Interview a Volkan Diyaroglu.


Toni Calderón. What role does painting have in an art world dominated by digital technologies?


Volkan Diyaroglu. In the first place, we have to look at ourselves and ask what role do the new digital technologies have in our lives and question what role we ourselves play. Do we have control over our lives? I would answer no. In no aspect of our life do we exercise the control that we should,  and what’s more, at present digital technology dominates us rather than we dominating it. We’re under a dictatorial power and unable to decide the rhythm of our lives, which in a certain sense is absurd.


I would say that we are swept along in a wild, swirling river where each individual is looking for his place, complicated by swimming against the current. I believe that this structure destroys artistic creation from the start. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t accept new developments; on the contrary, we have to accept it with a wide understanding and ability to see what things have in common and what their differences are. No just looking at surface appearances, but digging a bit deeper.


For me, painting is just painting, no more no less, like poetry – it’s that simple. Asking questions is fine, but one also has to be able not to understand and to continue asking. And if I have to talk about the use of the new digital technologies in art, millions of questions are raised in my mind. Why does something painted in a computer with a 3d programme and then printed on a clean and shiny surface, or a photograph have to be any different than a painting? Or why is a painting any different than, for example, a cup o an apple? I think that what we’re left with is that they simply exist. Personally, I think that before looking at any technical questions, we should look at the context. The truth is that never has it been as difficult to be a painter in a society that moves along to the rhythm of what’s in fashion, like postmodern cannibals, and then run quickly to another objective, thereby creating a disorderly circulation of our own individual selves that is very dangerous, seemingly ordered but subordinate to power and the system.


Nonetheless, I think that never has painting, as we ourselves are, been so interesting, immersed in increasingly complex societies. Bit by bit, the new technologies are distancing humans from their own physical being, converting them into an object of consumption. I like and hate painting for the slow rhythm and its relationship with my physical body. I’m more interested in the time I spend while I paint than the finished work ready to be consumed by the spectator, although the finished result also interests me, but to a lesser degree. But who is to say that painting isn’t another new technology? Every day, I invent a new technology in my painting though I don’t tell anyone about it; it’s a secret surprise for myself and for those, who like me, don’t fit into this world. My paintings are there, as I said, like a table that is now before me, quiet and silent, and in the end I think that painting simply has the role of painting, just as we play the role of ourselves at the same time.


T.C. You speak of the relation of painting with the physical. What is more important in your work, the process, the act of painting, or paintings meant to be consumed as objects, or is it possible that you want the element of process to be clearly visible and to become the main element of your work?


V.D. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure which elements is the most important. I think that what I do give importance to is something that I still don’t know, and the day I do discover it will be the day I stop painting. I’m interested in the finished work but that is a product of a process. And this process is closer to myself than is the finished work. Finally, the time that I spend on a canvas is my real or imagined time that passes in my life with its real time and real space. This transition to the final work is what really interests me. But that’s something quite different from the finished work that other people see, but which for me doesn’t exist. Also, the process of a work, after my direct relationship with the painting is over, continues on by itself, away from me, and in life. If I would want to truly finish a work, I would destroy it in some way. In another sense, my visible process isn’t really my process, something that I don’t really understand. This process exists for me alone. What one sees from the outside is totally superficially, or at least I think it is, but at the same time, I’m not especially interested that the process becomes visible.
Speak of painting as object, I don’t know why artists are bothered so much that their art is treated as objects, or why we’re talking only about painting and sculpture as objects in the art world. For me, an installation is also one object more, in some ways decorative and thought of in a three dimensional way, or a video, if it wants to be seen also has to have a certain existence as an object the same as a painting. Even ideas, in order to be explained, have to be objects. Letters have to be written, or leave the mouth and mix with air, and sound in space has a form and that too is an object. Otherwise, it would be enough to think it without explaining it to anyone or to communicate with the outside world.


Today, one can consume anything that exists in the world. To say otherwise is a lie. This is totally outside my way of thinking and my studio. A glass, a sofa can be consumed, and the same thing happens with painting after I spend my time with the work, after the process is over and it continues on without me. I spend more or less eight hours a day working and in the process of this time, I change, I close, I open, I have fun, and I get bored. But all this isn’t in order to have something physical. Otherwise I’d do something more useful. Painting in its existence is absurd. All the work is for myself. Painting is the point at which I touch the exterior world and the world touches my inner world, it ties me to it, and liberates me from it.


T.C. Your take on painting as an object ready to be consumed is interesting. Do you believe that painting has survived precisely because of the demand for its decorative qualities, and that explains its omnipresence in most art fairs although the world of art critics and many artists, outside of gallery structure, clearly go for what is called new media art?


V.D. No, I don’t care if that happens. What I want to say, as I said before, the importance that painting has for me precedes all of this, especially when I’m doing it. Of course, beyond this there’s a world with million of stories, millions of movements, million of businesses, all happening beyond my existence and at times we have to talk about that as well. But I don’t believe that painting is any more decorative than, as you say, new media art, and that at this moment they are decorating institutions, buildings, museums, which belong to the government and they are politicians, and we have to be careful in all of this, because the danger isn’t in that the paintings may be decorative, but that the ideas are decorative. All that we perceive to be new today I believe is just a new way to decorate. Even with current trends, where it’s hung it very important, maybe even more so than the work itself. And now there’s enough biennales and contemporary art museums that I consider very decorative, no less so than galleries, and the most worrying thing is that even ideas tend to be decorative.


I’ve never seen a poorly decorated museum. A painting is a work in itself; it’s the same to me where it’s hung, and it’s an object, but an object to me isn’t just an object. The art critics and artists can think what they want to. For me, communication is chaos that we like to create and nobody understands this very well. The world outside myself will never understand exactly what I want to say or do. Not even I understand it very well.


My work seems new to them, and they accept it – well, to me it’s not something new – I say new but everyone can also be wrong as we’ve seen many times in history. I don’t believe that today the galleries are backing painting, quite the contrary, and as far as art fairs go, I’d rather not talk about them as all is said in its name – they are fairs and, for me, distant from the natural world and time. The fairs are fairs, just as there are car fairs and technology fairs and which are backed by an incredible business structure, but one that doesn’t interest me in the least. People talk about this a lot, I don’t know why. A fair has its moment, a lot of money is paid to exhibit works in it, and that’s important for the gallery and the artist, more important than the work itself. After all the expenses, they want to sell no matter what, and I don’t know why they talk about it so much. I think that in Spain, it’s talked about even more than in other places. So now I want to ask some questions. Isn’t there something strange in all this? Don’t you think that they want painting to surrender to an art form that is direct, political and made to their taste? Don’t you think that painting is a form too individual and complicated to create in such a mechanized world? In a world so controlled economically and psychologically, do they want us to read less, or read more but about trivial matters? And lastly, do you think that there is something that is going well in the world we live in? I believe that art is a reflection of all of this.



T.C. Going on to another theme, Volkan, and looking at your work, which are the important points to your painting so that a person with little experience in art can have some understanding of it?
V.D. Each individual is completely free to think and feel as they wish when contemplating my work, although they never will understand it all, but neither does that doesn’t matter much to me. It may not seem that way, but I think that my paintings move and change in form continuously, they have many different faces, and when you believe you understand something, that’s just when you don’t understand anything. I’m only asking people for a bit of humour, nothing else. Maybe you have to close your eyes in front of my work, and look at it like that.


T.C. Continuing with questions inherent to your work, do you think that your painting is filled with symbolism, with elements that substitute in part concepts or questions beyond what is represented?
V.D. I myself am a spectator and when I look at my paintings, I think that the whole work is a question and there are many questions within my paintings that don’t have answers. Maybe I’m wrong. When there’s an answer, life is over. I believe that when I paint, I’m not painting. What does the act of painting consist of, in the end? I believe that concepts don’t exist in human life, we make them exist, give them form and a name, we attach the concept with a label and we give them a force, but at the same time we take away a part of their own existence. When we look at something, depending on our point of view, we may find something beyond what’s represented, or not. That’s something about ourselves, not something in the work, or in the objects or things that we believe exist. What I know is I don’t lie when working on a canvas, and this attitude doesn’t permit me to understand my paintings, what more can I say, my painting represents all that has happened, all that will happen, all that can or could happen in the moment that it is created and in the space that it is create.


T. C. I’m struck by your statement that Volkan is a spectator in front of his paintings. Don’t you think that maybe we’re still asking too many questions about what a painting wants to say and are reductive about the explanations, usually absurd in the way a work is interpreted, in order to give it a didactic meaning and especially a historical one, reducing it to a level of absurdity, or trivial questions when what is happening is an enormous gulf disassociation between the spectator and contemporary art.


V.D. Yes, I agree with you. When I say that I myself am a spectator of my own paintings, I want to say that after the completion of an work, I am at the same distance from it than any other spectator, and certainly I’m a poor spectator. Of course we ask too many questions. A work doesn’t have to say or relate anything. I think that that’s a problem in contemporary life. Society wants to answer all the questions that come up and we think that we have answers to everything, and that everything is in the place it should be, without any problems. Especially in European culture where there’s a tendency to reason and to have answers. There’s not enough mysticism, not enough humour to look outside one’s own self, and at the same, within oneself. European culture, which is the culture that decides history, should be more self-critical. European culture has always wanted, within its own sadness, to create its own legend because it fears of losing itself in time, and thus cultural imperialism begins. I think that everything stems from this problem of a closed rationalization. The same occurs in contemporary art. I think that, outside of the art work itself; we’re all absurd spectators of our own existence. Another factor is the boredom of contemporary, especially European, life. I believe that today more than ever, contemporary art needs spectators more than ever. This is clearly seen. Everyone wants to explain something and understand something that doesn’t exist. I think that soon there’ll be more curators, commissioners, and art critics than there are artists.


T. C. In my opinion it is true that Western culture lacks self-criticism, and in all areas, not just in artistic matters. But focusing on your work, what is certain is that the references that you work with are clearly Western, the overall form, the dripping technique, and even part of the symbolism and the composition of your canvases, all have obvious precedents in the Western art of the second half of the twentieth century. Is your painting a sort of mix of the Western and Eastern with a language that incorporates elements of both cultures?


V.D. Good question. I said before that the West is the one that chooses the lineage of the history of art, the one that writes the history of world art, and on top of that, commercializes it. The overall form that your refer to is already in the history of Islamic art, it’s always been there, while we and the West never have wanted to see it while the east never has wanted to name it. On the wall of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, we can see what in reality is an overall. In the end, it was the Americans and their abstract expressionism that named it to define pictures which covered the totality of the space without a central element or composition to the work. Abstract painting also has been present in the history of Eastern art and especially in Islamic art. We all know that the representation of the figure is forbidden. But the West since the Greeks started to conceptualize and at the same time materialize human life. For this reason when I look at a Pollock I see someone totally influenced by Islamic art. I don’t know if Pollock was conscious of this. The West, contrary to what it believes, is not alone on the planet. The silence of the East has not worked well.


As far as the dripping technique goes, I’d like to say that I don’t use it as a technique per se. Pollock, for example, used it as a totally innovative technique but I wasn’t even aware of it when I started to paint like that. I simply paint on a canvas, on the floor and what you see from the outside as dripping, isn’t really dripping, they are accidents that happen when I am over the canvas. The paint drips a lot while I put on a colour. Of course I realize this afterwards but I don’t do this consciously to create an accident, the drips exist en my time and space, and since gravity also exists, they fall, and I accept them as they are. Many times I like the accidents more that I like what I unconsciously want to do. Lastly, it seems to me that Eastern and traditional art is purer even though this doesn’t mean anything. It’s neither better nor worse. My work at the same time also co-exists with both cultures. That’s normal, because I’ve been in both, in the West and in the East, I was born in the city of Istanbul which is the gateway been east and west.


T.C. I’d like to focus now on the content. It’s obvious that there are figurative references and a series of signs in your paintings. Can you say if a narrative analysis can be found in your work?



V.D. Yes, once in a while figures appear in the paintings. They appear to me in the same way as they do to you, but while I’m working. They’re like ghosts that want to say something but which I can’t understand very well. At the same time, my stains also are figures and the figures are stains as well. I believe that we must never forget that a painting is a painting and at the same time it is nothing of importance, like my ghost figures.



With respect to the analysis, of course one can do as one pleases. As I said before I also am a spectator after finishing the work, and, at times, I myself want to understand if there is something that they want to say to me while I look at them. It’s impossible to create a painting without a narrative element. It all depends on who looks at it and how. As I said before, my paintings might talk of all possibilities in an imprecise time and place. Can you imagine it? It’s immense, infinite. Because of this, I can’t even talk about my painting. You have to take painting very seriously, but at the same time you have to realize that there’s nothing serious about a painting. It’s like schizophrenia, as much for the spectator as for the creator. But why don’t we ever talk about a stone that we find? Doesn’t the stone want to tell things too?


T.C. Another characteristic of your work is, without a doubt, the scale of the canvases. In this exhibition the concept of an “environment” is very present. One could say that it underlies the concept of “site specific”, of work created for a specific place. In this sense, what is the relationship between space and your painting?


V.D. Scale as a characteristic of a work is, in a certain way, relative. There are neither large works nor small works. The scale is within the work. My paintings exist with their dimensions and I think that they are as they should be, neither smaller nor bigger. They’re normal, as they should be. But in the Delik exhibition, the works were made specifically for that space. Normally what I do is work freely, without thinking about the space in which I’ll show my pieces. I don’t even think about exhibiting them while I work. But at times it’s interesting to create a specific space, as on this occasion, because if you know beforehand, where and how they will be shown, you start to incorporate the sense of the place as well as their scale. This clearly affects the work, although you don’t want it to, and at the same time they are very related. It’s difficult to explain. In the end, seeing my works in different places is like an optical illusion. Each place has a concrete form and history. In each place, the light is different. A while ago, I exhibited in the thirteenth century Abbey in Paris and that was also work made for a specific place. Between each there’s a connection between work and space. It’s strange to dismount the work from its primary space and see it later in another place; it’s like a cut in time, a small earthquake.


T.C. I’m struck by the homogeny of the background colours chosen for this exhibition. They can be summed in backgrounds of red, yellow, blues, or greys. Is there some reason to do with style or language that determines the production around a set of determined colours?


V.D. For this exhibition, I worked within a set time enclosed in my studio. Before starting to work I had no idea what I was going to do, I only knew the sizes and number of canvases that I had to create. I got into a Delik which in Turkish means hole, and while I worked I felt, saw, heard and maybe thought. The colours came to me and struck inside my head. I never have understood people who thought about the composition, colours, or form before starting to paint. In regards to the background, I don’t believe that they are present as a concept, and for me the colours are my words that in reality don’t exist. Everything is grey and so are words.
Finally, after finishing these nineteen paintings, I look at them and it seems to me that I’ve excavated a huge hole, each second, each minute, that I spent working. I have taken some things from a place and I thought that maybe there’s a final story, or maybe there is nothing. I’d like to understand it. Maybe you can tell that story?