The Transience of Life and the Reality of the Process: On the Paintings of Erkut Terliksiz

The Transience of Life and the Reality of the Process: On the Paintings of Erkut Terliksiz

Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, whatever – make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant [sic] approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!*

Can there be an understanding of art which only concerns doing and the process? Should a work of art be formed of concepts and aphorisms since the artist starts the production? Doesn’t the reality that we struggle with and encounter in contemporary life dissolve us in thoughts and concepts and becomes embedded in our subconsciousness? And isn’t the artist who produces with this subconsciousness considered to say a word, maybe not directly but indirectly?

In order to ask these questions, one ought first to produce, to “do”, as Sol Le Witt mentions in his letter to Eva Hess. Sol Le Witt advises to be able to make, to produce art about everything and nothing without thinking, without having fear of making a mistake, and that it’s only possible in this way to actually start doing, producing. By experiencing, with the process...

The paintings in Erkut Terliksiz’s exhibition The Transience of Life and his understanding of art in general is in fact always based on doing. “Doing” as a motive to discover, to experience rather than an aim or a result is his priority. During the process when he passed from graphic design to full-time art life – also before, during and afterwards – Erkut, whose basic concern is doing, is more interested in the part of “how” together with the part of “what”. Friends visiting his studio, acquaintances, people who come into his life, a plant that he will take care of for the first time, his lover manifest themselves in his works without planning. The way he deals with life, his issues with the contemporary is always in his works. A found object, a door, the surface of the cupboard door painting, somebody who only once visited the studio or the feeling left by this person can be the subject of his painting, because life flows, life passes and ends. Things, people, objects… All leave, all end. This transience, this mortality; it leaves behind Erkut’s paintings and the feeling in the person who looks at his paintings; that’s it. On the other hand, with the ironic language and the form of composition that he uses, and with the objects/forms that aren’t used to come together, Erkut’s paintings also remind vanitas, an important style in art history.

Vanitas is a style that stood out in the 16th and 17th centuries in art history. The meaning of the word is emptiness, vanity, transience. Its distinguishable symbols in painting are worldly objects yet related to eternity and mortality such as a burning candle, a skull, flower bouquets, a king crown attached to still lifes. All are transient. They will vanish. They exist in the world but they cannot fill in the spiritual emptiness. And in Erkut Terliksiz’s paintings we see a figure learning pain by touching a cactus, a skull on the head of a creature that we perceive as an animal because of its teeth, and an angry bird with a scared but funny mouse in its claw.

Maybe at first glance the spectator looks at an empty painting, the colours which make no sense. Afterwards, he/she starts to see, to question it with the colour, the surface, the unusual figure description and composition. For example, a spectator looking at one of his paintings finds peace in front of the beauty of the forest, the unity of the woman in the painting with nature. And right after that, the spectator feels uneasy with the uneasiness of the woman in front of armed men coming down the hill in the disquieting, scary, dark forest. Emptiness is peculiar to the first moment. As Erkut put it once: “The state of not being able to see again the first condition of the thing that you saw can lead to indifference after a point when maybe one looks too much, has too many different feelings. Irrational understandings of form create their own stories in the abstract universe.” Do emptiness and mortality maybe step in here in his works?

But does this matter of futility, of emptiness leave aside the questioning of the contemporary and turn into a creation solely consisting of the process with randomness in Erkut’s works? The relation that the artist establishes with life and the contemporary as well as his questionings are reflected in his works with his own language of painting instead of a “finger to a blind eye”* kind of direct narration. Producing while there’s a war going on close by and this war touches you from a distance, such as “painting while there are gas bombs thrown outside”, reminds that life is also so transient. And maybe the skulls, big-eyed amorphous portraits, duck beaks and mouse ears found in his paintings since before are Erkut’s symbols of vanitas. Thus, it’s not very possible that probably his production, his emerging works are not related to contemporary life.

Erkut’s world of imagination, with the subconsciousnesss that swarms with things confronted in life stepping in, creates the sketch of those works without a preliminary preparation. When looking at his paintings, it might usally make one feel uneasy at first glance, but it can offer a different reading together with irony and colour. Familiar images gain an identity with irony out of their definition. Seeing only the beak of that funny and annoying duck that you know from cartoons might create an antipathy. And that duck is scary now. The spectator creates a story, or maybe doesn’t create it, according to what he/she looks at and sees. But with the aesthetics of the ugly, the traces of vanitas, the indirect approach to the contemporary, personal questions and questionings, coincidences, daily objects and found surfaces, Erkut Terliksiz offers to the spectator his own concern, his own process in  his own language. He does and is interested in doing for now...


*From Sol Le Witt’s letter to Eva Hesse, 1965.

*Literal translation of the Turkish idiom “kör göze parmak”.


by Saliha Yavuz