Sunday, 24 April 2011


satin and embroidery on canvas 235 x 145  


From the opposite wall of the gallery it looks like a full-length picture of a church dignitary in sumptuous surroundings, recognisably within one of the classic genres of painting – portraiture. Except that there seems to be a narrative here: this man seems oblivious of the peril engulfing him. Walk nearer and the subject matter suddenly becomes less important than the way the picture is created, for it is an exquisite collage of satin and embroidery on canvas. The work is so fine, the colours so gorgeous and the craftsmanship so impeccable it’s hard to go back to the question ‘what is it about?' What you see is a beautiful work of art which has a cinematic quality about it. You’ve moved from long shot to close up. I feel I’m looking at the fragments of a story having not yet grasped the plot.

It’s the Pope. Under a threatening glowing sky of the kind you only see when it is reflecting  some terrible catastrophe: a volcano, apocalyptic warfare, Armageddon. And the flames themselves? Hell fire? Or the descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s disciples as described in the New Testament? Or a reference to other Christian iconography about the Holy Spirit when flames represent zeal, enlightenment and ardour?

Back to Bayrakoglu’s unconventional method of making a portrait. Intricately stitched details are blurred by tangled masses of delicate threads, a device which creates a surreal and dream-like impression. I immediately thought of the Dutch born artist Michael Raedecker,  short-listed for the Turner prize in 2000, whose work – using a combination of thread and paint - is described as ‘suggestive of unsettling narratives, presenting an eerie dislocation of idealised luxury and a sense of discomfort’.  What is unsettling is the unlikely intimacy between lowly craft materials (more used by women) and the more conventional styles and techniques of portraiture.  Ambiguities and tensions abound.

Turkish contemporary art is known for pushing at  boundaries and this work in a commercial exhibition at the Phillips de Pury space on the top floor of the Saatchi Gallery - Confessions of Dangerous Minds -  is no exception.It’s a risky business having the confidence to introduce an element of bathos into a serious investigation into the contemporary state of painting. It works beautifully.
Image © Phillips de Pury

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