INTERVIEW: Nuri Kuzucan's Hong Kong Connection

"Confrontation" (2013) by Nuri Kuzucan, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 190 cm.
(Courtesy Nuri Kuzucan and Edouard Malingue Gallery)

Turkish contemporary artist Nuri Kuzucan visited Hong Kong in March of 2012 and was inspired to create works based on the city. 

His paintings depict stark, semi-abstract city scenes, devoid of human figures, taking an aerial or panoramic perspective of dense urban architecture. Stocky, looming buildings are created using layers of acrylic paint and paper tape. Kuzucan continuously tapes, retapes, and removes tape as he builds the layers in his work. The process alludes to construction and the build-up of the urban environment.

Now, Kuzucan returns for his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Edouard Malingue Gallery presents “ISTHK|HKIST” bringing 12 works by Kuzucan, including pieces inspired by Hong Kong such as “Confrontation” and “Transglance” both created in 2013. We chat with the artist about the dense urban cityscape and what it means to him.

The cities in your paintings seem a bit chaotic and frightening to me. Is that how you feel about city life?

This is what these paintings have evoked to you, what they reflect in you, the city evokes feelings in us and we attach those feelings to the city itself. 

What I feel is that the city hosts no emotions. What we call “city” is very static. It’s us who creates stories so that we will feel closer to or more attached to the city. 

But in this series at the gallery, the perspectives are from the outside of the buildings, it could be said we are quite distanced from the city depicted.

Because I want to enable the viewer to attach his or her feelings to the paintings, that’s precisely why I create such a distance with these images. I don’t want to fill the viewer with thoughts.

These cities do not belong to a particular place. Each person can experience these cities in their own way.

When a painting comes with a story intact, we have two choices as viewer, either to sympathize and feel close to the painting, or we just have no attachment and walk away from it. 

Painting should be more emotionless and people should be able to attach their own feelings.

So you want your work to be a vehicle for others’ expression?

There are two parts to this. One is the process of creating. This is very personal and I can paint to motivate myself, I can paint to make myself feel better. 

But when the painting is complete, I see it detached from me and I would expect the painting to create different effects according to the viewer. 

I create as simple a painting as possible so people are not intimidated by it. If I made a very complicated, realistic painting, people may feel there is no way that they can paint this. They may feel that they have to be a virtuoso to appreciate it. 

You said the paintings are not depicting any specific city, but it is clear that a few of them are of Hong Kong. What is it about Hong Kong that captivated you?

Hong Kong is the city that made me want to travel more and see more of the world. Something about it inspires me.

Physically it is quite similar to Istanbul. The topography reminds me of Istanbul. There are similarly two shores separated by a body of water in both cities.

Cities are like human friends for me.

I have been to other metropolitan cities, such as New York. But New York is as cold as my paintings. It moves at a fast pace, but it is not where I can get inspiration. When I am in New York, I know exactly what I’ll see when I turn the corner there. But in Hong Kong and Istanbul, I can have some unexpected encounters. I can see surprising things.

You build up your paintings layer upon layer using paper tape and acrylic paint, constantly laying down tape and tearing it off again. Do you begin with a set image in your mind or is it improvisational? 

I begin with a mental image, but it is not a photograph and it is not based on any specific scene. It is just an impression of the city that I have in my mind. When I lay down the tape I am taking into account the physical constraints such as size of the canvas, but I am also continuously improvising and allowing the tape, paint, and canvas to take me to where it wants me to go. The material will give me a response and so I make another move. And I work until the canvas says “no.”

It is a spontaneous and organic creation process. Each layer brings something unexpected, just like my encounters on the streets of Hong Kong or Istanbul.

Somtimes it takes half a dozen layers to complete the painting and sometimes it takes sixty. (“When Pass By” has 15 layers, “Daybreak” has 30 layers)

Is it a good time to be a Turkish artist now?

I don’t think that nationality should be a topic for artists or art itself. We shouldn’t rely on nationality and shouldn’t recognize nationality in the works. We need to get distanced from that so we can appeal to everyone without creating an otherness. 

Why do we get rid of borders for the capitalist system to function better, but in art we still insist on applying national labels.

Art should be a borderless place with true freedom where artists can breath.

Which city would you most like to visit now?

I want to go to Mexico City, or Buenos Aires. I am attracted to the chaos.