Ceramic artist Mehmet Tuzum Kizilcan's retrospective exhibition reveals a whole 60 years of adventure. And here are the cornerstones along the long journey of the artist who says "The journey of ceramics is my sole journey which I'm living with an endless passion from the moment I realize my self existence to this moment which we're in now"…
ASSOC. PROF. M. CANDAN GUNGOR
Mehmet Tuzum Kizilcan's journey he set out with ceramics, is updated with selected examples of 60 years. In the retrospective exhibition opened in Ege University's Ataturk Cultural Center Art Gallery between 22nd January-12th February 2022, we watched this journey with examples from the exhibitions which the artist considers as indents. The exhibition begins with a wall application from 1961 which Kizilcan was honored with silver medal in the competitional exhibition of International Ceramics Academy in Czechoslovakia Prague and ends with the works he created in 2021.
Mehmet Tuzum Kizilcan is the child of a farmer family. With these following words, he mentions how he got to know with earth and used it as a play tool at very little ages and how this becomes effective at his tendency to ceramic art and his deep relation with it: “When true life experiences in my dna and this material came together, it took me to a point of designing and creating. I took a direction which I couldn't put a name at first but later learned that it was ceramics. Earth was the most suitable material for my hands and eyes. So I dabbled in earth. Ceramics is not coincidence but a choice for me. When I came to the phase of choosing a profession, I chose a job that will make me happy when I'm doing it. since my childhood, my desire is to be the productive one not the consuming.”
After an unsuccessful year in Istanbul Technical University where he was having electrical engineering education, he questions what he really 'desires'. He had a decreasing compulsory attendance in his second year. With the energy he got from Fureya Koral ceramics who he had do some jobs for, he began researches and studies to pay more attention to ceramic and get more knowledge. By the end of 1959, he reaches to Fureya Koral through the artist’s exhibition in Istanbul French Cultural Center. Wording out to Fureya Koral that he wants to get lessons, Kizilcan underlines that Fureya has a special place in settling down the building blocks of his art life: “I had basic art education in Fureya Koral's workshop" says the artist and decides to have ceramic education after a period of meeting up with the artists of the art society of that era. The door opening to the world of ceramics crosses his way with the secret hero of that era Hasan Togay (Master Hasan). Hasan Togay was his first lathe master.
With the support and opinion of Nejat Eczacibasi who he knows due to his affinity with the Eczacibasi family, he agrees to have education in Germany. The school is chosen and applied for, the acceptance comes and it's said that he may continue after a year of factory training. Back then, the Eczacibasi Art Studio was being established and Mehmet Tuzum Kizilcan was included in this studio. He begins to learn and share together with the group of that era who were struggling to make ceramics; Alev Ebuzziya, Nasip Iyem, Cevdet Altug, Candeger Furtun, Erdogan Ersen, Alev Ilker, Filiz Ozguven (Galatali). 1961 was their first exhibition. Afterwards he involves in Taylan Ceramic Group; Atilla Galatali, Ferhan Taylan Erder, Seniye Fenmen were his new workmates.
Then, he begins his education in Germany, Werkkunstschule Offenbach Amain (One of the important educational institutions of Bauhaus ecole in post-war Germany) Ceramic Art Major. He attends international exhibitions; after winning such awards like the First Prize in the 1964 Gualdo Tadino international competitional exhibition, Offenbach Municipality Award in 1965 and Werkkunstschule Premier, he wants to return to Turkey and continue his life of ceramics in Turkey. He also remarks that he learned and gained much about ceramics, ceramic techniques and chemistry in this period he lived in Germany. In parallel with the education he had here, he has created functional ceramics bearing with Bauhaus ecole and which he shaped by establishing form-function-art relation and glazed these ceramics with the glazes he developed.
After returning back to homeland, he founds his workshop in 1967 but has a break for a while and works in Gorbon Ceramic in Istanbul. He again returns back to Izmir and founds the Sersa Ceramic Workshop in 1970. Back then Sersa was qualified as the first workshop founded in Izmir. Mentioning about this period of time as “no sludge, no glaze”, Kizilcan tries to bring a solution to his sludges and glazes with his own technical knowledge and uses the glazes he produces on his panels and works for years. Making productions in commercial aspect, Kizilcan also goes toward personal works. Producing interior and exterior ceramic panels for many buildings in Izmir, the artist begins to have a place in the art environment of this period. He starts the first ceramic courses in Alsancak to introduce, tell and produce ceramic. In the following years, he begins lecturing in Izmir Museum of Painting and Sculpture, Ege University Vocational High School between 1987-88 and Dokuz Eylul University Fine Arts Faculty Ceramic and Tile-Art Department as of by 1988 and transfers his knowledge and experience to next generations. As stated by the Greek artists Maro Kerasioti, Teacher Tuzum has dedicated himself both to those who make it as a profession and those making it as a hobby…
With his own words, ceramic is Kizilcan's 'language'. He blends the clay, glaze, firing techniques he saw abroad with his own knowledge in time, turns them into products with the raw materials of his land and enriches his language. These experiences come together with Teacher Tuzum's meticulous, disciplined and productive character and give rise to his own style. Opening his first personal exhibition in the Izmir Museum of Painting and Sculpture, Kizilcan brings the idea he wants to tell in his works to the audience by combining it with his technical knowledge and experience, thus pushes the audience forward to think. Kizilcan explains how he determines the starting point of his personal exhibition works with these following words: “I specify a theme I want to draw attention to. This can be a social or philosophical theme, or an issue that keeps me very busy at that moment and I want to tell to the audience…”
Kizilcan, in the meantime, begins to be interested with traditional arts and get information about them. Studying Turkish art and ceramics from Middle Asia to Anatolia, Kizilcan mentions at all occasions that he admires and is impressed by all the practices of tradition and folk arts. For instance, the Plaque series he made between 1977-80, is a series where he examines Ottoman calligraphy and ornaments. He has used sludges of different characteristics together and put them to reducing firing to amplify the visual impact of the works. He also makes 'mixed media' tryings in addition to ceramic in these works. He doesn't refuse a different material if it supports form and expression. As stated by Erdinc Bakla, reaching, researching, producing, experiencing and renewing every knowledge are his basic principles.
Following 1980, 'tradition' oriented forms, adornments, engravings, ornaments are gaining more importance in Kizilcan's works and interpretations inspired from calligraphy, lettering and textury are drawing attention. In the years when the Italian artist Nedda Guidi says “you're a symbolist”, Kizilcan has used symbols in his works and enriched his expressions with calligraphic letters. The abstract sculpture-like forms he made with influence from Ottoman tombstones, are good examples of this theme. Like in Ottomans, he has left the top parts of the tombstones flat or triangle to show it that they belong to a woman or a man, opened a window space in the middle, placed a three-dimensional calligraphic group of letters and left the interpretation of this to the audience. Depicting that he thinks the writings on tombstones are insufficient in telling what people lived in the past, the artist has stated out that he left these spaces in order for the audience to attribute new beginnings ready to be rewritten with letters.
The 'Lock' series he carried out in 1999, was made by shaping with hand with various sludges. The artist has not narrated the contradictions of concepts but rather emphasized the true values.
In 2000s, Kizilcan makes designs which feature the characteristics such as fragility, fineness, transparency of porcelain that he defines as “I like its' solid and accurate manner, I got a brand new friend". In his porcelain works, he uses glazed and unglazed surfaces together and indicates that the matte and dull look of the unglazed surfaces and the light reflections of the glazed surfaces together create a whole and this, with his words “keeps the work alive”. Erdinc Bakla has said “The pots he made of pellicular porcelains, brilliant designs he made of sea urchin shells and white porcelains has shown what a master of art is capable of doing" for his exhibition "Experimental Approaches" he opened in 2015 in Kedi Cultural Center in Izmir. From time to time he creates decors with paper slush on the surfaces of porcelain pots and achieves different effects. Sometimes he lightens up the empty porcelain forms he exhibits in a dark room from below and brings out the fineness and elegance of the material. According to Kizilcan, art is a genuine area that fed upon the things perceived by the artist and requires new expressions. At this point, he underlines that art should not be made with a commercial expectation: “When you start off with a commercial expectation, the work you do becomes commercial. I made tombstones in one of my exhibitions for instance, can you think of selling these? No way."
Between 2005-2007, after replicating his pots, bottle forms which he has given shape in lathe and applied Sagar technique on, he treats them while they're still wet and achieves new forms. After treating his forms which he coated with Terra Sigillata primer into reducing firing, he enriches the look of the surface with Sagar firing. All of these are examples showing that Teacher Tuzum always preserves his identity which studies, produces, questions ceramic and brings a new perspective to it.
In the exhibition "Lyrical Reflections" he opened in 2010, the artist has turned 'sound' into a concrete, visible concept. In the sculptural forms he created based on pot form in this series, Kizilcan has brought together the ceramic and glass pieces which he fictionalized in an order in its' own, in a single form. Consisted of seven parts just like the number of musical notes, the series was presented to the audience in a rhythmical order resembling the 'sound'. Kizilcan, in this exhibition, has stated that he wanted to express an important characteristic of ceramic distinguishing it from porcelain, its' 'resonance'.
The exhibition "Hopefulness" he opened in 2017, was consisted of his seed, bud and flower imagery forms he shaped with inspiration from the nature. In this series, Kizilcan has applied the over-glaze luster technique and closed reduction firing. Kizilcan explains his works in this series with the following words: “I tried to express the spreading of the seeds of our expectations and blooming out our hopes, with the ceramic language".
Designing his works from the very first years of his productivity through thinking of the conceptual aspects of them together with their aesthetical values and supporting each side, the artist underlines that the things material brings, constitute his language during his journey with the ceramic: “My language is clear; it's minimalist. I'm not into much ornamentation, I don't like glazed surfaces. Because glaze may mislead us. I like the energy of the earth. The power of earth, what it offers me, its' effect is much more important to me. Earth's color, crack, sludge form makes me much happier. That's why I don't want to cover it with anything.”
His main purpose is to create and produce works in his own ceramic language where concept does not take precedence over visuality and technique and message support each other. He believes that concept, technique and aesthetics are always balance each other in his works. Kizilcan always uses the technology he establishes in ceramic language, tries the glazing and firing techniques he learned in various countries with the terminology and technology of the country he lives in; he remarks that he gets results in some of his works and gets none in some but underlines that these are always a gain, he always learns new things and feels glad of doing so.
While Kizilcan is shaping his works, he uses all shaping methods and mainly lathe. When Greek artist Maro Kerasioti saw Kizilcan for the first time, he says that he has dedicated himself to the work he's doing on lathe and become one with the pot between his hands. Because Teacher Tuzum is infatuated with the work he's doing to reach the perfect... He explains his life of art and his passion to ceramics with these words: “The journey of ceramics is my sole journey which I'm living with an endless passion from the moment I realize my self existence to this moment which we're in now. This journey is a journey passing through up and down ways which I lived through with countless experiences within a quite wide period of time… A journey that embraces to be a part of the dynamism of the art world that puts true works of art with an endless ecstasy, without compromising on elite values and always aiming for higher...”
Let's leave the last words again to Teacher Tuzum: “I chose a calm life, laboring with ceramic, being able to open my exhibitions, my students coming and working beside me, that's enough for me.”
Interview with Mehmet Tuzum on his retrospective exhibition (26/February/2022)
Uzum, Kubra, “Examination of the Ceramic Artist Mehmet Tuzum's Works in terms of Design" (Selcuk University Institute of Social Sciences, Department of Design, Unpublished Master's Degree Thesis), Konya, 2019