January, 2012
Elio Montanari / Knots

A dialogue on Hale Işık’s art of painting


In a random way, as it is convenient to the dialogic form, some notions are pointed out here in a not always consequential way. It may happen that behind the written pages one gets the impression of witnessing synchronic monologues with spacing, interval, distance, separation. It is nothing but the designation of a deeper understanding which emerges along the way.

E.M. Let us start by saying that our dialogue moves from the painted picture as a ‘significant practice’, that is, from the image or from the figure which places itself in the order of language at the level of the significant, so to say, as metaphor or as rhetorical figure, and will develop itself around that term.

H.I. Sure.

E.M. It is evident, beyond doubt, that painting is a thought we can see, Simonide said that a painting is a silent poem. That is why we are using the term ‘significant practice’ which I would like to discuss with you. Excuse me if I am pedantic, recalling that the XIXth century was the first to see the relation word/figure. The use of writing and the use of pictorial material produce an intersection which becomes a topos for literature as well as for the art critic. So the ontological status of painted figures is that of a sort of writing because it was meant to be ‘read’ by the people who were not able to read. A sort of hieroglyph, if you allow me to use this image in this context.

H.I. In fact, the expression, ‘hieroglyph’, a matter of being ‘read or readable’, the language of painting, stems from archaic instinct… Actually, it is a kind of ‘writing prior to writing’. It is a kind of situation of ‘inventing a language’ deriving from the very nature of a human being… And it is very interesting that in the tradition of oral literature of the Anatolian people, the word meaning inscribed stone, is still used today instead of the word for cave painting as a description . Perhaps even today the situation of ‘reading’ painting like a ‘hieroglyph’ is still ongoing in daily life, being an instinctive and ancient knowledge… And seeing picture as picture, just ‘that’, is indeed something to be learned… That attempt is a new part of the intellectual or spiritual field of the man of the new world.

E.M. So we can say that the paintings operate as autonomous discourse, not only as discursive techniques different from writing. In the actual state of your painted paintings, within the space of your paintings, there is indeed an overtaking of the significant plane in favour of the expressive one. In fact, one pays more attention to the way you represent than to the ‘represented’ and not only because our time is the time in which the signifier is more important than the signified. In your paintings the figures are hardly seen, they are fading away, or they look so. Anyway they are not meant to be read. Looking at your work I learn how to see. The semiologists do not say that a painting can be ‘read’, but instead a painting can be seen, like Klee, who says that a painting shows what ‘to see’ means. When a painting shows us how to see, it cancels the distance between what it is seen and the one who sees. The artistic practice is the powerful expression of a sublime idea or of personal experience which, even if it is not sublime, certainly is unique, but expressed in a sublime way.

H.I. Yes… Painting is a language of its own, having its own subjectivity. As you said, this is a very crucial point… Because this new point of view is completely changing the human being’s relationship with painting and the mode of seeing it. It transforms painting from being something ‘readable or telling a story’, into a structure touching the physical and neural senses of the human being, an independent character responsible only for itself… This is an important transformation. Otherwise, painting works as a kind of ‘translation’ or equivalence of a language in another language… We are talking about evolution of the human mind…

E.M. Excuse me if I am interrupting you, I need to tell you, right away, that thinking of you in the act of painting brought to my mind the image of the seismograph.

H.I. Elio, this is an interesting and important metaphor for me… I also consider the practice of painting as a seismograph from time to time. I suppose the relationship between painting and the physical world can be explained by a metaphor like that… And also it is important for me that the seismograph is a kind of ‘recording device’. A body/mechanism that testifies-listens-records.

E.M. I imagined your body with the brush in your hand, of its physical boundaries enlarged by the tool. Our body enlarges its boundaries until it includes the tool, which becomes a prosthesis able to extend the perception to its extremities. Think of a blind man exploring space with his stick. Our body with a tool-machine widens its own boundaries, extends itself, becomes a machine, a machine of experience, in our case a seismograph. Your body becomes a seismograph which registers the submovements rising from the underground of yourself.

H.I. I can say that the practice of painting is definitely like that.

E.M. …so your canvas is not any longer a surface for the representation of an object sighted from a distance, it becomes a screen on which you project your impressions of a material reality received by your soul like an imprint. It is a visual event ( truth?) projected on the pictorial screen.

H.I. The ‘screen’ creates a scene showing the inner self of both: of the painter and of the one who watches. Actually, for me, the screen is not only the object in front of the painter and the viewer, but also, at the same time, it stays inside. The ‘screen’, bringing up the idea of mirroring the individual underground, creates an emotion, very profound and very difficult to tell. It is an ‘uncanny’ place that I know very well: Immediately after ‘screen’, ‘image’, ‘seeming thing’, ‘phantasma’ , and ‘appearance’ come to my mind… An infinite collision with the world of images…

E.M. The most spontaneous way to deal with the perceptive space is as the writing that is abstract. Now consider the traces made by you as a seismograph. It is a code which communicates with colours, lines, and values or gestures. As we said earlier the figure, or better, the ratio figure/background or figure/support is fading away, erasing the difference. Somehow you are deconstructing the figure while you attend to constructing something else. It is the emerging of another figure evoked by the gesture of your body.

It is subjective, if not subject itself, since it is not a view but a vision. Think of it. The view possesses depth while the vision develops itself on the surfaces of a plane. It is ‘flat’. What is the figure which emerges if not the image of the generative process of the object, and here the object is the secret of the being that is designated by the gesture.

H.I. Yes, it is flat, indeed. I cannot say it better…

E.M. You do not have to say it better because you are doing it. I try to understand what you do. You are working in order to exhume the traditional language of the art of painting and reconstructing the knowledge which made artistic activity great over centuries. Here, then, the everlasting struggle between Ego and work takes place.

H.I. A struggle that needs to be enduring… Yes.

E.M. The pictorial material is articulated with desire and aspiration. It is its own expression. Here the desire and aspiration operate. The reminiscence of the abolished figure is kept within the ‘sensation’ and preserved through the register of ‘affection’. It becomes an object of affection. It is an operation of transposition, a movement, which happens just through the simplicity of a sentiment, just like the one of affection. When the painting becomes thing it is not to copy or to interpret the world, a thing itself, but to make visible the invisible. The picture takes the form of what it speaks of.

H.I. While working on the painting, the body of the painting grows by the forming of its own generative process.

E.M. Now it is a little clearer the fact that it is not a ‘significant practice’ anymore in the sense we used earlier, that is, within the order of linguistic practice. We are located in another plane of significancy. It deals with the expression of what stays unchanged: the gesture. The personal gesture is never an imitation of appearances in its continous becoming, but the expression of what within the appearance cannot be altered.

H.I. At present, within the period we are currently traversing, a new view or image appears to human perception… The Nature we experienced was a different kind of Nature… The conditions introduced by modernism constitute an image of savagery in their own unique way. The knots and the chaos of the world, which we can also see in Nature, are those of the human soul.

E.M. In any case, within the space of your screen you do not interpret the physical world, the clear world of things. The physical dimension of the canvas is no longer a window or the result of the intersection of the optic cone with a vertical plane in order to re-construct the depth of the space on a bidimensional plane. I think of the geometric device set up during the Renaissance and active until Braque, passing through Cezanne, with their deconstruction of such a spatial statement, but which is still present by virtue of the game of dialectic opposition. In your painting there is no inside, neither outside. It is important to say it. It is ‘flat’. Yes, it is flat, because the visual field needs to be adjusted since the perceptive space tends to be flattened and forces the eye to wander on the surface of the pictorial screen where every depth is bounded. The visual field becomes deconstructed while the screen becomes skin. Excuse the word game.

H.I. Yes, here, screen becomes skin…’Screen’ a sense organ, is touching directly the nervous system...

E.M. The figure is about to disappear then together with its meaning. In other terms the figure evoked by the gesture is not the re-doubling of the sensible world, on the contrary, there is the split into two parts of the sensible into the felt.

H.I. When I working on these paintings, from time to time, I feel like someone who is turning up the soil… Painting changes my perception. The distance between the canvas and myself is removed. Then, more than replicating the world’s appearances, the body-field of the paint is occurring.

E.M. Let us go back for a moment to the surface of the screen, which is rather the support of the echo from underground, from the depth of your own self, projected on the scene of a screen where every figure appears deconstructed, every trace of it, on the way to obliteration -which doesn’t mean erased- and where there isn’t any interior nor exterior, nor geometric construction of space. It seems that the pictorial support is crossed by an abstract, lyrical current which stages a deconstructive activity.

H.I. In fact, what I do while I am changing the indicators of the physical world is to reconstruct them. Maybe you strongly confirm this, since you have witnessed the moments when I deconstructed the form and transformed it. In my painting deconstruction is the method that I have resorted to in order to reconstruct form. In recent years, as I make use of resources hidden within the physical world, it becomes of prime importance for me. As a matter of fact, quoting sensation has never been the main point. What is seen in this painting is the interpretation of elements such as our strength, our cowardice, our sensitiveness. Here, certainly the form or the necessity of form comes into sight. This is the transformation of the sensation. In this painting, what I am trying to do is to transform this view into pure figural understanding. I think the objects and figures in it have a special spiritual voice and to realize this voice is an important matter in art. I am trying to find pure pictorial forms that have the voices of the physical and spiritual world. For that point of equilibrium, deconstruction and reconstruction have become important, I work by erasing, covering and reconstructing.

E.M. Now, how does your understanding of Nature come out in your paintings?

H.I. The unconscious, the original repression, that triggers activity is very dominant at the beginning. Recently, the paintings that I have worked on came out as a result of the exposure to many things in the actual world. I felt I was lost in a forest, living on the island for four years, producing paintings. Now here, I have seen the legalized violence hidden in everyday life. If life is there, so violence is there. I have desired to give form in my painting to the physical forces that I have felt. I took long walks in order to replace accustomed images with untamed ones. Indeed, I went to the forest in order to do painting by gathering untamed images in my mind. In the open space, I was really terrified when I was in the deep forest and saw roots like knots on the earth. Maybe that fear was the fear of primordial man lost in nature. It was really a physical feeling, with dizziness and deep fear. The similarity between everyday life and Nature enhanced this feeling. So instead of transforming the real word into painted images, it came out as the transformation of its own forces. These were physical forces and things that changed the figure in art. In return, I had to find an intermediate area where inner and external reality are intertwined. I have tried to form a sensation of intermediate areas and intermediate time, ‘intermediate worlds, seeable only by children, the mad and the primitive.’

E.M. Now that through your own paintings we glanced at the general work of art as a product and, even if briefly, we took into consideration the behaviors, essentially technical, which allow the artist to create a ‘piece’, I guess we should enter the field of the endlessly variable relations connecting the art work to the environment in which it originates. Let me mention some lines of a possible investigation, just to facilitate another dialogue with you.

First, within the tradition of the West, it is inconceivable for a work of art to be out of the historical development of society, since it is evident that the space of representation belongs to the historical process of the transformation of culture and it is evident that the forms that figurative art assumes are the result of the consecutive phases of that historical process.

Second, it is also inconceivable to create a work of art, or a family of works, independently of the relation which links the author to a certain group of witnesses, so to say, to whom his work is bound.

Third, a work of art away from the notion of exchange as defined by the dynamic of fruition, that is, without considering the unavoidable transformation which a determined artistic production creates in the one who is experiencing the fruition itself, is inconceivable. The deponent latin verb fruor means ‘to possess something’ at the same time as ‘being possessed by something’. Reflexive form and active meaning.

H.I. I would like indeed to have a dialogue with you again on these matters…


Within the writing of the text one may perceive the presence of G.Stein, P. Francastel, E. Severino, J.F.Lyotard, W.Benjamin, M.Blanchot, A. Artaud, among others. With them we would like to thank Selhan and Clifford Endres, Umut Adan and Bengi Günay.