Wooden ploughs; colorful nature scenes; peasants; women, children and men of Anatolia; workers; migrants; lovers -- paintings reflecting the many aspects of Anatolian culture.
İbrahim Balaban, an artist who has dedicated a lifetime to art, is now sharing his paintings with art lovers in İstanbul.
The exhibition “Başlangıcından Günümüze İbrahim Balaban” (İbrahim Balaban From the Beginning to the Present) includes about 50 of Balaban’s works dating from the 1950s to his paintings from 2010, and will be on display until Jan. 20 at the Modernist art gallery in İstanbul’s Teşvikiye quarter.
“I am an artist of Turkey, of Turkish society,” is how Balaban described himself in an interview with Today’s Zaman. “I am an artist painting scenes of people from within Turkish daily life. Why scenes of people? Because I’ve always observed the lives and the lifestyles of people and placed these observations in my memory, and then conveyed the observations in my memories to paper, to compositions and then to canvas. I’ve been making paintings of Turkey for years by conveying these observations; I’ve been doing this since 1950.”
The 90-year-old artist continues working unceasingly. And he does this based on his own ideological foundations that he established for himself throughout the years of his artistic life. “I made all my paintings on the foundation of my main philosophy,” said Balaban. “I wrote a manifesto on which all my paintings depend and are constructed. According to this manifesto, ‘art is the projection of life.’ Then, ‘subject is the substance and every substance creates its own destiny.’ And I don’t depict human beings in centimetric measures but with dialectic methods.”
So in this respect, Balaban portrayed and depicted the daily lives, in particular, of the peasants and people of Anatolia. For Balaban, the starting point of civilization in Anatolia is strictly related to the first usage of the wooden plough. “When I first began to make paintings, I realized that I was depicting wooden ploughs and cattle along with the farmers,” said Balaban. “Because it was that wooden plough that gave birth to us, gave birth to everything thousands of years ago. My grandfathers, the grandfathers of my grandfathers and their grandfathers, they all used this wooden plough.”
“But of course, it’s not the wooden plough that I made,” continued Balaban, “I depicted the joy of children, the legends of lovers like Kerem and Aslı and the stories of sacred people like Ali, Hallacı Mansur, Pir Sultan Abdal, Houssein and Hasan. And then I depicted ‘mothers of abundance’: those women working on the farms, making bread, kneading dough. Finally, most recently, I made paintings about the Turkish War of Independence. But we can in brief say that the paintings of Balaban actually started with the wooden plough.”
Balaban and Nazım Hikmet
Balaban is also known for his close friendship with poet Nazım Hikmet. Serving time in the same prison as Hikmet during the 1940s, Balaban was greatly influenced by Hikmet, who helped him form his own ideas in the fields of philosophy, sociology and politics as well as his trademark style in painting.
Balaban served two three-year terms at Bursa Prison, first from 1942 to 1944 and later from 1947 to 1950. He was first sentenced to three years in prison for growing cannabis, and three years later for murdering one of his former fellow inmates, who harassed him during his wedding. Hikmet also spent around 10 years in the same prison, but mainly for his poetry’s political content.
However, unlike popular belief, it was not Hikmet himself who actually taught Balaban how to paint -- even though it was fortunate that he met him.
“Nazım Hikmet did not teach me how to paint,” explained Balaban. His relationship with Hikmet would last for many years after prison. “I met Hikmet while I was trying to establish myself as an artist. We were in the same prison, and I saw him painting. I tried to approach him for some time, and then one day I told him that I wanted to paint as well. He liked the idea, and he gave me some of his paints and brushes. Then I did my own portrait looking in the mirror. Nazım liked it so much that he gave all his paint and brushes to me. He talked about me in his letter to Kemal Tahir. He says ‘I discovered a Yunus Emre of painting’ about me in that letter. ‘I admire very much my peasant, so to say, my İbrahim Balaban,’ he also said.”