Being and Becoming: The Paintings of Devrim Erbil
In Devrim Erbil’s painting, the process of artistic creation and the integrity of the artwork is first interrogated, then stabilized and finally affirmed, until the time when the work reveals itself in its fragility once more and invites reason to give it new form.
After graduating in 1959 from the painting department of the State Fine Art Academy, the precursor of Mimar Sinan University, Erbil won a number of international and national awards. He received the title of professor at the academy in 1981 and became chairman of the painting department four years later. In 1988, he was appointed chairman of the Yildiz University Fine Arts Department; in 1990, he became Deputy Dean of the Mimar Sinan University Fine Arts Faculty. In 1991, he was awarded the title of “State Artist.”
Devrim Erbil has played a crucial role in the development of modern Turkish painting. He also served in key administrative and academic positions, impacting the development of a generation of young Turkish painters. It therefore seemed appropriate to present a more in-depth article on his painting. The excerpts were chosen to indicate Erbil’s place in the tradition/modernity divide in painting and his assessment of the modern trends in Turkish painting and their prospects.
Painting and self-consciousness
“Will to diversify” is the key element of Erbil’s artistic production, a characteristic that stems from the painter’s successful “self-encounter.” The integrity that is a guarantor of an original identity stems from the spontaneity associated with the process of chain production in Erbil’s work.
On the other hand the multi-dimensional aspect in Erbil’s work can be pointed out as “The desire to question the losses incurred through our jet-style living by establishing a distance from one’s feelings has been the greatest support for Erbil, who made it his principle to view his proposed language of expression with a critical eye. For this reason, the representation of the object has always been a pretext for ‘seeing’ the painting.”
The interrogation of the medium of expression (the canvas) and the object of representation is a constant in Erbil’s work. “The precarious existence of illusion addresses our imaginative universe, as long as it reserves the right of dissociation from the object of which it is the form.”
Thus, in Erbil’s painting, the process of artistic creation and the integrity of the artwork is interrogated, stabilized and affirmed, up until the time the work reveals itself in its fragility once again and invites reason to tie it together.
Since Gilles Deleuze and postmodernism, rising skepticism about the coherence of the world and the ensuing malaise has been expressed by deforming the figure into the “figure-like,” which, “signifies the figure unable to come to terms with the authentic form.” Devrim Erbil’s figures don’t belong to the category of the “figure-like.” Instead, “Nature [for Erbil] is a cosmic power waiting to engage in dialogue with itself, domestic eternity waiting to take its place on the canvas.”
Erbil “leaves illusion at a delicate point,” and that “the purpose is never complete abstraction from the accepted sign system; painting, at least in one respect, has to be a mirror cast on the world.”
The use of lines for painting may be Devrim Erbil’s main characteristic. Erbil states the function of the line thus: “The line is actually an abstraction of the human mind. The line doesn’t exist in nature, whereas it has been an indispensable part of all that depends on abstraction. For the line is the place where forms intersect and differentiate themselves from space.” Noting that although the line had been the main part of any painting until modernity, it wasn’t used for any purpose except the delineation of the contours of an object, Erbil states that while his use of lines was influenced by its place in art history, it was more of a personal predilection, one that manifested itself in his paintings when he was 14-15 years old. He points out his agreement with Paul Klee’s statement that “our goal was to make the invisible visible,” adding he accepts Klee as an important master.