The Thinking Man’s Artist: Cover Artist Nurhan Gokturk

The Thinking Man’s Artist: Cover Artist Nurhan Gokturk

by Shauna Grissett, photos by Candra George

“The artistic practice, broadly speaking, is governed by process, meaning the medium defines the message.” — Nurhan Gokturk

MULTIDISCIPLINARY ARTIST and urban designer Nurhan Gokturk was born in Istanbul, Turkey, but immigrated to New York City at the age of 3 and was raised in Brooklyn and Queens. He went on to receive a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Pratt Institute and a master’s degree from Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Multidisciplinary art is “the blending of several disciplines together to form an altogether new field.” Gokturk is a talented artist who is accomplished in many different media, including—but not limited to—drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and architecture. His studio, located in an artist collective of rented studio spaces, displays many of Gokturk’s works and highlights his skill as a multi-faceted artist.

Strewn throughout Gokturk’s work space are numerous sketchbooks, mostly small-to-medium sized and leather bound. The artist says, “I started drawing early, when I was very young.” Sketchbooks are the artist’s best friend, and within his folios are mini-masterpieces, pen-and-ink sketches, watercolors and writings. Gokturk’s sketchpads are visual journals, even diaries, of his artistic studies, observations, travels—the graphic evolution of his craft over years and years. “I carry these sketchbooks by hand or in my backpack wherever I go, whenever I travel.”

Articulate and deliberate with his words, Gokturk talks about his process when working with one of his favorite mediums, watercolors. “I love watercolors, and it’s a medium that I’ll continue to work with, probably, for the balance of my lifetime. It speaks to a wide audience. I start with an ink pen, and after I get the line drawing down, I put paint on top of it.” He mixes his own watercolors in addition to using industrial, pre- made colors. “The paints I make are from pigments, and the colors they produce are pure and very intense. I have red, blue and yellow—the primary colors—and mix all of my colors from those three pigments. What’s so nice about the colors I mix is that they are continually inconsistent, which gives a nice variety.”

There are three narratives in Gokturk’s work, and he explains what drives his creativity: “One is the narrative of the city, which tells a story of New Orleans through place and location. I’m embedded in this community and really love it.” He depicts local restaurants, bars and architecture in pen and ink and watercolor. His paintings give the unique culture of New Orleans an unearthly, gossamer-like quality, hovering somewhere between the tangible and fantastical worlds; recognizable, yet at the same time, ambiguous.

Seasonal botanicals are Gokturk’s second narrative. “I go through the city—whether it’s this city or another one in which I happen to be—and I collect flowers and bring them back to the studio. Then, I draw and paint them. I did a study on the botanical gardens of New Orleans, as well as another series on the Lower Garden District. I find it interesting to do seasonal botanicals that are native to a particular community. It’s because they’re recognizable to that group of people; an inherent acquaintance and intimacy is built-in.”

Gokturk continues: “The third driving theme in my work is abstraction, meaning it’s neither a place nor an object. It’s something that’s a conceptual frame, a thinking or a thought that’s put down on paper. The viewer may not recognize what it is, the viewer may not identify it, but it causes the viewer to think for a moment. They may not want to bring the work into their home, but it may drive home an idea. The piece of art might deal with a social topic, a cultural topic— nothing political. For example, how do we view space, how do we view or visualize language or linguistics or how does pollution impact our day-to-day lives? These are broader social issues that impact our lives.”

To illustrate his point, Gokturk refers to a cyanotype in his studio, one in a series named Disintegration Loops. “A cyanotype is a very old form of photography. Very simply and very abstractly, what you’re looking at—on a very high conceptual level—is the visualization of language through the drawing of text as it becomes illegible. So illegible that you cannot read it. In this piece, I’m attempting

Seasonal botanicals are Gokturk’s second narrative. “I go through the city—whether it’s this city or another one in which I happen to be—and I collect flowers and bring them back to the studio. Then, I draw and paint them. I did a study on the botanical gardens of New Orleans, as well as another series on the Lower Garden District. I find it interesting to do seasonal botanicals that are native to a particular community. It’s because they’re recognizable to that group of people; an inherent acquaintance and intimacy is built-in.”

Gokturk continues: “The third driving theme in my work is abstraction, meaning it’s neither a place nor an object. It’s something that’s a conceptual frame, a thinking or a thought that’s put down on paper. The viewer may not recognize what it is, the viewer may not identify it, but it causes the viewer to think for a moment. They may not want to bring the work into their home, but it may drive home an idea. The piece of art might deal with a social topic, a cultural topic— nothing political. For example, how do we view space, how do we view or visualize language or linguistics or how does pollution impact our day-to-day lives? These are broader social issues that impact our lives.”

To illustrate his point, Gokturk refers to a cyanotype in his studio, one in a series named Disintegration Loops. “A cyanotype is a very old form of photography. Very simply and very abstractly, what you’re looking at—on a very high conceptual level—is the visualization of language through the drawing of text as it becomes illegible. So illegible that you cannot read it. In this piece, I’m attempting to convey the visualization of sound to the reader.”

It is through media that Gokturk expresses his message. He explains, “I express my message or narrative through the media I choose. I can do this in many ways, with different media—with drawings, with physical objects, with montage (collage), with found objects or with photography. For me at least, every form of making, of creating—and I use that term generally—has limitations. You can only go so far with any one media, and that’s when I switch it up and change. Then I go back to process and move from drawing to photography, from photography to physical objects, from physical objects to found objects and then maybe to an object which I have to cast. When I jump from media to media to media, meaning ‘material,’ that’s how I change my narrative or message.”

A striking sculpture made of found objects, Anthology, sits near the entrance of Gokturk’s studio. “This is a record pile made of 1440 vinyl records that are cut and stacked. The idea is that we can visualize music but we can’t play it or access it. It represents 75 years of music and 92,000 hours of playing
time. It’s a way of saying digital music is accessible, indexable, but, somehow, we get lost in digital media because there’s so much of it. If you remember, back in the day, when you had a record set with those wonderful album covers. There was something very beautiful about being able to see them—the tactility of them—and being able to trade and swap them.”

The inspiration behind The Salons, lithographic plates from 1919, is explained by the artist: “The places are real rooms in France that date back to the 1750s. I have cut and manipulated the lithographs and then mounted them on top of watercolors that I painted. So, you have this idea that there is another world happening between these two worlds. One is a real world, 1750s France, and then there is another, this ethereal place. The driving narrative is between France and New Orleans and our mutual histories.”

Gokturk may best be described as the “thinking man’s artist.” Whether a beautiful watercolor of New Orleans or Venice or a more challenging project like Screening, each piece is carefully thought out, and he incorporates layers of meaning into his art—questions about community, time and place. Gokturk’s work integrates seemingly opposing concepts, such as reality versus the imaginary, to compel the viewer to look past the everyday, sparking the mind to think ahead, to ask and to wonder.

For more information on Gokturk’s work, please visit his website, nurhangokturk.com. He is currently curating a group show at THE FRONT in New Orleans titled Air is not Free. Although not currently showing, Gokturk is an artist at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery.