A Cartography of the Unconscious

Hans Irrek

»I was very interested in how breaking through the surface creates repercussions in terms of what else is imposed upon a cut. That’s a simple idea, and it comes out in some line drawings that I‘d been doing.«
Gordon Matta-Clark

The time span in which Ahmet Oran deals with image mechanisms of the objective world is, as measured by his substantial body of work, a short duration. In the research about Oran this chapter is almost comletely erased, as if the abstraction and the painter have always been considered an entity. In fact the objective pictures appear rather infrequently, they form a transition period. A transit opens out into the appealing calligraphic images in which the dissolution of the objective already touts itself.

The valediction, the striking rejection of the visible world, simultaneously brings along a change of tools. The brush as an instrument of painting withdraws more and more from the repertoire of the tool box, as substitute scrapers, pieces of wood, small branches become the alternative. That poses the compelling comparison to the painting of Brice Marden. It recalls: the stunning fragility of his Cold Mountain Studies is a result of a concentrated process in which branches and woodblocks function as a quasi elongated arm of nature. This deliberate disconnection of an indirect contact with the canvas introduces the great freedom of happenstance that shows up in Marden’s calligraphic notations like an ethereal web covering the canvas. While Marden’s pictures almost seem to dissolve under the transient contact with the pigment stream, Oran’s pictures take their energetic flow from the immense richness of the materiality by the added layered colours. One almost wants to speak about the exuberant richness of the colour from which Oran later carries out the ‘opening’ of the picture.

The heavy spatial presence of the pictures does not come from zilch. It was developed in a long process in which the substance of the colour, the sensual experience of the pastose stood in the foreground. There are almost monochrome canvases from the early 21st century which vividly show the handling of volume and texture of colour.

In these almost monochromatic pictures Oran opens the lower part as if one would lift a stage curtain.

In them he opens a fragmented view on an additional plane of projection, existing beyond the surface. Scrutinized like this we can speak of an architectural image composition in which colour and space act seperately and only interact with each other in the spectator’s retina.

Rarely does a statement let us understand a unique mode of operating better than Francis Bacon’s remark: “In my case the entire painting – and the older I become the more it is like this – is happenstance. For in my mind I foresee them, I foresee them and nevertheless I hardly ever accomplish them the way I foresee them.” This also explains the preoccupation to experience the new picture, that is to say, the permanent search for new variations of surface. A lot has been written about the composition of Oran’s images and the approach there of. However, one shouldn’t overlook that they are a physical challenge, even beyond the refined brushstrokes. Correspondingly, we can talk about the massive presence of colour in the picture. It forms a multilayered foundation for a painting that results in physical input and quick reactions. More than anything else, the view inside the artist’s studio reveals an exhausting process that often endures a couple of days and nights. In other words, the parallel working on different canvases is the norm. This result could be Oran’s preference for wall engrossing, half finished works, especially the paratactic time dictated by the drying process on the layers of the painting. We can talk about a slaughter of material that brings to mind Joseph Beuys’ dictum: “every grip has to be accurate”. Without a doubt, a computer generated sketch is a pre-existing copy for the developing image, yet the syncronic decisions, the intermeddlings in the picture stay process-like and hard to predict. During the process the range of various possibilities to intervene is decisive in the end: Oran can use a wide repertoire of intermeddling-capabilities. The seemingly playful handling of, the layered layers, the width and depth of the exposed layers or the overlying structures full of relish, not least results of an experience that also includes the struggle of the previous pictures.

They are the pictures that swindle, have the rootlessness as calculus in their luggage, to pull the viewer into a mazy experience of colour and space. This alone would bear as conceptual framework. But what constitutes this maelstrom into the image? In view of the overwhelming presence of density in terms of coulour, the pictures function as a visual magnetic field that inevitably fascinate the viewer. The excessive beauty of the hatchings, carvings and palett-knife strokes is difficult to impart as a reproduction. First and foremost it is the superimposed picture puzzle, the permanent change of perception between a flat surface and a spatial impression that leaves the viewer without safe underpinning. What also comes into play here is the idea of the beauty of colour which the impressionists already virtuously performed. The intensity of the colours, the glossiness on the edges of the carved streaks, the rich stream in which colours flow into one another, and not in the least the certainty of colour are a primordial potential of painting that is directed to absorb the eye. John Cage’s absorbing study about the history of colour provided the accurate concept of form and consistency of colour. This pleads for an intense engagement with the laws of optics.

In considering Ahmet Oran’s biography, one can see in these pictures a per- manent allegory of Ðstanbul. Its historic layers, its eventful history and the vibrant present only allows a person, who is capable of looking at the structure of time and space of the city as an entity, to contemplate. Like Paris in the early 20th century or New York in the 50's and 60's, Istanbul is an permanent source of lively inspiration full of energetic potential, asking the artist to react. To trace Oran’s pictures one has to include this metropolis. We find these impressions, fixed in the canvas, in other words a ‘frenzied stalemate’ – snapshots in which the impressions find themselves seismographically burnt into the canvas. There is a reason why Oran mostly works late in the evening or at night. This is when the vibrant metro- polis has cooled down and time for the dialogue with the canvas begins.

One can call the gorgeous tableaus which are generated here cartographies of the unconsious. Pictures with an imaginary netting of floating bands and bars, plus hatchings and stripes that run over the diffuse background of the canvas.

We find pictures in which time and motion seem frozen. The collision of reflecting light and vibrating runny colour is dominant. It offers a wonderful experience of looking into an abyss, into a visually unexplored territory. These pictures are synchronously an impressive answer to the pertinaciously recurring myth that the genre of painting would be desiccated. Ahmet Oran’s pictures refute this in a vital way. What one can see in them is an interest in the main problem: to visualize time and space as an entity and to blast open the narrowness of the canvas.

Hans Irrek


Hans Irrek, essayist, studied communication design, art-history, aesthetics and philosophy. Numerous international contributions on classical design, art and 20th century classical design as well architecture and history of fashion design.