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Feminine Abstract Expressionism

Güncelleme tarihi: 26 Kas 2021

Turkish Painter İmren İyem Explains the Benefits of Painting on Noman’s Lands, and Why Nothing Is More Abstract Than Nature

We caught up with the artist at her Ankara Studio ii.

Damla Sevil, November 11, 2021


For İmren İyem, being close with nature is key. Even her Ankara studio ii is located right by a garden along the shadows of beautiful trees so she can balance the city chaos, listen to birds and enacting a peaceful position to keep in tune with nature’s changing colors.

İyem moved to Ankara in 1980, leaving her native Diyarbakır to study art. During those turbulent years freedom has been her basis for using art to imagine a planet liberated of labor slavery and coercion. Her latest series of work brings back to post-modern life the discarded aestetics of poesie and adds a new element between the chaos of the primal state and the perfect world.

İmren honors her commitment to painting as subject and practice. Her paintings aquarells and paperworks create an energetic spirituality colored by a mix of Eastern and Western culture, music, poetry, and mythology. Thus the return to the verisimilitude of the landscape motif cannot be discounted as a mere reactionary rejection to male dominant national art scene. Popular art movements, such as abstract expressionism have lots of female practitioners, yet surely this is less so in the country she is living.

To create the recent works in her latest solo exhibition, “NoMan’s Land” now on view at Artnet Gallery and in the Gallery Art Management Luxembourg, she placed her supports flat on the floor and poured water mixed with pure pigment onto canvas, before meditatively working on her dessins, as if making it part of her own body.

I believe that one must anchor these works within a well-defined historical perspective: that of the class and gender-wars and its aftermath. Without doubt, she is shaping Turkey, those vast lands, it is her motherland. What I like most is the way she managed to have the feminine vibe in a positive manner in her abstract works; many of her recent landscapes look strikingly non-retrograde, non-biased, and non-polarizing: the very modern parameters at the outset of post-modern era questioning:

" What do they tell us, these witnesses of the ages?"

I spoke to the artist about connecting with nature, the joys of abstraction, and what taking long walks along the beautiful garden can do for her practice.

What are the things you love most in your studio and why?

Alongside the birds, I love to listen to music while painting. Yet the most indispensable items are in Studio ii library. My books are very important and they are scattered on the grand table of the studio. I am always diving in and out of them whenever I feel tired throughout the day. Sometimes I enjoy a glass of wine but recently it is a particular birdsong outside of my studio that has captivated me. There are a lot of trees around my studio and many bird species visit during the day, especially in spring. Since my childhood I always found the sound of the nature inspiring, as it always reminds me of peace.

İmren İyem. ©Studio ii, courtesy Damla SEVİL.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

I admire when color and form unites the spiritual will and despise industrial reality.

İmren İyem. Noman's Land - Riders of Lost Paths No 289 ©Studio ii, courtesy Damla SEVİL.

What snack food could your studio not function without?

I love the cheese from the East, from Kars and always keep a some in the fridge.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

The first names that come to mind in Abstract Expressionism—Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and the like—may all be men, but women artists also played a crucial role in the internationally-renown movement such as Aliye Berger, Semiha Berksoy or Fahrelnissa Zeid, and Elisa Pante Zonaro to name a few. Therefore I think it is evident that today I am easily inspired by young female talents such as Deniz Artun, who currently curates "I-You-They: A Century of Artist Women" featuring a selection of works by artist women who lived and worked in Turkey between roughly the 1850s and the 1950s. This exhibition not only recognizes each woman, most of whom could not realize themselves and therefore were overlooked and neglected by art history, but also searches for the grounds for making a collective “we”. Similarly, my passion for Studio ii is to add some flavour to this mix as an art creative place, based out of Ankara, Turkey, that meets a need and desire to highlight and connect art lovers, especially women in pursuit of natural beauty and transcendent inspiration. To be up to date, at the moment I am following the forums on Artfinder or exchange ideas with the curators of The Artling.

I am also currently reading writers who work with the preservation of the nature such as Elise Hugus, (Finding answers in the ocean: in times of uncertainty, the deep sea provides solutions) and Carlos M. Duarte and others, (Rebuilding marine life, Nature) to expand my understanding of the sea and the ocean.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

I go for a long walk along the garden nearby and watch people passing contemplating the natural light.

What is the last exhibition you saw that made an impression on you?

I made a tour of abstraction and calligraphy at Istanbul Sakıp Sabancı Museum and found the relationship between modernity and nostalgia, words and marks and images both fascinating and inspiring.

If you had to put together a cocktail for joy, what would be on it right now?

My paintings are the recognition that our true nature – the essential experience of ‘being aware’ or Awareness itself – does not share the limits or destiny of a particular body or culture. In my work I aim at the serenity of the countryside of my youth. Trees seen sometimes for example dance in shifting light and seasons, the forest rises as—if not a shining, nevertheless soothing—beacon of hope. Every piece in the series NoMan's Land has some connection to the places and people I admired during those tranquil years living in the countryside. This understanding is then gradually integrated into every part of the canvas and my daily life. This is what I call joy.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right


During the pandemic I spent more time than ever in the studio and this made a huge impact on my like I guess on everybody’s lives in lockdown, and my priorities have shifted. My mood board is a big library like a large window to look for the human and the wildlife beyond where there are no limits for abstraction.

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