Tülin Ayta, the first female ceramist to be assigned to professorship in the Art Major of Ceramics, has taught many students at the university, conducted academic studies and produced in her own atelier for many years. The interview we did with her includes a snapshot of her career that expands 60 years.
Interview: Fatma Batukan Belge
I wonder how you became interested in ceramics. Because you had music education when you were a child. Why did not you pursue music?
It was literally a twist of fate..!I started my music education at conservatory even before primary school. I learnt piano from Rânâ Erksan, solfege from Demirhan Altuğ, esteemed teachers of that period from 1945 to 1950 at Istanbul Municipal Conservatory. However, in difficult circumstances… My 23-year-old mother used to take me to conservatory classes by tram, the public transport of Istanbul. Afterwards, classes were held at home with tutors. I understood my mother’s devotion to her two children better when I became an adult. There was a big age gap between her and my father. My mother became a bride when she was 13 years old. That is to say, she was a “Child Bride”. Of course this concept was not used that time. When my mother was a baby, their house burnt during the massive Fatih Fire. Poverty ruled over Turkey in those years, her family decided to make her marry early.Such that she went to school in the morning and got engaged in the evening. That’s why I felt sorry for her. When I came up with the idea of getting in the Academy of Fine Arts, I put away all my dreams of becoming a composer one day. I was playing the piano, but making ceramic hardens the joints that are most needed for playing the instrument. I had to make a choice. Academy training took all my time. Our lessons were intense. The only day off was Sunday. We did required homework at that day. I had two pianist students during my teaching years, and I guided them towards success-oriented selection. After all, they chose music.
Have you joined academy determined to become a ceramist?
Unfortunately, I have. I entered at the first year (1960) when the Academy started accepting exclusively high school graduates. For the first time in its history, the Academy opened its doors only to high school graduates for admissions in Art branches as it did for Architecture. The Academy was offering a Master’s diploma with a 5-year higher educationthrough a multiple-choice and graded exam system, Although I was qualified to attend the Painting and Sculpture departments after the exams I took separately, my primary preference was the education of the Ceramic Arts Department of Decorative Arts. I thought it would be more appropriate to have a profession of ceramic art for that day. I was talented. In the 1940s, primary school education was rigorous as well as secondary and high school education. During the Early Republic years, there were breakthroughs in education continuing. We used to make various forms from wet clay at that time. After many years, I made a connection.
I laid my hands on real potter clay for the first time in 1960 at the Balmumcu Art Studio in Karaköy, Istanbul. This place was established by Eczacıbaşı Seramik and served as an art and application center open to those who wish to work on ceramics. Personally, I owe much to Eczacıbaşı. Turkey also owes debt of gratitude to Eczacıbaşı because of its industrial and cultural investments, works in Turkey from past to present.
Hanging form Hanging form Hanging form
You graduated from the Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts, Department of Decorative Arts, Ceramics and Turkish Tile. Were Ceramic and Turkish Tiletaught together at that time?
It had ceramics, no tiles. This is an expensive work. If there is production in the tile department, the cost will be high. I find the opening of ceramic departments in some private universities unreasonable and wrong. If the school is training staff for the industry, his technical knowledge should be based on sound and correct foundation. If a young personstudied ceramics and have intention to work in the industry, he/she must master the technology. Education gives you a little key. With this key, you find your own way. I especially decided to go abroad with a scholarship to improve my technological knowledge and overcome my weaknesses. I made wall sculptures and high reliefs at De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles / Royal Delft, in the Architectonique Department in Netherlandsin my graduation year in 1965. I worked with painter, sculptor and ceramist Prof. Pierre Caille on ceramic sculpture design at Académie Royal Des Arts Visuels et d’Architécture in Brusselsfrom 1968 to 1969. I worked with Professor Pierre Fouquet at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliquées et des Métiers d’Arts in Parison ceramic glazes and firing techniques from 1969 to 1972. I participated in artistic and technical analysis studies in Sèvres and Louvre museums. I worked on glaze and decor at Ferro Enamels glaze and paint factory in Rotterdam and in Limoges, Havilland in Porcelain Manufacture. I started teaching, literally appeared before the students, for the first time 7 years after my graduation. I actively taught from the first day I became a teaching assistant. During the course of 5 years of education, we were trying to train ceramic designers. We were arranging internships in line with the needs of the industry. The students we trained have become successful thanks to their education and talent in companies that are well knownboth in Turkey and abroad; in companies with high export volume. Let’s say you started to work as a designer in a factory. If you do not masterthe production technology, recognize raw materials, glaze and firing particularities, the design remains in theory. In addition, the production cost, suitability for the purpose, stock, transportation, marketing etc. criteria must be taken into consideration. Even for pure artistic design, criteria such as materials, production techniques, raw materials, glaze, firing etc. must be managed with knowledge and experience.
There are those who argue that a ceramic artist does not need to be tech-savvy...
Let me tell you something: After my graduation, I went to Netherlands and worked as an intern at a factory established in Delft in 1653. Both modern architectural designs and traditional production were made there. I made large wall panels. At the glazing stage, the Chief of the Department came with a big catalog in his hand and said:“We have two thousand different glazes. You may choose whichever you want, I will have it prepared.”There,at that moment I felt like I fell into the sea and lost my way. Which one, how, what should I choose? I laugh at those who say “technology is not required”. You have to consider and calculate the location where your work will be put, the lighting condition of that place, the heating factors and even the human circulation in some cases. Design is a serious and important work. An attitude like “I am an artist, I design, the rest is not my concern” is just choosing the easy way, an utopian deception.
You had your own workshop besides your teaching job at the university, right?
Yes. I spent there what I earned all my life. I moved my workshop four times. I got tired and lost a lot of time. Those who lived in Istanbul during the years of continuous power cuts know the situation. I bought 4 times three-phase system for industrial current. I brought furnaces from abroad 3 times. Nowadays, I think you can find anything on site. While I was working at Trakya University, I used to come to Istanbul on weekends and work in the workshop. Later, I stopped completely because of lack of time. I ended my active practices with a 40x40 cm work determined for the participation of group exhibition in memory of Füreya Koral’s 40th year in art.
Don’t you miss it?
I can’t say I miss it. You cannot quit art. I stopped working with the material. Because ceramic is a branch that requires physical effort. IfI do not knead the clay myself, if I do not complete all the stages in person, I cannot do it. However, there is one thing I deeply regret. I worked with Professor Sabri Berkel, who taught Basic Education for my first two years at the Academy. I always remember him with gratitude and respect. He made me who I am today. He was an extraordinary teacher. Hetrainedaccording to the selected branch. “Quit the ceramic, let’s transfer you to the painting department,” he said. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account the seriousnessof his proposal under the circumstances of that day. It was a big mistake I made in my artistic and professional life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that it’s easier to be a painter. Only that, you can paint anywhere, under any circumstance in certain formats. But you cannot make a ceramic without a suitable and appropriate space, materials, instruments and equipment. In addition, organizing individual exhibitions, participating in localand international exhibitions are troublesome, expensive and your work’s material is fragile, can be easily broken.
There is more…
I received an exhibition invitation from Vienna years ago in 19801981. I could not make my works insured. Insurance companies did not insure due to fragility. Turkish Airlines did not accept to transport. They did not carry ceramics by train. I had to take it in the trunk by bus. I requested free passage from the consulates of the countries on the route. The correspondence I had to make to this end constitutes a thick file. Foreign exchange officials listed the works as non-commercial items and sealed the boxes at the address. They were not to be opened until their final destination. I was taken to the Vienna customs court because a tiny piece of string was hanging from one of the boxes on the way. What is it all for? We made socalled art. We went through hard times to represent our country abroad. The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs never supported. There is support if you have connections in senior positions. So, nothing has changed. Do I regret now? Yes, I regret being a ceramist…
Today in the modern world, and especially in the Far East nobody considers ceramics as Art Minor. Especially in Japan, a divine value is attached to ceramics. If you live in such a country, you do not regret, the support and respect of the society for your work please and motivate you. In 1984, I was sent to a training program on “Ceramic Glazes and Decoration” carried out by Mimar Sinan University and “JICA / Japanese International Cooperation Agency” in Japan within the framework of international cultural agreements between the two countries. Although it was exception, I was offered a permanent job in Japan. But I had a child who was studying and a husband whom I left behind. I could not force them to live in a different geography and culture. However, I have a gift for adaptability. I can easily adapt every situation and condition. I consider myself resistant to ups and downs in life.
Are you the first ceramist to be promoted to professorship in Ceramic Art?
According to the university law numbered 1750 before YÖK [Council of Higher Education] in 1977, I assumed the title of Acting Associate Professor at the Academy. According to the Higher Education Law, the title of Professorship was granted in 1983 to those who previously taught 8 years and the Associate Professorshipto those who previously taught 5 years. The aim of the adjustment was initially to balance the salary scale. Later it became gradually accepted as an academic title. Accordingly, I became the first female professor in the field of ceramics as a faculty member of Mimar Sinan University as a result of the academic stages determined in compliance with the Higher Education Law in 1985.
Today, there are different techniques, such as conceptual studies in ceramics or mixed media. How do you evaluate?
Actually, we watch interesting, successful and even some striking examples. However, do you think that “Mixed Media” will last for centuries and be permanent? Naturally it cannot endure. I am more of a classicalist in art. Classical art always has its audience, commentator, value and buyer under all circumstances in the society. Isn’t the attraction of museums the artistic style that has survived without being defeated by time, reaching generations after centuries?
Areorganic forms inspired by nature constitute your works of late maturity period?
Maybe I never reached a period like maturity with my works. One cannot attach this feature to himself. Sometimes,there is such work that students can pull it off and the teacher cannot. Of course, there are different interactions in different periods. For example, when I was on the road one day, I saw a dried magnolia leaf on the ground and I was touched by it and created a leaf series collection. There are so many things in nature that are waiting for us to notice them. There were wall reliefs that I created in the 70s. In 1967, South African Operator Dr. Barnard operated the first heart transplant. It had an impact as if he was recreating a human being in the medical world. With that inspiration, I worked on banded and additive designs. Now I don’t even want to look at some of my old works, but there are some others that I still like and love. There have been some works I have done with ready-made industrial ceramic materials. In the future, I would like to produce a series with such materials again whenever possible.