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Meet the Artist: Samuray Akarvardar

When would you say you actually began to identify as an artist, and what prompted that?  

I was born and raised in Istanbul. Life in Istanbul is about tight family ties, good food, cultural values, deep history, maddening traffic and limited economic opportunities. I started taking art classes at an early age. But I accepted that learning art was just a romantic escape from my busy life and being an artist was something I could not consider in the future. In my late 20s, I started traveling to Europe for my career as an engineer/researcher. During those travels, I spent hours at the art museums. Finally, I’ve realized I was a happier person when I was around art. But it took many more years for me to settle into a life as an artist. 

A drawing by Akarvardar when she was fifteen years old 

What inspires your art?  

People inspire me. And their stories. And their emotions surrounding their stories. I follow the news. I am interested in archeology and history especially of Ancient Anatolia. I also like to read fiction about the human condition and people’s experiences. Doris Lessing, V.S. Naipaul, J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, Virginia Wolfe and David Sedaris are a few of my favorite writers. A blend of these curiosities and interests helps me build my own visual world.  But this world is poetic and has an abstract nature.

 Self portrait, 2010, mixed media on paper, 12x14.5 inches

Have historical artists influenced your style? What intrigued you about them, and/or what did you learn from them? 

When I was a kid, we would have summer vacations on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. We’d drive through the country roads and see the ruins of the Greek, Roman and various Anatolian civilizations. I’d go to The Istanbul Archeology Museum in my teenage years. As an artist, this interest has been transformed into a search for my identity as a Mediterranean. And I still draw from the ancient sculptures and figurines. 

During my late 30s, I was into reading artist biographies. This was the time I was struggling to decide what to do with my life. And I still do read artist biographies. In such books, I find fascinating details about artists’ lives, like their childhood, their studio rituals, their poverty, their lovers, so on. But one thing is always common in those lives, that is their determination to continue to be an artist. 

There are many artists who speak to me on various technical and personal levels. Michelangelo, El Greco, Holbein, Vermeer, Goya, Manet, Cezanne, Arp, Picasso, Giacometti, De Kooning, Rauschenberg, Nevelson, (Francis) Bacon, Christo and Avedon, are some of the names that come to my mind first.

And there are some contemporary artists I try to follow such as Kentridge, Do Ho Suh, (Jennifer) Packer, (Ronnie) Horn, (Ellen) Gallagher and (Michael) Armitage.

Study from a Greek sculpture (550 BCE), 2024, mixed media on paper, 12x16 inches

 Which media do you use currently? What can you tell us about the opportunities or challenges for your medium/media?  

I could never give up working with black ink. In the beginning, I used it only for sketching and drawing. I liked its simplicity and its transition from transparency to opaque. I liked to take the challenge of creating depth with limited tones. It also allowed me to focus on the structural elements in a painting rather than colors. I was aware that paper was a vulnerable material. But it was my connection to the print media. I could draw and paint at the table, like a writer. 

Then I started wondering if such works on paper in B&W could show an artistic quality as much as a colorful painting. I was convinced when one day I saw Marlene Dumas’ series of ink portraits and William Kentridge’s charcoal works which looked like story boards. Since then, I have been taking ink medium more seriously. In later years, I started making collages with my ink drawings and introduced pastel or acrylic medium to my paintings. But I still start every painting with a big drop of ink on the paper. I believe working with these simple methods pushes me to be more resourceful and creative. 

Lockdown 3, 2020, Mixed media on Kraft paper, 9x12 inches

What parts of your creative process are routine or more regimented or ritualized, and which parts are more  spontaneous/intuitive?  

I start a new series of works by drawing. Although starting with drawing a figure looks like a routine action, it is quite observational for me. Because at this stage I try to make sense of the mood, structure, movement and the abstract qualities of the form. Then I come up with a process or a material that triggers some level of abstraction. This process, which is spontaneous and intuitive at the same time, helps me find an alternative meaning in the same image. At this point, I allow everything to become something else and surprise me. The rest is what I call “the problem-solving” stage. It means wrapping up all my observations and experiments to finish the work.

Broken painting 4, 2022, Mixed media on paper, 18x24 inches

What criteria do you use to define “good” art?

Every good artwork is created with a certain level of technical capacity and sophistication. A good artist knows the line quality, concept of depth or the composition. Also, it is important that the artist should know where she/he stands in the context of art history.  This helps the artist be aware of the difference between inspiration and copying and is a hint of how sincere the artist is. But what I really look for in artwork is harmony. This happens when all the pictorial elements come together seamlessly and create a magical outcome. 

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