“Art is not a race with others. The important thing is that you create your artistic language and build your own sentences.”
Ümit Erzurumlu is an artist, born in Koyulhisar, Sivas, Turkey in 1974. He had a wonderful childhood in Koyulhisar and Susehri, a small town with perfect nature until he was 13 years old. His interest in art began in those years. He used to color the paintings that he drew with his mother under the influence of nature of the place where he lived. His mother, on the other hand, was more interested in crafts.
In the 6th grade, at the age of 12, his art teacher assigned all the students to draw one of their classmates. Minutes before the class was over, his teacher came and quietly removed his drawing out of his hand. It just didn't make any sense to Ümit. Later, he learned that his teacher showed that painting in high school classes in the same town where his teacher taught art. And soon after, the art teacher came to Ümit’s father and suggested that Ümit should take art classes. His father, a primary school teacher, immediately arranged an apprenticeship at a painting workshop in the town on the weekends.
In 1987, him and his family moved to Istanbul. In the same year, he managed to get his courage together and went into a painting workshop which he had been passing by for some time in Kadıköy. “I love painting but I don't have money to take lessons, I can do the cleaning of the workshop, I can make tea, I can do the dishes,” he said and asked them to sign him in the workshop. From 1987 until 1992 Ümit Erzurumlu attended Marmara University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Graphic Design Department, his intense work on the pattern of drawings and making copies of the Renaissance classical works formed the basis of his art career. Not to mention, his relationship with the artist Ekrem Kasım, which started as a teacher-student relationship, turned into a strong friendship that lasted twenty years until Ekrem Kasım's death.
People used to talk of Ekrem Kasım's paintings and praise them in the small town ever since Ümit was a child. Taking strength from this interest; he used to dream that he could be the greatest artist in the world. When he settled in Istanbul and entered the faculty of fine arts, he saw talented students, and thought about it on a world scale and realized how his dream was more than just being difficult nonsense. Ümit thought to himself, “Art is not a race with others. The important thing is that you create your artistic language and build your own sentences.”
Ümit Erzurumlu doesn't have any competition awards in his professional career because he opposed painting competitions except for the ones he entered in his childhood. He exhibited in Turkey and Europe, his work has been published in several newspapers and art magazines. In 2016, he was invited as a guest to an art and culture TV program, having one of his works being included in the Unesco collection from his exhibition in Paris was a pivotal moment for him. However, being asked by a young student of fine arts at the opening of his exhibition, “I like your paintings very much, but I don’t have the money to pay that much at once, can I buy it in installments?’’ was the greatest accomplishment in Umit's career. Someone who wanted to give all of his money to one of my paintings meant that someone truly liked it, Ümit confessed.
Ümit’s artwork has a dreamlike aura. When you observe his art, you feel you are either in another dimension, or in another time frame. Almost as if you time traveled somewhere out of the norm. But it is somewhere special where everything connects, everything fits in, and everything just makes sense. His paintings are not only pleasant to see, but the interconnectivity that exists within them allow you to feel what is going on. It is not only a visual sense, but a motion that is felt. Ümit’s artwork really taps into all your senses allowing you for a fuller experience.
Q. What role does the artist/ painter have in society?
A. Above all, to put forward the cornerstones of the existing philosophy of life. Mankind first expressed itself with art. As long as humanity exists, artists will continue to have this natural mission.
Q. What is your best childhood memory?
A. I have many good memories of my childhood. One of them is an event that I lived in a Logic class when I was a senior at high school. The subject of the lesson that day was one I did not take interest in, I started to draw the portrait of Atatürk hanging on the wall on a paper. Towards the end of the lesson, I finished drawing it. The teacher must have noticed that I had not been listening to the lesson so he came and saw my drawing. He got angry at first thinking I had torn the portrait of Atatürk from a magazine and scribbled over it. I explained to him I drew it from scratch; however, the teacher didn't believe me. My friends had to intervene and confirm to the teacher that it was true. When the teacher rubbed his fingers over it, the drawing was smudged and ruined. I could never forget the expression of embarrassment and astonishment on his face, who was an Atatürk admirer.
Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a pilot like many other children, but this dream didn't last long. I used to paint very often with my mother during my elementary school years. When I started secondary school, I dreamed of becoming an artist.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. I remember drawing a landscape with my mother. I was extremely drawn by the landscapes surrounding the areas where we lived as a child.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. While I was at the Academy of Fine Arts, I did surrealist paintings for a short period of time. Then I turned to symbolism. In 2000-2001, my active life was the catalyst to start my efforts by adding movement to my paintings in the form of shapes. During these years while searching my style, I did not take part in any exhibitions for a long time, I kept the doors of my workshop closed. Then in 2005, one day an artist friend of mine came to my studio and said to me "You have done some futuristic paintings." From then on, I have been doing a mixture of Cubism, Futurism and Cubo futurism art. But in recent years, in addition to the movement element, I also used expressive, expressionist in my paintings. Considering the sketches I have done recently, I think my process led me to deal with political issues more.
Q. What does your art aim to express?
A. There has never been just a single subject I wanted to express with my art. My interests and subjects took an interest in having to change from time to time. And this is very normal, as the world is changing, and habits are changing. For instance, I have been experimenting on vibrations, sounds, frequencies for a long time. After the industrial revolution, scientists, environmentalists, artists have constantly raised issues such as environmental catastrophes, wars, etc. Especially, starting with radio waves, we now have frequencies of every sort encompassing us at any given time and everywhere. No one cares about the frequencies passing through us! And now some scientists claim that the entire universe is made of vibration. I agree with this idea and focused on it. I think there might be some art on this in the future.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. I am very nit-picky.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. I married and have two sons. I was working extremely hard from the moment they were babies. Time went by so fast and they grew up quickly. I wish I had spent more time with them and my wife during their infancy. Other than that, I don't think I sacrificed anything because there was nothing that would make me happier other than painting.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. The artists who impressed methe most were Cezanne and Picasso, and I been impressed by many modern artists from time to time.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. Being alone is not something I want to resist. But sometimes I enter into crowds on purpose because I create art, and I enjoy being influenced by every circumstance of life and with everything that surrounds me.
Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
A. In addition to painting, I also do film and theatre set design. It's a different type of relaxation for me. I believe there is a connection between paintings and set construction. I also enjoy playing instruments (oud, baglama (a type of traditional Turkish musical instrument), traveling and reading.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. If music and math are brothers, wind and noise are close relatives; therefore, we are related to everything.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. To have free thought.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. I learned not to be afraid to fail because of my mistakes as mistakes are the basis of what we've overcome and accomplished.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. “Never give up the fight but never be a prisoner of your ambitions” by artist Ekrem Kasım, whom I took lessons from, during my high school years at his art studio.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. I advise them to do what they enjoy doing the most and to take risks.