Taner Ceylan (b. 1967), whose exhibition I Love You opens at Sotheby's S|2 Gallery on 23 September, is no stranger to controversy. His photo-realist paintings – which lean towards the political, and specifically to the politics of sexuality in his home country of Turkey – have garnered him international fame and recognition in the art community, presenting the viewer with numerous narratives in one canvas. In his use of hyper-realism Ceylan is in many ways referring to more than the eye can see, and perhaps more broadly, what is deemed unsightly.
TANER CEYLAN, I LOVE YOU, 2016. © THE ARTIST. COURTESY TANER CEYLAN STUDIO.
A German native born to Turkish parents, Ceylan and his family moved back to Turkey when he was 16 years old. It was in Turkey that he studied art, at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts in Istanbul from 1986 to 1991. Later, he taught as a lecturer at Yeditepe University (2001–2003), and at both universities he ruffled feathers due to his work's content. It was the homoerotic aspect of his early paintings that caused a stir, particularly in Turkey, where despite his fragile relationship with the conservative establishment there, Ceylan’s studio practice remains and flourishes, as he continues to break new ground.
TANER CEYLAN AT WORK IN HIS ISTANBUL STUDIO, 2016.
I Love You is one such painting, the work being indicative of the artist’s aesthetic and the symbolic, subversive verve for which he has become known, it is also the title of the exhibition at Sotheby's S|2 Gallery, in London from 23 September–28 October. Executed in his characteristic style, something he would call ''emotional realism'', the work is in fact a self-portrait, making it an apt title for the exhibition as it is one which, in the selection of works, captures the proclivities, interests, and desired revocations of the artist.
TANER CEYLAN, SPIRITUAL, 2008. SOLD FOR £70,850. © THE ARTIST. COURTESY TANER CEYLAN STUDIO.
I Love You shows a man, in this case the artist, with his side toward us from the chest up. His head is cocked in our direction, his eyes looking at something else. He is covered in what seems to be someone else’s blood; his half-finished cigarette’s ash is about to drop while smoke billows from the man’s mouth and into the flat blackness around him where he is poised, but defiant. In the work Ceylan is able to speak of sexuality and love without directly portraying sex. The cigarette reminds us of post-coitus behaviour. The blood-like substance smeared over his body perhaps references the violence sometimes alluded to in sex, and the title makes the subversions and secrets of the painting clearer, and one could question the idea of toxic masculinity here.
The other paintings in the exhibition, many influenced by the 17th-century artist Pedro de Mena’s wooden sculpture, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, likewise conflate sexuality and/or masculinity and their fragility with a deep sense of resignation and investigates the relationship between happiness and sorrow.
TANER CEYLAN, 1879 (FROM THE LOST PAINTING SERIES), 2010. SOLD FOR £229,250.
This is not an unfamiliar theme in Ceylan’s work. The Lost Paintings Series, questions the point of view of western art as well as Orientalism. These works, titled 1879 (2011) and 1881 (2010), were so politically charged in their subtle references that they cause great controversy in his native Turkey. These were also the works that sold for more than double their estimate at Sotheby’s in New York and London; sensation-making paintings in either case.
TANER CEYLAN, 1881 (FROM THE LOST PAINTING SERIES), 2010. SOLD FOR £121,250.
It is appropriate, then, that he calls his work ''emotional realism'', as it clearly affects far beyond its meticulous technical prowess. One of the most prominent living artists from Turkey, Ceylan's upcoming exhibition is an exemplary look into this distinct and intentionally pervasive analysis of iconography, and the realities of inhabiting the human body.