MEHMET ÖZENBAŞ: THE DIONYSIAC JUNGLE OF THE OUTSIDER
This will not be an article that will for sure make you love, discover or understand miraculously an artist, thanks to the writer. This is not my goal, and if it ends up reaching these results just know that it was not my intention.
I write about Mehmet Özenbaş because I like his works and I like to talk about them, cogitate around them. It’s my taste you see, it has nothing to do with you, don’t take it personally. But I wouldn’t mind if you enjoy discovering him, no problem.
Before we start talking about art: Nowadays we have more and more of that dangerous type of collectors. Those that enter the art world just because they want to make money out of art. Not because they love art. Not because they crave for getting home, sitting in front of their works and sipping a cognac or coffee as they enjoy endlessly the visual impact on their retina of the art work. Not because they want to look at another work and think in depth about the traces of art history. They want to make sure that their investment can earn good money, either very fast, or at least in time; so they prefer buying young artists as often as they can, to make sure that they might hit big the jackpot! Well, let me tell them right away that this is not the case here! Özenbaş is not in his twenties and he doesn’t have a long career or a very rich track record. So the collectors hit by this contagious and despicable disease, better stay away from him and his works. The issue here is not about money, but about art!
Those works are not investment values of a certified young artist who will indulge its collector with tons of gold, at least not right now. So please, if you are one of them, move to a better immediate target for yourself. If his work will remain, it’s only because some of them are not just impressive but also breathtaking…
When you look at great art, one that moves you or sucks you in, or one that brings “thought-storms” within yourself, you don’t think much about “how was that ever done?”. It has a sort of life on its own. You don’t question anything, you want to live near it, own it, or stare at it the way a teenager stares at a potential lover he or she is infatuated with. The first time I saw a work of Özenbaş, it was at the Gezi show “Come if you dare”, the exhibition held for the first year of Gezi. The work I believe was like an interpretation of the aerial shot/image of the Taksim Square that had been placed carefully in coma by the government, without any declared reason. Well, we knew the complicated reasons that ranged from killing Istanbul’s art and entertainment life, to getting rid of several bars and clubs on the way, while also stabbing the Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM). But although I’m a political activist as you know mostlikely, I will cut that story right there as well. I will just tell you that I really wanted to own that piece. It kept popping in my eye directly every time I entered the group show at Piramid. It stood out.
The work of Özenbaş brings first the question “What am I looking at?” although this conflict is fast gotten over as I explained. The scene can be perceived as extremely, strikingly realistic in its own right. What is this? Am I in the middle of a dense wild jungle? How come I don’t hear the birds? Where’s the tiger?
On the other hand, the work is as abstract as can be. But this is not your typical classical abstract. Not that it makes you feel or think on its crafty sides, not that. If Cubism could be seen in a way a mix of realism and abstraction, so are these works. They can be read as a vision of a human’s perception in the depth of the forest as he is lost among the endless trees and the dense texture of the leaves.
In a transitory perception, many of them can be read as a silent and eternal nature, as the home of infinity. It’s the home of an independent world that does not try to be decorative at all.
In a third perception phase, you can unavoidably see similarities and parallels with the American abstract art hero Jackson Pollock. But trust me, it’s not a derivative of Pollock.
But there are ways to accede to a destination. You can come to the same results from totally different ways. (I remember one of my graffitis that read “I came from another street Ben” as a line directed to the famous French artist Ben Vautier from me). Well surprisingly enough I can also think about Anselm Kiefer in those pieces but we will see this later below here.
The routine path of art education can totally be left aside as you know. Going through art schools can be a very enriching experience, as it can be a burden. Özenbaş followed a very particular singular path. The usual steps of art progression have nothing to do with his development. His coming to fruition is a subjective unique story. He didn’t face the pain of the “would be artist” who went 4-5 years to art school and then was facing the question of “What am I gonna paint now that school’s over?”
The artist is a very fresh painter indeed. He has been really painting only since 2006. But the maturity of his work is alarming. Özenbaş was in the textile business for long years before he switched to his art that became his passion. His love of nature has grown in him, as he became a collector of the leftovers of the trees and the forest, traces that he could brilliantly duplicate with the leftovers of his textile experience. The result is outstanding. When I look at him or his work, I see the same thing: A commitment, a sincerity in a positioning that makes me feel undeniably that nothing else matters for him. May life give him more time, I am positive that he still has ways to go.
Behind this passion, there is also the love of nature and the irrevocable devotion to the protection of it. Here through ecological concerns, art gains a heavy mission, a serious responsibility. The airport ground traffic controller is taking body in the sculpture of Özenbaş, as he says directly ‘’Stop the massacre right now, stop the genocide of the forests’’ as he is marshaling...
Özenbaş’s works look very harsh and raw; as they can also look very sophisticated. The way some Pollock’s can make you think of even Monet’s Impressionism in a hidden way as William Rubin has so gracefully stated it back in the beginning of the good old 80’s.
Nevertheless of course the first reading is apocalyptic. It’s also a world that looks in constant becoming. There is in those works, a sort of flux, and energy of the cosmos. There is what we can call a sort of “Elan Vital” that does its main job, which is to drive all organisms towards constantly more complicated higher modes of organization. This Elan Vital, which is the main interior element of all living beings, is the creative power that moves in unbroken continuity through all cells and everything. It’s also like this inner drive to express a vigorous affirmation of all man’s powers. This aesthetics we encounter here, is neither the one of Plato involving proportion harmony and unity, nor the one of Aristotle with order, symmetry and definiteness. This swift fluidity is obviously Dionysiac in its genesis, in the source…
The works also look timeless, ageless, and again as it has been stated about Pollock, they are comparable to a spider’s web from time to time. On the other hand, as somebody who thinks that he knows the depths of Pollock’s brain work, I can tell you that he would have been damn surprised to see those works by Özenbaş. The artist uses no drips; no paint directly on the surface, no splashes... Yet the final result can look like an abstract-expressionist work, definitely a cousin at least of Pollock as I had stated above. Tree branches, fabrics, painted fabrics; all contribute to this cosmic-like intense junglish experience that can also feel like an x-ray of the brain. Again the style includes an often “all-over” composition, which is almost not one. In the labyrinths of these elements, which are the blood paths, and cells of the work, one can see that the laws of chance have made things perfectly. As the French say “Le hasard fait bien les choses”. (Coincidence makes things well) The other question that still can pop up in our unconscious, is “What’s behind these layers of leaves, or materials, fabrics, other world sceneries?”. The enigma lies there with us in front of every work. The scene comes with its questions and wild guesses... The abstraction of the content is different from a regular “abstract work”.
If a piece makes your brainwork, if it triggers questions and remarks of some other kind, then it means that we are rolling. If nobody ever will see and register what happens in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, in the middle of the Amazon forests, can we say that it still exists? Maybe the most important land beautiful and scape that the human eye could have seen, was an “until the death” duel between two dinosaurs fighting for a female one as the storm was rushing in on a sunset with huge lightning and layers of colorful clouds, as huge azhdarchids-pterosaurs were flying around this beautiful valley as the forced spectators of this World Match. But we never saw it. Or maybe the most beautiful sceneries are happening on the outer depths of the universe, in interstellar or even intergalactic “spaces of the void” or in the hellish depth of ocean waters...
Well, when I look at Özenbaş’s works, I feel the trans historical weight of Anselm Kiefer’s paintings, as if experienced within the archives of the earth’s or life’s history. I feel the fall of the leaves or the one of the stars within the Milky Way. All within the brilliantly organized DNA’s of Mother Nature.
Some 31 years ago precisely, in the spring of 1986, I was madly in love with a Swedish girl. Again!.. Be careful biographers, I am not referring to my famous Helena Anliot but to Lena Alftin. I had offered her a star from the Milky Way, which I had entitled “My Lena”. The address was: “Virgo ra 14h50m58sa 3.36”
The Solar system, The Milky Way, the endless galaxies... Endless molecules, dust particles, and images from the skeleton of those galaxies... Some of those images look like X-rays of the fetus or a journey into the human cell. The macro-cosmos and the micro-cosmos, so close and yet so far away. The Özenbaş works are not just a journey to the rainforests but also to the end of the universe and the depths of the cell.
Finally it makes me think of two of my graffiti: The first one is “I am nothing but I am everything”. Needless to explain you why, I guess. The second one is: “I set the standards”. That’s why I know that those works are exceptional.