A flat overlooking a dead-end street in Beşiktaş Akaretler, containing a life full of colors…

Derya Ülker is a young painter and an academician, working as a research associate of Basic Art Education at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. Every furniture and object she owns has a story. Most of the books in her bookcase are of her mother, father and grandfather. Each painting and sculpture has their own memories. Her childhood toys and love for precious stones has shaped the decoration of her home. She uses the attic to create her own paintings and personal projects.

Could you tell us a bit about your own story? What made you turn into painting after finishing law school?

You know the familiar story: the child wants to become an artist but cannot convince anybody. She tries to fulfill the profession forced upon her but suffers. The parents see that she’s in pain and allow her to do what she wants. This is not my story. I did have a world full of sketchbooks and pencils ever since my childhood, but I also loved law and went to law school with enthusiasm; believing that this discipline, this education had a certain profundity to it. I hope it has been rubbed on to me.

My father was a lawyer who never wanted me to become one and my mother was a public officer who painted. My older sister, a talented dentist.

I didn’t love the application of law as much as I loved its books and ideas and frankly, I failed. After working as a employee lawyer on business law and social insurances for 3 years, I found myself on the road to fine arts. It’s hard to change one’s life completely without help from private life and other conditions. All these aligned, allowing me to take the exam and move to Eskişehir… thankfully. It felt like all this process was a lowing river leading me to the world of painting; I fell off the waterfall and now I’m in a new cave. At the end, like my mother, I became a public officer who paints :) A research associate at the University of Fine Arts.

How has moving to İstanbul effected your creativity?

Istanbul is magic; a mature, dignified lady and a tough, capricious, loose cannon at the same time. All its districts shine with a different light, all streets have a hidden story. Its activist climate know no humidity or grief, it’s always alive. You have to discover it on foot or it will step all over you; throwing new people and new scenes at you. As a former Ankara resident, my relationship with İstanbul has its ups and downs. Formerly, I used to  go wherever, whenever; the time passed slowly on the streets, step by step. However in İstanbul, time thumps by, streets full of stop signs. Sometimes the city suddenly pushes your stop button. I feel obstructed; but just when I start to get angry, I notice something in between the city chaos as if the city is trying to say “This is what I stopped you for, you cannot continue without seeing this!”. I saw many exhibitions, met many people, say plays and things, heard ideas by chance on days like these. In Ankara, freedom is in your house and chest. In İstanbul, wherever your feet touch the ground and the sea.

Are there any other places that you believe would inspire you, where you would want to live in?

Anywhere. Carrying one’s life completely is very hard but places where I wouldn’t live for a few months are very limited. I’m intrigued by different geographical and cultural structures. If I hadn’t visited the north of Africa and seen the desert, I’m sure I wouldn’t be using yellow this freely in me paintings. We never know what we’ll face, anything can happen anytime. I must admit I have a special interest in Eastern Europe and the Iron Curtain; their beauty is hidden and utterly different.

Are there any recurring feelings that are always there while you’re painting?

Yes there is, I guess it’s called: the feeling of movement. Dance and rhythm, repetition, multitude, add to the figures I create. If this reflects on the activity of the hand, it adds a caricatured touch, which I like to follow. An embracing life… I think about my day, what I’ve been through, mundane stuff, the accumulation of past and future, the long journey of humans, the faults in this, breaking points, liveliest memories of the collective memory, what I want to portray. While I’m contemplating these and trying to form the skeleton; my hand does something else, I happen to place certain colors and values instinctively. This process is like dancing. When I don’t have the energy or the will to do this; my paintings become dull, life loses its fullness. At this point one must look at Zen painters.

How did the little characters in your paintings emerge? How long have they been there?

Bu insanlar aslında küçük değiller, uzaktalar :)

They aren’t little, they are far away :)

I first caught their existence on a brown bag, hopping through print marks with my inked paint brush; they were visible now. Then they were everywhere. They were being slaughtered in those old pictures, running away to live, shouting with their voices, dividing to two, three, sometimes five, dancing, carrying lanterns in festivals, working in constructions, feasting, facing each other and humanity. Together they were something else, almost a mass. Even though they are all different and unique, this difference melts a bit when you look from far away, but the movement reaches our eyes with the same freshness.

I love trying new techniques when painting; collage, postage stamps, patterns, different subjects… Sometimes when I’m experimenting my paintings become unrecognizable, but they always come back to me as I work on them. My little characters might be my most consistent feature, they haven’t left my paintings in ten years. Sometimes they do escape, hide in their own homes but then they always poured out into the streets. Didn’t they?

Is there a place in your home that you specifically enjoy spending time?

Especially the kitchen table, but I also love to sit on the floor… In the kitchen there is my bookcase, I have four desks at home. In our old house I loved to sit in window nooks. Then I remember trying to live like a city animal as I went out on the balcony or the rooftop in all seasons. In İstanbul’s mild climate neither the winter nor the nights are scary. Even if I go out to the rooftop in the small hours with the frost, the pastry smells coming from the bakery downstairs warm me up. The second hand winged chairs and the couch that I let myself sit from time to time feel a bit lonely; my place of residence are the tables and chairs, all my memories are there.

Could you tell us a bit about your new projects?

In the following days I want to cherish every moment, hold exhibitions I can feel free in, travel frequently, create by sharing. Continue dancing, read new things, spend each day writing and drawing, show this colorful world of art to children and students.

As for more tangible projects; I want to complete my thesis, hold 2 exhibitions from these piled up paintings, hold a third surprise exhibition with almost no works of art(I shouldn’t give any more details), focus on children’s book illustrations, write, put together plays-poems-works left unfinished by family elders, read more, experiment with the color-light and visual perception lab we have begun to set up in MSGSÜ(Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts) both for the setup and afterwards on fundamental art and design, coordinated exhibitions with Ekoloji Kolektifi Derneği, book illustrations, maybe work in ecological art, have enough paintings to exist in my loved ones’ walls, no matter how small… I cannot tell whether these are projects or dreams now.

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