Garip AY is a popular Turkish artist who paints on water. He was born in 1984 in Siirt (Turkey) the southeastern region, also known as northern Kurdistan. Started painting in 2000 at High School of Fine Arts in Diyarbakir. Despite a childhood fraught by all manner of external hardships, I got the chance to study at a fine arts high school in Diyarbakır (the regional capital), after which I came to İstanbul to continue my studies, finally graduating from Mimar Sinan University in 2010 with a degree in Turkish Traditional Arts.
In his exploration as an Ebru artist, Ay revives the traditonal Islamic art form with a contemporary touch, and has been invited to hold numerous exhibitions, workshops and seminars around the world, from his native Turkey and the Persian Gulf regions to Scandinavia, Russia, Singapore and the USA. He has also taken part in various filming and performing projects worldwide. Ay lives and work in Istanbul. (Website-Blogspot)
In a recent Interview, we sat down with Garip AY and he shared some insights into his fine artistry along with some history of Ebru.
Thank you for this interview. I’m sure many readers are unfamiliar with ebru as an art form. What is ebru?
Ebru is a very old artistic tradition originating in Central Asia. The word ‘ebru’ is related to the Persian word for ‘cloud’; in İran it is sometimes referred to as ‘cloud and wind paper’. If you have a chance to observe the process and see the traditional forms, it is quite easy to understand how it got this name.
In general, ebru is the process of applying natural pigments to the surface of water (thickened through the addition of, traditionally, tragacanth gum, though today we often use carrageenan instead), and then manipulating these pigments to form patterns or images (just imagine the designs your barista might make on a cappuccino, for instance) which can then be transferred directly onto a piece of paper. Historically such paper was used in bookbinding and as ornamental framing for other, more important arts (calligraphy, miniature painting, etc.). In fact, this art form has long been known in Europe, where it is known as marbling, Turkish paper, or Venetian paper (the Venetians, those masters of the Mediterranean for a time, learned this art from the Ottomans and made it their own. Today you can still go to Venice and find marbling shops).
The physics of ebru
Since pigments applied to the surface of normal water would spread and become unmanageable, the water must be thickened to the proper viscosity so that the paint can be moved in a controlled way upon the surface. The pigments, on the other hand, must contain the proper ratio of a surfactant (normally ox gall is used for this) to keep the paint afloat and to control or enhance its spreading upon the water’s surface. The surfactant also allows the paint on the water’s surface to be transferred easily onto a solid surface such as paper, silk, wood, etc.
On van Gogh and ebru
Despite the vast cultural and technical differences, I have always thought that van Gogh’s way of painting fit perfectly with the way I envision ebru’s potential. Both of these – that master and this technique – share a similar kind of magic, I feel. Interpreting van Gogh is, for me, just a way of bringing him and his genius alive in a new way for the world. I dream of approaching M.C. Escher with the same attitude. You might never think of mentioning his work and ebru art in the same breath, but for me there is a kinship there as well, a shared magical impulse which I would like to demonstrate to the world. Apart from that, I simply continue in my day-to-day business and do my best to keep my studio in order.
Could you tell me how Ebru became the medium and primary art form for you?
I have been fascinated with creating art since I was a child. I had a very vivid imagination, and tried to capture all the images I saw both inside and outside myself. I attended a fine arts high school in Diyarbakır (the southeastern regional capital) and then came to İstanbul both to further my European-style painting technique and to study traditional Turkish arts.
What inspired you to start making paintings on watered surfaces and what inspires your art work?
While studying traditional Turkish arts at Mimar Sinan University in İstanbul, I was deeply impressed by the magical quality of Ebru, so I spent many years improving my technique and exploring the innovative potential in this traditional form.
I have long felt that there is some intimate connection between van Gogh’s impulse and this particular form of expression. Though it is hard to give a general answer, I can say that it is certain great artists like van Gogh and M.C. Escher who have inspired my overall approach to making art, perhaps precisely because I feel some kind of artistic kinship with them.
How long does each piece take? Can you tell me in detail about the process from start to finish of creating one painting? What tools do you use?
It really depends. Some of the more traditional figures can be executed in just a few minutes, whereas some take days of forethought and practice before I am satisfied with the result. In broad strokes the process is like this: first I have a basin full of water which has been thickened through the addition of, say, carrageenan. This viscous liquid can then support the paints which I apply to the surface of the water by either letting paint droplets fall from a brush which I shake over the water, or applying them directly with a kind of thin metal rod. I use this same rod to manipulate the paint droplets and thus create my pieces.
Does painting make you feel more relaxed, challenged, etc.? What effect does making art have on you?
All of the above! Of course I love to make art, but sometimes I get caught up in a kind of creative frenzy and wind up terrorizing myself as well as my dear co-workers! Not every project is equally energizing, but when I have the chance to do something really innovative and exciting – this is what I really live for.
Which piece is your favorite and why?
Quite possibly, it would be my interpretation of Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Wing of a Blue Roller’, painted conventionally over a special kind of marbled paper. It captures on the one hand an image of death – a bird’s severed wing – but at the same time is so vivid, so alive.
What is your biggest accomplishment in terms of your work?
It is an ongoing accomplishment, namely, the involvement of various media which one normally does not associate with this art form, but more specifically I would say that the use of video has changed my approach to this work the most, for the moment, at least.
What challenges have you faced with your art?
This particular art form always presents me with challenges because of its inherent limitations; I feel that it is my job to constantly find a way to transcend these limits.
What’s the best part about the art you make? What’s the worst part?
The best part is finishing a job. The worst part is the agonizing process of creating it! Actually, the greatest thing is working with organized people on a fun and creative project, as was the case when I worked for 45 Degrees (Cirque du Soleil’s special events branch). The worst thing is, at this point, struggling to make ends meet. That’s the hard truth about living as an artist.
What have you learned from creating these drawings?
As the scope of my work expands, I learn more and more about working with people. I am something of a loner by nature, and so I still have a lot to learn in this regard!
What do you hope for the future of your work?
I hope it continues to expand into different media – film, animation, for example. And as always, I hope it can reach and move people around the world with its magic. More specifically, I want to do more to pay homage to the great artists who have inspired me and whose vision I feel I understand, just as I have done with my recent tribute to van Gogh.
Garip AY is a Turkish Ebru artist. In his exploration, Ay revives the traditonal Islamic art form with a contemporary touch, and has been invited to hold numerous exhibitions, workshops and seminars around the world, from his native Turkey and the Persian Gulf regions to Scandinavia, Russia, Singapore and the USA. He has also taken part in various filming and performing projects worldwide. Ay lives and work in Istanbul.