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Academician and ceramic artist Atilla Cengiz Kilic says ceramic contains as much color as painting and as much form as sculpture. But in his work he essentially produces by taking ceramic's own texture, moldable characteristic, form, hollowness and fulness to the forefront.


We met with academician and artist Assoc. Prof. Atilla Cengiz Kilic in Dokuz Eylul University Faculty of Fine Arts aptitude test in 1988. When we consider working in the same institution after our student years, I see that we have been together for thirty five years. I got to know dear Atilla more in years, witnessed his ambition for ceramics and watched him in his school and workshop studies. Atilla Cengiz Kilic is a figure who takes ceramics to very high ends with his ever-maturing art in years.

How did you start ceramics? How did you decide on having education on ceramics?

I can't say I start ceramics with my own will, it was all by coincidence, the flow of life which went this way. Back then when I began my university, there was no Ceramics department in the majority of Fine Arts faculties of universities. There were generally a few well known departments. Painting and Sculpture were the most preferred departments. In my thoughts back then, I was also willing to have education in Painting or Sculpture departments. When I was preferring, I preferred Department of Ceramics with my friends encouragement and enrolled in this department. During the time that passed until now, even though I preferred Department of Ceramics by coincidence, I can easily say that the department I had education in has become my profession which I very gladly perform for all my life. From this point of view, I see myself very lucky.

Does that mean you met with clay for the first time in school and in the test?

Of course not. My acquaintance with clay goes back to my childhood. I was making slime sculptures in my childhood and even in my high school years. I was always trying to make something because I was feeling like that way and I was enjoying spending time with clay. Making something out of clay was making me very happy. I had an uncle whose profession is painting teacher. When he visited us in summer holidays, Showing my works to him, presenting to his taste and getting his appreciation was making me feel pleased and happy. Back then, I was trying to make something out of dried clays using the chiseling method. My acquaintance with clay was only this, during the time until the exam period.

You won the first place award in the Golden Jug Ceramic Competition in 1992 when you were just a student. What were the benefits of this award, what are your memories about it?

I won the first place award in the Golden Jug Competition with a work I did in university senior class in a project of our esteemed teacher Prof. Sevim Cizer. To be honest, we were just a student back then, our department is new, there were not many senior students who would be an example to us. This kind of an award, success is first of all the answer to “What we did or what are we doing?”. You're doing something and you're appreciated with what you did. I always think that this award has been a good source of motivation both for me and my classmates. Our confidence got even bigger after winning this award. It was a highly preferred competition organization to attend in Turkey; it was a competition where especially students were willing to show and prove themselves. This competition is a very valuable organization that's still being made. Winning an award here made it possible for me to truly know myself, see my potential and find the answer to the question “am I doing right what I'm doing" and filled me and the others with many other emotions. This possibly made a motivating start in me. It created more confidence and allowed to do the things more faithfully.

What are the themes that inspire you in your works? Could you tell us about your approach and your interest in traditional?

You goes through an educational course and while doing so you experience the guidance of your teachers and see and view many factors such as the ceramics of your country, ceramics in the world and the things made by ceramic artists of the world. You determine a path for yourself by looking all these. To be honest, I also wanted to design and made works influenced from popular forms and thoughts while determining this path and I did so too. Those works was very right and very popular for that time. But I was feeling something is missing while I was doing these works. They were making me feel like they weren't mine. I was willing to do works which belong to me, represent me, which are from me. I started to do my works with these thoughts in mind. Making these form of productions brought me a greater happiness. My works are designs that are close to me, represent me and which I believe in and make me happy even though they're not all that popular. And although I chose my themes from Anatolian civilizations in the early period, I also like to use a local region, a thought, an expression of the country in my recent works today. In the end, I care for the products showing up belong to me furthermore to us.

We see you're inspired from traditional in your modern works. What does 'Traditional' mean to you?

Yes of course, I have an academician identity. Right now, I'm working as a lecturer in Dokuz Eylul University Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Traditional Turkish Arts, Tile Design and Restoration Major. I'm a graduate of Department of Ceramic of the same faculty. I finished my Postgraduate and Doctor of Arts education also in this department. There are two departments in the universities of our country that give education under two different art major titles as Ceramics and Tile. When we look at these departments, we see they're not so different from each other. While Ceramics is more comprehensive, tile covers a more limited area. When we look at the result, we see that the techniques used in tile and the techniques used in ceramics are same. Having only tile education or only ceramics education causes a shortcoming. I can say I observed this situation in my own education life. When I passed from Ceramics department to the Tile department, I realized that magnificent form of clay and the form of glaze. For you can't show the things about tile in an advanced way, somethings remain missing or for you can't teach whole ceramics when you are giving tile education, there are some shortcomings there too. I take care to pull my students to a more complementary area of education by looking at these shortcomings. Therefore, I try to have my students to take traditional ceramics of the whole world as basis. Not only the tile education, but I try to narrate the traditional ceramic production methods of Far East and Near East in the world in my lessons. I'm in the opinion that this will create a richness in students. My purpose is to enrichen their perspective. For I believe that dying tile plate by under-glaze technique would not all that improve the students, they need to know various different techniques, different things for the tools letting them to express themselves better, so I try to organize my education program, develop and maintain it this way.

What kind of a path you take when you're creating your works?

I can actually separate it into two different categories; first, I always say this from the beginning; academicians need to have a production area and continuously produce. A texture in the area you produce, sometimes a small form, an effect can evoke very different things, and you can reach very different points based on this. Therefore, I believe every artist must absolutely have a production area. The second is that design begins to be formed, matures and turns into experimental things within a process. I make experiments after I designate the theme and the goal. Most of the time when I concentrate on the theme, I design my works with the fever of emotions I'm in. I can say that production phase is the part which gives me the highest pleasure.

You have a grasp of firing techniques and use them in your works often. Which technique do you think matches up with your works the most? There are events being organized on alternative firing techniques today. And you were organizing an event named 'Smoke Firing' under university's embodiment in the past, could you tell us about this event?

Actually, everyone involved in ceramics know that your grasp of the technique is in direct proportion to the success of the ceramics you produce. If you don't have a grasp of the technique you may end up failing to bring your highly successful projects into life. Sometimes, you can make a very successful project lose its value by applying a wrong technique. Therefore, grasp of the technique is crucial. And I know the importance of techniques in ceramics particularly in the application phase. I don't want to pass without mentioning our teacher Prof. Zeliha Mete who had great efforts on all of us. She was highly enthusiastic and continuously applying the techniques together with us. In the early years of my studentship, our teacher introduced the reducing media firing technique to us in technology class and the effects, visual games, color motions, dense changes within the firing itself aroused a great interest in me to that technique. Subsequently with this interest, I then finished my thesis with the reducing media firing technique. Since then, I strained after doing experimental studies in every reducing medias and used this firing technique a lot in my works. It came to a point that if I don't apply reducing media firing in a work, it feels like there's something missing in that work and something remains missing afterwards.

In my opinion, ceramics is a very rich field and a material gathering both firing techniques and humans also. I did Smoke Firing events for nine times in my department. I can say it's one of the first examples of alternative firing techniques. I wanted to find a name for these techniques other than just saying alternative and thought that naming it "Smoke Firing" would fit maybe because there was just a few of these kind of firing techniques in the early years. We were able to use many techniques together back then. Groups of about hundred-hundred and fifty people from various universities were coming to these Smoke Firing events I organized, teachers were coming with their students. Students were communicating with each other, there were conferences and presentations with the teachers. There were an exchange of information and knowledge. Various different universities have participated in this organization of ours. But, because there was not as much digital advancement as today back then, we might not be all that popular. I think it's possible to consider this event as one of the precursors of today's alternative firing techniques meaning both Raku and Paper Kiln.

Can you evaluate your viewpoint to ceramic art? Ceramic is deemed as a sub material of sculpture art. What do you think of this?

In fact, ceramics makes a different definition according to the viewpoint you look from: If you're doing works on ceramics you view it differently and if you're using ceramics when doing a work on sculpture you may view it differently. For me, these are the points which truly influences the result. I make ceramics and when I make ceramics I feel that ceramic contains as much color as painting and as much form as sculpture in it but in addition to those, you also experience ceramic's own texture, formability, form, hollowness and fulness. Therefore I can say this; yes you can make sculpture with ceramic, you can also paint on ceramic but you can also make ceramics with ceramic. I chose to make ceramics with ceramic and I believe it's necessary to make ceramics to truly feel it. Then you can see its difference, structure and what clay adds to you. Therefore, it will be unfair to call ceramic only a sculpture material.

Would you evaluate your art works?

I would like to start off from this and I always think about it; ceramic is a different material, a soft material and a formable material. You love the thing you make of ceramic. I believe that it should not be attributed heavy meanings. When you try to attribute heavy meanings, the clay struggles. Let me try to explain with a very simple example; You struggle when you try to tell the World War I. I can say there are various other art branches where you can tell it. You can tell it in cinema, theatre, painting, music and novel. But I don't think ceramic is a material tend toward these heavy themes. I see ceramics as warm products that are close to you and pleasing and restful when you see them in your home. Do you want to own it when you see it? If you do then I see it successful. So I chose my work themes in this direction. But of course I respect those who work on every kind of theme.

How do you see the current situation of Modern Ceramic Art today?

Ok then let me begin with Izmir at first; Izmir is actually a different city in Turkey in terms of its texture, structure of living humans and culture. We can call it a city of ceramics as well. I'm thinking of it as a city with people who loved and adopted ceramics so much. When we look at the architectural places, you see ceramics in many places. There's a considerable number of people interested in ceramics both professionally and as amateurs. University has a great contribution in this. There are ceramic courses and along with them those who train themselves on their own etc. making a great number of ceramic lovers. These individuals are completely creating their own unique works. They're appreciated both in the country and in the world. there are many events organized and there are people and institutions who set their hearts and put their efforts on these events. I especially give Yildiz Sima family as an example here. It's a family with a great contribution to Izmir's ceramic identity, especially the deceased husband Halim Sima. You can see Tuzum Kizilcan's view on ceramics with the events he still organizes today and his quality in his works and stand point. Our teacher Mustafa Tuncalp still continues his productions in his workshop in Izmir. I see these names I mentioned as people who adds value to ceramics. Ceramics also reached very distinct levels when we look at the world. I see more conceptual ceramics are being made recently. I think conceptual art is a bit early for our society and that its background is not yet fully constituted and I observe it's not comprehended by our society. And I respect to those who make these kind of works.

You examine mask culture in one of your recent exhibitions 'Faces, Identities, Expression' and you create your works with this theme. You interpret masks as a cultural element with your own ceramic language. Then, with what purpose are your mask made? What was the message you wanted to give to the audience?

From the beginning of the world history, people have needed to wear masks to make their faces look different for various reasons. Masks are made to meet a certain situation, purpose and need in various times, various forms and for various ways of use. There are many various kinds of masks with the most well-known of these being exorcism masks, sorcerer masks, dramatic (opera/dance) masks, political and nobility masks, shamanic masks, hunting, fashion, film, festival and ceremony masks and funeral masks, war, health and ritual masks, political protection, disguise masks. From past to present, it has been believed that masks protect those who use them against supernatural forces or against their fear and various dangers. The question needed to be asked is; why have people needed to make their face look different and why do they still need it? Is it possible to find the answer in prejudices? Could the need to hide the truth, the desire to look different from what's real, be because of humanly intuitivenesses such as avoiding prejudices or creating a new one? People's faces are their identities and give many foreknowledge about him/her to the others. These knowledges can sometimes be misleading. Color, expression, geography of the face, individual's psychology, educational status, society lived in etc. conveys many prejudices to the opposing side. This may have sometimes a positive and sometimes a negative impression on the opposing side. The important thing is to strive to see the unseen truth not the visible one. In the mask I made, I put the elements that are important to me in a human face forward and leave the perception to art lovers' point of view.


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