth century history, the social rebellions that lead to these events all lead to reconsideration of the dogmatic, authoritarian, official history perception and the identity problematic alongside with them. Baykam refreshes the history based on this background. How- ever, there is more to it.
These formations, which themselves have become historical, echo rapidly on a more theoretical base. This base is post-modern history writing and in general, the post-modern cultural and theoretical analysis. The hermeneutic post-modern ap- proach, against the linear progressive attitude of modernism, that rejects and condemns what is traditional, is a result of investigating the options of reinterpreting the past with a new approach. Reinterpretation of the past is one of the first steps here.
One of the basic characteristics of post-modern approaches is re-readings and reinterpretations. Baykam, via these big moves, on a theoretical background, re- paints old masters’ works. He also sees this as an extension of his political attitude against Western art. For example, not only did he re-paint the “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” but he also placed his own portrait in the painting and entitled it The Harem of Avignon (1990). This is a new extension of his 1987 slogan “I wish I had a harem.” Thus, in these reproductions Baykam deals with his own history, interrogates Western art history and articulates all these in that era’s mental genesis. Moreover, the fact that the “harem” is depicted via an Orientalist perception, is an extension of Baykam’s struggle with the West, not only in an art historical context but also in a general mentality context, that englobes all of them.
We need also mention that, this simulacrum’s domain is not limited to that. This “harem” concept enters a painting called The Harem Now and Then-2 in 2008; in this painting, a figure will be reincorporated from the Girls of Avignon and again in the same year, another painting will carry the title of The Harem d’Avignon is 100 Years Old (2008). This work, being the first one in this direction, does not only carries his duplicate but also reflects Picasso’s image.
Now, the following assertion is in due time: Towards the end of the 2000s, Baykam now makes the works mentioned above with a totally different technique. This is what he calls as 4D (2007), four dimensional works. Prior to this between 2000-2002, he did a series called Girly Plots where he used digital print- ing technique. Alongside with the digital printing, this new technique, frankly, brings about a never-be-fore-seen technique to the world’s painting scene.
By discovering perspective and adding third dimension to a two dimensional space, the Renais- sance’s biggest move was a huge cultural turning point. Approximately 500 years after, rebelling against this “reality” that relied on this illusion, cub- ism went back to surface painting. Now, Baykam uniquely contributes to this history and adds to it a 4th dimension. While in these times where the cin- ematography is dealing with the third dimension, the fact that painting surface is pushed to a 4th di- mension is a brand new invention. This invention contains, aside from this specific original reality, another quality. Baykam uses this technique as a phase where he gathers, shuffles and distributes all his artistic style qualities he had carried with him and saved to this day and age. Remakes, reinterpre- tations of old paintings, with the addition of the time factor, resurrect in this 4th dimension...
The fact that some of these works are about the “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is ever more significant. Because that painting is known to be the founder painting of Cubism, which carried the third dimension matter to a whole different level in 1907/8. Years after a Catalan artist in the middle of the West had renewed its visual history, now another artist coming from a center outside the West, by using that same painting as a parameter, brings in a new “dimension” to the Western imagery. More- over, there is also the inner evolution of the painting that we have mentioned here earlier. The fact that this subject has almost never been approached is an indicator both of the cultural resources and background of the visual world in Turkey, as well as of Baykam’s efforts in the field.
A second fact, which determines the re- lationship of '90s affairs with the mental world, starts wandering around in his paint- ings. Baykam “labels” his paintings with the this has been done before motto. This is a very significant sentence. This sentence is the main basis, the vital point of the post-modern mentality. This sentence, which rejects the mo- dernity’s innovative attitude from head to toe, foresees and emphasizes the links between the past and today, determines the meaning and the context of the work in hand.
Here we need to mention the following: A remake of a work that we know has been done before, and presenting this work with a this has been done before identification, pushes even the boundaries of a post-modern perception. The fact that this remake had been done, not through a natural, unintentional way but on purpose along with the references mentioned above, is made clear via this iden- tification. What shapes the position of Baykam’s painting within the reciprocity context is the type of point of view that would say “nothing is new, what’s new just happened to come through an articulation of the old one.” This is a position that would mean appropriating oneself the past but also emphasizing the new continuously.
The paintings in question display a figurative impression when perceived in a formal manner. However, here, one can notice another fictitious game. The re- make works are not referring solely to the figurative old paintings. For instance, Duchamp’s “Urinal” is also a part of this approach. This attitude clearly indicates that Baykam’s efforts are actually a setting of accounts. Modern art has been the subject matter in this confrontation with all of its sources, roots and bases. This attitude and approach has never before been seen in Turkish art. In a visual culture, where all the sources are being erased and kept in the dark, this contrasting attitude is innovative and even revolutionary in the essence. Moreover, this approach also extends itself to other different dimensions.
These paintings also bring new techniques. Baykam, sets the milestone of his future (1991-1992) drip series’ technique around this time. As the paintings form a commentary-context link between the past and present through the figurative theme on the central body, on the other hand they also form a dual construction with the abstraction seen on the side. This adds a whole significance layer when combined to the this has been done before expression. The reason is, this expres- sion brings about a positioning problem. The “has been done-is being done” debate is eventually a contextualization issue which happens to be one of the key concepts of the post-modern theory. Not just post-modern theory, structuralism has also been concerned with the same problematic. The remake of an old painting is an attempt to build a context. Seen from an angle, it corresponds to a linear correla- tion. However, Baykam, by opening an abstract space on the surface of the painting, deconstructs that linear formation, and what comes out of it, are planes that are so disconnected from one another, yet ready to breed, multiply and enriched them- selves within one another.
Moreover, these “divisions” and “segmentations” will form the basics of some different series of his paintings. This new style called Stripe Paintings (1986) lead to paintings that are very different from each other and yet feed and multiply each other with connotations as well as some reality references with two or three sec- tions of paintings. A significant amount of these works contain erotic traces and dimensions. However, the backbone of these paintings is the meeting of reality, abstraction and expressionism under one common denominator. These paintings are large-scale, complicated, multilayered and quite narrative. It has a dynamic structure, which is one of the most significant qualities of Baykam’s canvases. And, step-by-step, these canvases end up illustrating the artist himself. Here, the artistic expression and subjectivity collide. This fact, being the foremost characteristic of expressionist painting, displays a quality that leads to the intensity of the personal work. In these paintings of Baykam, the objectivity of the reality is quite pushed back and the artist’s individualism comes forth.
In fact, the concept of context, which I have mentioned earlier and which is one of the most important facts of that era, can be perceived during the same years in another thrust of Baykam, which we can situate within the post-modern structure generation. Baykam, with a fact brought by Structuralists as well as Post-Structuralist Theory and the post-modern era, starts to confront with language and words. In these works, on paper or canvas, Baykam expands, stretches, bends the language’s flexible borders and produces new meaning from its inner contradictions and ambiguities. These games are not to be seen exclusively on works that carry only those direct textual messages, but exist as well in his typical works, in form of graf- fiti’s that blend with the painting (such as I Do the Best that I Can (1986) or You Are Breathing that carry double-meanings in Turkish).
In his delicious erotic paintings such as Come on Pia (1985) he puts the audience in a dilemma by implying “Come here Pia, Come on and Come onto Pia” (with a sexual connotation). The same reaction can also be seen with, Eclectic Purity (1989), CLEMENTine (1989). CLEMENT here is a reference to the great art critic Clement Greenberg as well as it is in association with the French word meaning “tangerine,” the painting itself carrying a visuality that brings that same fruit to mind.
That period’s third most important breakthrough again gets integrated with another group that connects to the post-modern context we have mentioned ear- lier. Baykam creates a series of works where he re-makes/contextualizes Eastern miniatures. He calls them in a strange and yet creative way Erotic Eastern Maxi- tures (1991). Obviously the word “miniature” breeds the word “maxiture.” East- ern miniatures are re-evaluated in these paintings. Baykam utilizes all the characteristics of his techniques in contextualization with these series. These paintings form amongst themselves an erotic “cabinet.” These works are very important. Because on the one hand, they are another step forward in Baykam’s battle with the Western art history and, on the other, they join the remakes I have mentioned earlier. Again, most foremost, they are the reconstruction of Eastern visualization. We should accept that, in an Eastern society such as the Turkish one, mingled with that culture’s every layer, on one side, Eastern miniatures, and espe- cially their erotic levels, form an almost completely forgotten platform.
Another characteristic of these paintings, which brings about another undeni- able fact in Baykam’s paintings, is that of the theatrical. One can easily capture this judgment by skimming through these Maxitures. The paintings are formed in a way that is completely suitable for Eastern miniatures’ structure, in a certain depth and by all means on a divided canvas surface. Here when we talk about depth, we refer to the one in the relation between the cultural background on which the miniature is embroidered and itself. Whereas one of the most important characteristics of these paintings is the handling of the main characteristic of the Eastern miniatures, which is their two-dimensional surface, and the lack of perspective.
While the drippings form a part of the paintings, the ornamentations carry the traces of Eastern culture. Here, the “theatrical” is directly a construction. However, it is due time to talk about a general “theatricality” infused in Baykam’s paintings. The theatrical in question display itself explicitly whether may it be in the Stripe-Paint- ings, or in the expressionist paintings that are produced throughout all these periods?
This concept is the one that has been the most handled and scrutinized in West- ern cultural history of all times in very different contexts. Again, starting from the Ancient Greek, theatricality showed itself in all periods within various formations and genesis. In the twentieth century, it creates a whole different topic of discussion. Post-modern thinking and theatricality are moved to a new dimension. Whether in post-modern imagery or architecture, theatricality is like a backbone. In a way, it is associated with the alienation of the visual against itself.
In Baykam’s case, the debate develops itself about the relation of theatricality with the fictional. Theatricalization is important in adding dimension to the simplic- ity of the fiction. The reciting, which can become deathly monotonous, earns a certain depth when collided with the theatricalization. This is crucial in the means of emphasizing and parodying the fiction. In Baykam’s works, as seen with the “maxitures,” theatrical- ity develops itself almost in an opposite direction. Baykam tried the same thing as he did with this has been done before by stating the obvious and by cornering the audience, with the Maxitures and his other works. The theatricalization perceived in these works, deepens and intensifies the audience’s denotation level, which the audi- ence itself can easily absorb. This is the emphasizing in extremis of the fictional side of the work and thus the concretization in the most far out level of the artist’s subjectivity.
Here, at this point we can start to revise 2011 paintings with a work solidifying a period. In one of the paintings there is Marcel Duchamp and he says How Dare You Place Me on a Canvas in 2011 Bedri? How Dare You! (2011). Duchamp is also in another painting. This time he perches on a branch and he yells on the canvas What the Hell Am I Doing Here (2011).
This is a never-before-seen model. An artist from our times, from the twen- ty-first century, is approaching in the most ironic way to a very problematic artist that ensured that art after him would never be the same again by adding to twentieth Century art one of its most interesting layers and by tearing it apart and putting it upside down. However, it would be impossible to say that this irony is deprived of any source. Because it is possible to find the same irony almost in all of Duchamp’s ready-mades developed since the “Pissoir.” As a Dadaist, Duchamp, later on explicitly saw his works interpretations expand to various comments. However, his intention in the beginning, as he numerous times repeated it himself, was to mock the domi- nating aesthetic perception, and to make fun of it, if you may say. Now Baykam by di- rectly painting him, develops Duchamp’s basic attitude on a whole different setting.
However, this at the same time sets the main character of his recent works. Earlier we had mentioned that these paintings were a synthesis of years and years appli- cation of different techniques in different periods. It is necessary to explain this issue more. And this can only be feasible by responding to why Baykam choses to place himself in this sort of approach, even though he produces such specific and subjective meanings in himself. The answer to this question can be “intercultural interaction.”
This factor does not only come out in Baykam’s paintings but also in Baykam’s activism and in his articles. In all these reconstructions, exhibitions dedicated to Van Gogh and Munch, although it has never been necessary, Baykam produces answers to the accumulation brought by a different culture, through the language he developed and cross-section he took from a whole different culture. While he criticizes West- ern hegemony intensely he also embraces Western culture. The reason why he re- turns to Duchamp and associates the irony Duchamp himself has created is because of this intercultural interaction urge.
We can go back an associate this attitude with the most applied and explicated concept of our recent cultural history: Intertextual relationship and interaction. As a matter of fact, if we take a previously produced painting as a text, Baykam’s repro- duction of that in a whole different authenticity, can be classified as an intertextual transition, interaction and communication. These transitions, can be open as well as close. But, what counts is the fact that these paintings feed themselves on multiple sources; and in Turkish visual arts, we can see neither this sort of conversion, nor any kind of emphasis given to the sources.
In fact, in these paintings various references to Baykam’s past artistic periods ex- ist. Some of them enter the painting directly in a form of an object (i.e. A sweatshirt he wore while living in California). Or in another painting, the name of the novel, The Stranger takes place in the painting alongside an image of Camus. Again, Bukowski,
in accordance with his works, stands together with an erotic young girl image in one painting. While Sadder than Water (2011) forms the expression of a painting while also being also a quote from Kerou- ac. Moreover, cultural projections towards antiquity also exist in these paintings. For instance, a painting Sleeping Nymph (2011) integrated another period’s writing and visual image. The same exists with new interpretations based on Rubens and Carracci. The images that can be attributed to the legendary “Siyah Kalem” (Black Pen) also exist in another painting.
Another point lies which under this fact is based on another problematic matter that would explain the latest works, which is the image as a simulacrum. In Baykam’s paintings since its beginnings, the concept of imagery appears as a plane which is eccentrically different from the whole work. The simulacrum is the transformation of the reality, a sort of its reflection, but not itself. Furthermore, we also need to touch upon a direct interaction between the image and reality, a sort of correspondence relation. This interference does not always have to be objective. That is the specific dimension of the reality-image interaction. Beyond that, subjective interpretation of the reality can also appear as a founding component of the imagery and its interplay with the reality. This space is where the image turns into a metaphor gradually.
In Baykam’s recent works there is a characteris- tic that comes forth altogether. We can talk about the very tiny relationship these paintings establish with “natural reality.” On the contrary, Baykam builds a very isolated universe and shapes his paintings on this background. Whether they are references to recent century’s cultural images, or accents on antiquity, these paintings’ universe evolve within the borders of the aforementioned subjective commentaries and constructions. This can also be seen in the previous paintings with their borrowed and recycled stylis- tic characteristics from previous periods. Baykam choses to appoint as the reality basis, not so much the natural truth but his own previous period’s style and all of its constructive elements that had shaped it.
So, in this way emerges a commentary surface that can be explained via metaphors, rather than imagery. The reference to the commentary of reality, to its previously converted state, not the reality itself, is the metaphoric layer. This metaphor, appears on Baykam’s latest works as a play/stage mise-en-scene. We can see this bluntly in his work called Right Time Right Place (2011). In this painting, a real crocodile is placed as an object. If “reality” is the matter in hand, then here is a “situation” where there is not even a place for imagery. Which image? The object itself, per se, is on the canvas. In despite of all this, what stands before us is neither reality itself, nor an object from nature but a “play.” An image of the sea that appears to be the “sea,” a “croco- dile” and his “prey” are all together. However, despite all we know, we stand before a “stage” a “decor” and a “play.” This is the relationship Baykam holds between the image and the theatrical that I have mentioned above, and this is where the painting takes its shape as a painting. In this way, the painting, whatever it may signify, what- ever it may associate itself with, describes above all itself as a meta-language. This phase can also be perceived as a turning point of Baykam’s expressionism. Because, here at this stage painterly reality gets beyond the objective reality. It has gained a much more textual dimension and weight.
When his current works are considered together with his paintings of previous periods, one of the most outstanding one is the literary aspect. It is only natural to have this sort of depth in Baykam’s narrative works. The literary is the main characteristic of the expressive narrative fiction. The narration itself is a literary component. Nonetheless, in Baykam, this happens in a context of depth. In his paint- ing, the references to the times lived once upon, remembrances, connotations, are the tools for reassembling together this job. We should also mention the dramatic effect this sort of approach creates. This effect is different from the theatrical effect we have mentioned since the beginning of this essay. In a text, there can be theat- ricalization on a visual level. However, there does not have to be a dramatization. Or vice-versa. There can be a dramatization but the painting could carry no theatricality. These two concepts are not necessarily connected.
This fact is valid for Baykam’s latest period. As dramatization and literary aspect exist in a significant part of these paintings, theatricalization is the backbone of some other. This proves that Baykam uses these two facts intentionally. For instance, while in The Threat (2011), a re-make from Poussin, there is a theatrical parody frame in an orgiastic antiquity reflection; the work Dreaming California (2011) is associated with an intense dramatization. The same thing applies to L’Etranger (2011) where only an individual image and word exist or to Bandabadaire (2011), treated with a very different conceptuality or to Antoni B. Why? (2011). What catches the attention is this: Baykam’s dramatization paintings look more complicated and confused than the theatrical ones, whereas maybe it should have been the other way round. Despite all this, a more complex structure comes forth in his works that lean on theatricalization.
The question of what brings out this sort of outcome or place, point to another characteristic of his latest works.
Baykam shapes the dramatization in these paintings mentioned as a component of the literary in a way that creates an intense melancholia. It is not easy to concretize this idea we have brought up front. Melancholia is, of course a subjective concept. It is hard to identify this in a painting as a founder component. In order to identify it, we need to go back to the definition of the melancholia concept.
Freud separates the mourning and melancholia concept in a well-known article. According to him, mourning is not pathological. After the disappearance of some- thing, after a certain amount of time, one comprehends the reality, accepts it, and forgets what he/she has lost. He/she overcomes it with his libido (life energy). On the other hand, melancholia is pathological. Someone who goes through melancholia can never accept the fact that he/she has lost something. Constantly, in an obsessive manner, he/she lives with that lost object, can never overcome the situation. He/she goes until the end with this thought in mind.
If we are going to talk about melancholia in Baykam’s paintings, the answer to the question “Does it correspond to the pathological that Freud had determined?” is negative. However, the answer to the question that follows “Is it thus wrong to use the concept of melancholy?” is also negative. Because, another person who has used and examined melancholia is Walter Benjamin. This philosopher, in his work, “The Origins of German Tragic Drama” rejects Freud’s definition and puts forward another one. According to Ferber’s findings, melancholia with Benjamin, unlike with Freud, is not “losing oneself in a vanished object.” It is a mood and disposition towards the world. Melancholia, as stated in the last chapter of Benjamin’s mentioned work, is the transformation of a feeling/emotion to a mood.
This is precisely what creates the dramatic effect in Baykam’s recent works, as identified by Benjamin. We can talk about an emotion turning into a mood in these works, not a state of obsession. There is an attitude and mood against the whole world. The past, the experiences, the personal background, the forgotten reality, losses, are all the backbones of the significant parts of these paintings. The presence of these concepts can be brought out and proven from the relationships of these paintings with some previous directions and inclinations. Not only concep- tual references but also some formal allusions also reminds and evokes the loser as well as the persistence and continuity of time holding on to its power to transform everything into “the past.” However, what is interesting is the transformation of the emotion to a mood, seen in the fact that despite the dramatic fiction components, these paintings are not part of a dark pessimistic split; on the contrary, they are expressed in a libidinous enthusiasm.
This ascertainment leads us to a very important aspect of these works. While Baykam prepares a past/melancholia relationship and composes it in a dramatization, he moves forward from a very painterly position. This “painterly-ness,” is the camouflaging of the “naked” imagery. In his previous periods we talk about the “texture” in Baykam’s paintings. This, as seen in its extreme example in his “drip series,” is one of the most important milestones in Baykam’s paintings. On some oc- casion which can only be seen in some art movements, Baykam’s canvas transforms itself into an object. This is achieved by uniting paint with an extra texture material. Sometimes paint, sometimes other substances are used to create the desired effect. For instance, Marilyn Monroe (2011) falls into this category.
In these paintings a similar approach can be seen, but in a whole different light. Baykam surpasses the completeness of the imagery, its individuality, simplicity, “nu- dity” with the paint surfaces he establishes. In some paintings, this approach unites totally with an abstract language. As the paint and its abstracted version enter the canvas, the reality of the figure and the direct link it forms with the reality, regresses. We should call it a “reduction”: The reduction of the reality with painterly-ness. That means that although the work is narrative, storyteller fictitious, the result is the break off of painting with the natural and the emergence of painting purely as a “painting”! It yields towards the audience’s imagination. For example, the works containing a t-shirt and purple shorts, I am Torn Inside No: 88 (2010) and I am Torn Inside No: 89 (2010) from the series I am Torn Inside fall into this category. (Originally labeled “İçim Parçalanıyor” 2009-2010 political series).
The reductionism that forms the mentioned painter- ly-ness, is even more obvious in the work Hedonist Shad- ow and the Traveler (2011). This painting in which there is a red women figure on the left is a very clear example of this “reduction” concept. Right near the red painted wom- an figure, there is a second one, in a whole different texture, but the stains worked to the background, distort or decon- struct the reality plane constituted by those figures. The painting is freed, “divorced” from those heavy figures and directs itself towards a whole different another direction with the multiplication of these “reduced” figures.
Therefore, what stands before us is not a reduction but as we’ve enhanced it a multiplication that also includes reduction. This is the final completeness stage of the painting. The same thing can be seen on the canvas with the writing Femme du Monde (2011). If this painting were alone, we would read it on a different level of verbal con text; but with the texture behind, it is carried to another level. Nonetheless, these reductive multiplications are what create the melancholia we mentioned in Baykam’s paintings. The disappearance of the figure within the texture, the unification of the figure with the blurry, chaotic and at times even catastrophic texture, defers the re- ality away, pushes it to a temporal/special hole, and ultimately conveys it on a stand where only imagination can complete it. Imagination and remembrance are always in relation with absence and always comprises melancholia.
The emotion and painterly state which we summarize with melancholia is not valid, for instance with the Renaissance painting. But the same concept is valid with Baroque painting, especially with Caravaggio, even though used with different tech- niques. Caravaggio, with the lighting he created made it possible to locate figure on a certain depth, which strengthens the painting’s dramatic effect and pushes it to its extreme. However, this emotion does not turn into melancholia with Caravaggio. For example, even his works where he depicts “loss” do not reach this mood. On the contrary, very different set of emotions are aroused. Whereas with two artists, a very similar impact is obvious.
The first one of them is Leonardo. The chiaroscuro technique, which he often uses masterly, is imperative with the formation of the melancholia. With that tech- nique, he veils the reality and distances it from the audience. Before us grows the melancholia of absence. In more recent times, Basquiat, stating that he is deeply impressed with Leonardo, used different methods like overcrowding, overload- ing the canvas, prevents the reality to stay on sole figure and unifies intertwines it with a feeling of absence. Again, as we can state by stepping back, Rococo painting and Fragonard, are also among the sources of this formation. His well-known work “Swings” is precisely the proof of what we have been pointing out.
Nonetheless, Fragonard lacks the dramatization effect. On the contrary, Fragonard and Rococo with the visuals they create form a fiesta, a “carnavalesque” atmosphere as Bakhtin puts it. It is the Carnivalesque of the visual imagery. Baykam, on the contrary, produces dramatization and melancholia together. Also, we should not forget that the fact that visuality could move up to that stage is a characteristic of the periods when one can talk of the problematic relations with reality. In the same line, the dark space created in Picasso’s “Ma Jolie” and Braque’s “Homage to J.S. Bach” are the products of reality reaching a relativistic phase. But we will not make a mention of the verbal-visual relationship brought forward with the Russian avant-garde.
If we return to the point where we left off: we should state that in Baykam’s last period’s work, the figure which had been shaped as an emphasis, an extension of reality, is now being taken back by a second move. The reduction of reality to this extent is a very important problematic. Because not only does this “dog fight” with reality appear in the paint-figure relationship but also with the context of writing, the graffiti that frequently enters the canvas.
The writing, at the end of the day, is a tool through which we express reali- ty. Baykam has been using this tool since the very beginning and this provides him a wide range of opportunities. In the paintings we have mentioned, the figure comes together with writing and they complete each other. Nonetheless, these duos, let’s use the same terminology as much as they complete each other, they also contribute to reducing reality. Especially with the works based on jeux de mots, the ones this role reverses. The relationship between the figure and writing neglect each other and the relationship among object, word and imagery, which Kosuth had brought together in a very different context, comes forth once again. The viewers cannot comprehend at first sight whether they should follow the fig- ure or the visuals in the background or the reality that the writing does or does not express. Thus, this leads to the painting surface ending up containing a very different conceptualization through the process of reality being reduced through a lifting. What is finally left is a painting that transcends, defers what it does not need, and finally imposes itself onto the audience as an absolute reality. There- fore, we need to know that all these reductions, hidings, concealing eventually aim to build a painterly reality.
The last component enabling this is the “poetic” aspect that mixes well with melancholia. Gadamer makes an important distinction between poetic and dai- ly language. According to the philosopher, given we use a money metaphor, daily language is like coins. We use coins in exchange to obtain other values. Whereas gold retains its value and does not go under daily exchanges. The same applies with language. Daily language is coinage, poetic language is gold. Gadamer supports this significant observation with another definition and states that the poetic language is playful in its extremity. Playfulness is not a characteristic of daily language. That is solely a tool used as an exchange rate.
If we recall the jeux de mots that have been active in Baykam’s works, we can understand the value of Gadamer’s important ascertainment. Baykam never strives to find an extension of a daily language in the writings he places on his paintings. On the contrary, they either contain poetic aspect that would reflect the melancholia we have mentioned earlier, or act as playmaker expressions. For example, the work that
says Watching for the Sun (2011) is an example of the former. Here, this sentence has a subcontext. It has a direct linguistic equivalent. But, the second sentence brings that definition to a different level: For the wrong reasons (at all times) (2011). When this writing comes together with the visual aspect of the painting, which means a person watching the horizon, the viewer will under- stand that there is a search of a loss, a remembrance of a loss.
As we mentioned before, this painting’s atmosphere is a transformation of emotion to a mood and it is needless to repeat that it is associated with melan- cholia. Even though daily language stands before us, what is expressed is not a reality that belongs to the daily language. That is when Gadamer’s poetic defini- tion intervenes and this sentence does not bear an exchange function but rather forms a value on its own and becomes gold. The relationship between the poetic and melancholia is formed on its own, in this context. Because this state of the lan- guage already corresponds to the destruction, consumption, reduction of reality, the language exceeds its exchange rate!
On the other hand, recalling Gadamer’s playfulness concept, jeux de mots seen on most paintings are an extension of the poetic. Once again, we pass onto a phase where in those works, the words as well as their daily meanings disappear, where emphasis is given to the golden value of language which becomes poetic and concretizes the playful- ness of reality. In fact, in those paintings language pushes the boundaries of visuality, transforms and pushes the meaning it developed. This is why visuality moves to a dual level and, at this point it would be right to say that, the poetical is formed just at this point. This way, planes that give way both to increase the meaning and enable the fact that meaning is obtained through language, are open to discussion within themselves.
All of this lead us to the fact that, Baykam’s recent works shape around a wide range of visual perception. These works do not solely make references to his past periods. They surpass them by developing a new language. Language here is a fiction that the artist has generated in order to express himself and the reality that he has brought into being. This fiction now correlates on a very wide surface with certain commentaries that have never been struck to our face so rigidly before. In particular, contrasting reality in itself, destruction of it in itself and formation of this reality with some reductions, show us new striking levels.
Here, naturally, we can also find traces of Baykam’s recent life experiences. In fact, if what we call melancholia is what Aidan Day said while evaluation Shelly, a “human sympathy,” and then this statement appears with Baykam in a very es- tablished and genuine way. In conclusion, his painting is a concrete, strong and fruitful product of conscience and visuality, and of the language and perception that has prepared them. Saying that in the last thirty years Baykam’s work has influenced the Turkish visual arts deeply a few times, is only a partial statement of the truth. Especially the fact that reality has been forced to contradictions within itself, has shattered in pieces, has been put together by reductions, show us highly striking new planes.
These latest works that stand before us are the poems of this visuality des- tined to itself and an indication on a universal level, of how an artist absorbs and distills the people, the world and the universe within himself.