Senem Oezdogan Interview - The Hopper Prize

Senem Oezdogan

Oezdogan on using art as a place for focus, working around challenges, utilizing content and emotion & a process that incorporates a high level of previsualization.

How did you get into making art?
I have always enjoyed drawing and experimenting with materials. I attended a school where a large part of the curriculum included arts and crafts. We would draw and do woodworking on a regular basis. In a way, it became second nature, something we could do pretty much anywhere with friends or alone. For me, art was and still is a place I can go to and fully focus on. I can deal with things that interest me and I’m free to create and explore. Whenever I hit a wall in my work, I enjoy trying to figure out an alternative way to work around problems. A good example is my fiber work. I wanted to make wall-based fiber art that could be created without having to use a loom. I was looking for ways to approach the pieces more like paintings with the freedom to work from all sides. I started to experiment with paper. After a while, I wanted to go up in scale and needed more durable materials. That’s when I incorporated wood and rope and started building my own tools. This approach also applies to my gradient paintings. I wanted to be able to create the gradient transitions with acrylics. It’s a quick-drying paint and trying to adjust to the speed of the medium and learning new painting techniques was an incredibly rewarding process. I think that traditional techniques and tools have the tendency to take you down a path that can quickly lead to predictable results. I wanted to free myself from what was already done and use a non-traditional approach to create smooth transitions with brushed acrylics instead of oil or spray paint.

What are you currently working on?
In my most recent works, I started to explore new spatial relationships and expanded the formal vocabulary by adding curvilinear elements. The curve raised a whole new set of questions and ideas I wanted to investigate. The work shifted from being about structure and form to being about content and emotion. In a way, it humanized the geometric work by turning shape into form, form into volume and volume into emotion. It also made me rethink the way I had worked with composition in the past. These new arrangements and forms interact in a way with each other that resemble something very familiar. The new components create an anthropomorphic and biomorphic system of relationships that refer to the human body and nature as well as architecture. The reference to architecture is interesting in the sense that it refers to the process of construction and deconstruction: Elements get taken apart and new ones are assembled, while others have a supporting function. There is a sculptural element to this work I really enjoy – like stand-alone objects, these forms occupy the viewer’s space and seem to continue beyond the canvas.

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
I became fascinated with human perception and vision. How do I create a three-dimensional reality on a flat surface? How can I turn paint into light? How do I capture that transition, the moment when darkness and light start to fade? The exploration of light and dark contrasts and their impact on the viewer’s perception have become important aspects of my work. I’m a huge admirer of Caravaggio and Renaissance painting in general. The mastery of chiaroscuro – the creation of drama, mood, and atmosphere with the use of light and dark contrast in his work has always fascinated me. I am interested in the visualization of form and depth by opposing dark and light colors and playing with perception by placing space into the painting. The appearance of waves of color moving across the surface generates the illusion of movement and depth. Composed of geometric shapes, using convex and concave elements, the work creates an optical effect and makes the viewer an active part by not just seeing but experiencing the painting. Playing with the juxtaposition of what the mind knows and the eye sees has always fascinated me and it’s something I try to convey through my work.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
A little bit of both. I enjoy working in series and observing and experimenting over longer periods of time. Some pieces are like a one-way street – you follow it and they reach an end. With others it just keeps going – they raise new questions and each new exploration creates a different response. Once I finish a piece it serves as a stepping-stone for the next one. I found that questions about the subject matter are raised and answered through the process of creation. Each drawing and painting is an opportunity to open a new door and go down a different path. My work is process-based and being receptive and curious helps to push the work forward.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I usually start working early in the morning and structure my day depending on what I’m currently working on. I try to dedicate a little bit of time to prep work every day as this takes up a lot of my studio time. Procrastination can be a friend and also a foe: Sometimes it takes me a while to actually put the brush on the canvas. When looking at the paintings the colors seem to move across the surface in a fluid and seamless way. This stands in extreme contrast to the actual process of creating this work, one similar to the act of action painting and its physicality. Most of the time I really only have one shot to get it right before the paint starts caking up. I try to walk through all the steps before touching the canvas – meaning I stare at the canvas and wait for the right moment. It’s a constant back and forth between success and failure and some studio days are better than others. I love the element of unpredictability that comes with this work.

For me, art was and still is a place I can go to and fully focus on.

Senem Oezdogan

Who are your favorite artists?
I am inspired by artists from various fields. Writers and poets such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Theodor Fontane. Choreographer Martha Graham. Architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen and Frank Lloyd Wright. Painters such as Caravaggio, Ray Parker, Mary Corse as well as other members of the Space and Light Movement.

Where do you go to discover new artists?
I enjoy going to openings and connecting with people – mostly I get introduced to new artists through other artists or friends. Social media can be a bit overwhelming at times, but I’ve come across works of very talented people and connected with some of them in real life.

Senem Oezdogan is an artist based in Brooklyn. She was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist:

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