Shine bright like a diamond

Text on the work of Yasemin Hakverdi
By Jürgen Raap

„Shine bright like a diamond… find light in the beautiful sea. .. we’re like diamonds in the sky…“ as the song by Rihanna goes. In many old myths, the gloss of gold is metaphorically connected to ruling, luck and the heavenly – in the high culture of Ancient Egypt, for example, this gloss was symbolic for the radiant power of the sun and the material substance as such was deemed the „flesh of the gods“. Handling gold was therefore reserved to the godlike rulers. Yasemin Hakverdi purposefully chose the lyric „Shine bright like a diamond…“ as a title for the exhibition of her work series from 2013 and 2014.

One of these work series uses golden backgrounds throughout: Hakverdi combines acrylic paint with beaten metal and etching solution in these pictures. Running of this solution on the picture‘ basis leads to random structures that condense in the further drying process into a mesh with abstract structures. In the word „Tiger“ (2013), these structures in the lower part of the picture remind of calligraphy shapes. The result, however, does not suggest any concrete interpretation, as psychology does e. g. in the Rorschach test, where possible associations of concrete shapes with colour blots are analyzed. The artist’s intention consistently flows into the procedure of abstractly oriented painting in her other works of this series as well. Her painting repertoire also includes chemical processes. In the left area of „Tiger“, the acid turns the applied gold into a copper shade. In another picture („Untitled“, 2014), application of the solution causes a rust effect that is at a strong and nearly complementary contrast with the island-like turquois shapes on the golden background.

In contrast to zmc or other metallurgic substances, the precious metal gold resists even strong acids. The alchemists from the Middle Ages knew that even gold can be dissolved however specifically with a mix of hydrochloric and nitric acid at a 3:1 ratio which they called „aqua region“ (king’s water). The solution process produces tetra chloride gold acid. The high concentration of chloride ions increases the solubility of precious metals such as gold or platinum, and chlorides can then also oxidize gold. The artist uses these properties by establishing the aesthetic effect of such solution processes. She understands the visual change of the gold application as part of a process of painting that raises an informal picture language. Sometimes, this only applies to the background of a picture, sometimes to the entire statement. Small white left-out places in some areas of the gold background, left there on purpose by Hakverdi, reinforce the informal aura of the picture background.

In classic icon painting of the Eastern European Orthodox culture circle, gold presents the allpervasive light in two-dimensional pictures that know no mathematic space as the renaissance painters introduced it into the history of art in the West. The gold in these old icons shines „from itself“, and this godIike light throws no shadow. This kind of spaceless transcendence is also produced by the Iarge-area picture backgrounds in the paintings by Yasemine Hakverdi. However, it is interrupted by application of the etching solution, while the actual statement of the picture in this series of works is made concrete (and profaned) mostly by blatant addition of verbal terms.
The word „Stars“ jumps out of the square grid of the gold background in signal-Iike white letters. This verbal insertion gives the abstract picture background a second specific dimension. In the sense of semiotics, the word „Stars“ is an index, i. e. it is an index-Iike sign that indicates something but will not illustrate it (yet) (in contrast to the icon as a simplified reproduction of an object). The small white spots and left-out areas also remain abstract colour particles rather than pictures of glittering stars. The dark swirls of the etching solution are no spiral mists in the universe, no conglomeration of gases from which planets will be created – this is not about an image of the sky in the iconic sense, neither in the sense of classic icon painting, nor in the sense of semiotic as a theory of signs.

Since we have been anthropologically conditioned not to perceive structures simply as a chaotic mesh, but to try to cognitively „order“ them and thus give them meanings in the semantic sense as well, script additions such as „Stars“, „Tiger‘, „Run“, „Life“, „Pray“, „Light“ or „SOS“ cause chains of thoughts in the viewers with references to their own experiences. This also happens when dealing with this kind of painting, which is not illusionist. In language theory, the designation of appearances by linguistic terms is connected to the recognition of objects and the purpose to communicate beyond what has been recognized. This principle is used by the painter here as well.

The script addition „Tiger“ is applied to the gold background in a white frame with a left out area of the letter body. The viewer looks through the letter onto the background. By this, Hakverdi achieves a spatial effect in the otherwise flat picture. The letters visually jump forward. appearing almost „stamped on“. The same artistic trick of suggesting space is used by Hakverdi in concrete motifs as well, e. g. when a face looks through a black, round frame: the black circle, the face and the reddishbrown round area are „placed in steps behind each other“, turning the flat image carrier into an image space.

In „Let the sunshine in“ (2013), the contours of the letters overlay the fine white line edges between the squares of the beaten metal application, suggesting a front-back effect in a similar manner. The artist makes the image structure more dynamic still with a slight diagonal tilt of „Sunshine“. In other works in which the letter bodies are painted, they have a much more blatant effect in their signal-like appearance – similar to what we know from pop art and street art (graffiti).

While the Cubists only applied letters as formalIy-coloured elements in their picture constructions and the Dadaists focused on typographic experiments or tried to achieve a desemantisation and thus a new poetic quality by playing with word fragments, Yasemin Hakverdi refers to the original semantic contents of „Life“, „Light“ or „Pray“. As mentioned, these verbs specify the abstract image, though of course not in the sense of classic „concrete poetry“, where language still serves to describe a situation, a current mood, a wish or an imperative appeal even at reduction to a simple word in these images. This gives the work a literary character as well, though the placement on the image carrier follows consistent artistic composition rules, and the choice of colour for the frame or for filling in of letters is made solely based on the desired effect of the painting. In „Tiger“, the white script reduces the light-eating dull effect of the dark tones in the middle of the picture. Without the white script, the etching solution would absorb too much light from the gold basis. The white script also gives the three thin white leftout areas a different aesthetic value, and the upper white spot could even be perceived as a slipped dot on the „I“.

The individual terms in these pictures are not standing alone, but refer to personal experiences and moods and thus have a reference function for the viewer. The painted-on words are given the character of a cypher, encrypting the real emotional situation during the process of creation and opening an association space to the viewer in which he can connect his own memories and ideas with it. What is suggested in this riddle-like construction of terms is collectively quite understandable: no matter, how different our respective living circumstances may be, our existence designs all strive equally for happiness, always subject to the pressure of problems due to a complexity of inner and outer framework conditions.

Philosophic anthropology of the 20th century, e. g. in the work of Max Scheler and Arnold Gehlen, describes man as a creature continually needing to master its environment. This is done, e. g., by continuous expansion and improvement of the civilization’s progress, at the same time connected to visions and utopias, i. e. to imaginary projections and intellectual constructs that are anchored in culture-comprehensive symbol patterns. In light of this, the added words in that work series with the gold backgrounds also have a projective character. The verbal notes on Yasemin Hakverdi’s pictures do not remain in the diary-like area, but permit an artistic generalization of statements on the everyday human lifestyle with all of its insecurities and all of its dangers, which can be symbolically associated, e. g., with the wildness and strength of a tiger. The fight (against this threat, which the tiger symbolizes culturally) is one kind of mastery strategy. Prayer („Pray“) as plea to higher powers is another. In this form of religious petition, the occurrence of the desired event is left to the higher power, while magically aligned cultures may force the event to come by invocation rituals, or prevent it by defensive spells.

„Life“ (2013), by the way, is the first picture of this series. The white letters are floating in a slight curve before a weave-Iike level with Iines the edges of which spread out like thorns. In „Run“ (2013), the thick white letters are applied nearly to the point of filling the picture; they change the painting towards a written image, in which the painting aspects move slightly into the background as compared to the verbal elements. Like the letter pictures of op-art artist Robert Indiana have an aesthetic balance between colour and (letter) form. Yasemin Hakverdi also maintains a good colour balance between the outstanding white of the letter bodies and the blacks and gold tones of the background in this picture, with the vertical black elements directly above the letters improve the upper half of the painting into a „counter-pole“. By adding such contrasts, the artist also achieves the desired tension in „Mystic“ (2014), by having the centre with its turquois colours and dark edges form the visual support point while two different gold tones form the contrasting counterpart.

As a consistent further development of these letter pictures, the work process finally leads to concretely aligned works where birds, a bat or a pair of bats even appear in black varnish on the gold base. These figurative elements inspire the viewer to interpret the abstract backgrounds as a landscape. One may believe that the animals are flying through the dark night sky, or the viewer may see himself in a dark cave through which he looks out onto a goId-lit landscape. The figurative elements are visual support points in the picture based on which a possible semantic meaning of the remaining picture parts appears not in the sense of illusionist painting but as an abstract landscape.

There still are no mathematically constructed spaces in perspective, but only visual effects from the application of the etching solution, which now in combination with the birds and bats gives a romantic aura to the paintings. While 19th century painters in the epoch or Romanticism saw nature as a mirror of individual perception, Yasemin Hakverdi’s paintings also are about catching different moods in a loosely related manner. This is reflected in the exhibition’s title and the text additions with a reference to the lines of popular pop songs a contemporary method of finding imagery in the early 21st century.

Another series from the period of 2013/2014 deals with floral motifs in varnish paint. A red rose has the contours of the blossom (edges) suggested in black lines. This must not be misunderstood as a simplification of form, translating plant studies according to nature into a modern, artistic language of imagery. Instead, this is a reflection of processes of an art-historic development of form and its painting and print-technical results. For example, the language of form of the traditional Japanese wood out of Hiroshige and Hokusai at the end of the 19th century influenced the painters (e. g. van Gogh) and poster art (e. g. Toulouse-Lautrec). In her portrait of a thoughtful young man with lowered lids („Daydream“), Hakverdi applies a very free painting method using varnish. The red frame turns into fine, branched-out structures at the edges. It is a method that takes up the technique of monotype and is continued in the light-blue elements at the lower edge of the picture and the colour progressions in the green-yellow hat. The physiognomy of the face is only suggested with a few, secure grey lines. An interrupted blue line moving into the face from the left ends in the eyelashes. Concretely figurative (portrait) and abstract aspects are balanced out here.

Work with the mentioned plant motifs ends in the „Meadow pictures“ with varnish on aluminium in autumn of 2014. In parallel to this, the works from the latest phase are purely abstract again. They have partially been produced in squeegee technology and with colour progressions through which gold and silver can still shine. „Paths“, is the artist’s name for this series, where some shapes can be interpreted concretely (e. g. as the tip of a Church tower). Beyond all parable-Iikeness suggested by the term „paths“, this is primarily about dealing with paint as a substance and colour as a visual appearance (not only in the gloss of gold) and thus, eventually, ,,painting for the sake of painting“ as a basis for the artistic concept. The work title „Shine bright like a diamond“ summarizes this phenomenology aspect.