Fascinated with Islamic architecture and changing cityscapes, Turkish artist Ahmet Faruk Yilmaz has been making waves on social media, contrasting heritage from the past with modern buildings in his detailed colourful drawings.
Originally from the Fatih district of Istanbul, Ahmet is a graduate student at the Department of Modern Turkish Studies at Ibn Haldun University, where he is now a lecturer. With a background in Islamic Sciences, Political Science, and History, Islamic architecture and urbanism are a central focus in his artistic practice and creative vision.
We talk to Ahmet about his admiration for Islamic history and architecture, his creative process and his future hopes and aspirations.
What was your journey to becoming an artist and have you undertaken any formal art training?
From a very early age, drawing has been the one thing that brings me the most peace. Later, I realized that I had an extraordinary interest in art and awareness about my environment, even as a child. Although I never lost my connection with art, my artistic adventure generally followed a course of ups and downs. I did not receive any formal art education. I did not have a master either to guide me. But I think it is safe to say that I educated myself through several ways to achieve a certain level of success in my art. I can say that the most crucial motivation that triggered my interest in painting/drawing and my self-education process was the detailed engravings that adorned the pages of the encyclopedia volumes I loved to examine in an early age. Getting lost in the details of the engravings made me as happy as playing games with my toys as a child.
In addition to my academic studies focusing on 19th century Ottoman history, I have been spending more time on my art, especially for the last three years. It was in these last years that I reached a large audience on Instagram and Twitter.
You have a strong admiration of Islamic history and architecture, why architecture in particular?
I was born and grew up in Fatih, the historical center of Istanbul. I admired the monumental structures as the living witnesses of Ottoman culture and civilization throughout my childhood. In addition to this, I was very interested in the more minor traditional civil architectural elements. Wooden houses, fountains, cemeteries, and historical bazaars became a fairy-tale channel that built my relationship with history.
Cities have been built by people who share certain beliefs throughout history, and architecture has been the means by which this is practiced. This is why I think there is an inseparable relationship between faith, society, and architecture. For this reason, architecture, especially Islamic architecture, is at the center of my work. Of course, it cannot be considered as an academic interest, but maybe more as emotional and even nostalgic. An abandoned wooden Ottoman house often tells me more and gives me more feelings than a lengthy book on history. And I try to express this impression by drawing.
Besides, I think one of the most crucial elements of civilization that we have lost as Muslim peoples with modernization is our traditional architecture. I don't think architecture is just building structures with different appearances. The most obvious expression of a society's vision of the world is directly related to how that society builds the environment, city and house in which it lives. Accordingly, I am trying to emphasize this idea and give a reminder of what we have lost.
You draw and paint, what mediums and materials do you use to create your works?
I generally use technical drawing pens for my black and white drawings that resemble engraving style. The nib thicknesses of these pens range from 0.03 to 0.7. I use watercolor for my color works. The vivid and raw texture of watercolor reminds me of innocent memories of my childhood. As for the paper, I try a wide variety of products.
Your work is incredibly detailed, what is your creative process and how long does it take you to create a painting?
Before I start a piece of work, especially detailed compositions, I wait for the work to mature in my mind. Sometimes this can take a few hours, sometimes a few weeks. After this stage, I first make a preliminary sketch. This is the most important stage for the proportions and harmony of the elements that will form the drawing. Then I set out to draw the outlines with pigment ink. When this process is completed, we can say that the skeleton of the work is revealed. And the most troublesome part for me begins with the details, that is, everything for me. Shadows, which give the artwork its power to impress the audience, are my favorite part. But, this is the most challenging stage for someone like me who is sickly interested in details because no matter how many details I add, I often get the feeling that it is not enough. But at the end of this process, the work is primarily done. The time it takes for the drawings depends entirely on the size and density of details. While there are some works that take a few hours, there are also some that take months.
Your work Ornaments of the Cities work went viral on social media. How do you feel about the response it has had?
Frankly, 'The Ornament of Cities' surprised me by becoming my most popular work on social media. It was a modest work compared to many of my other works, both in terms of its content and the time I spent drawing it. But as far as I understand, its content and visuality were remarkable and concise. This made it easy to spread from hand to hand in a very short time. And as a result, it became my most popular post. It has reached thousands of shares and tens of millions of views on many different platforms with or without reference. For an artist, this is very gratifying.
The colours you use are so vivid, how do you select your paints and colours, is there a lot of blending and mixing to get the right shades and textures?
I realize texture, shading, and shadows entirely with lines in my engraving style works. I prefer much more vivid tones in the works that I paint with watercolor, unlike black and white drawings. My early interest in miniature art is a determining factor in this regard. The vivid and raw colors in miniatures have always attracted me. I also try to create a childlike feeling with my colors. This bring some criticism, but I a not planning to sacrifice my vivid colors to that …
Your work expresses the joy and spirit of the rich heritage of Islamic art and culture. What has the response of audiences been?
I emphasize the relationship between architectural works, history, faith, and society. I try to convey to art lovers what old buildings or what remained out of them make me feel. And the feedback so far shows that I might be successful in this aim. I received excellent feedback both inside Turkey and on the international level. This gives me enthusiasm in my work. I am much more dedicated to my work, especially after I realized that the style I put forward is something new with ancient elements.
You have painted magnificent mosques and architecture relevant to Islamic history and heritage. What meanings do these buildings hold for you?
All of these are important elements that shape the daily life of Muslim societies in terms of both their architectural features and functions. But unfortunately, the traditional city is disappearing with its many beauties and delicacies, and the elements that I have used in my paintings disappear along with it. This is not just the inlay of a stone or mud-brick pile. The disappearance of these forms and styles, which are shaped around a particular belief system and are the product of centuries of experience, also leads to the loss of historical consciousness, memory, and self-confidence. So, I am trying to remind people of these beauties that we sacrifice to modernization more and more rapidly, calling them with my lines to recall the elegance of their architectural heritage and act for the revival of the traditional styles and forms.
What has been the most challenging work you have created and how did you overcome obstacles?
In terms of the details it contains, the diversity of the structures, and the harmony between the proportions, my work named Namütenahi is the drawing that I put the most effort into. Therefore, I can say that it is my favorite work. In it, I present dozens of different traditional architectural structures that adorn Istanbul in a single composition. In this respect, I aimed for a comprehensive and impressive visuality. I placed different light angles to avoid boredom and I made a great effort to distribute the details in a balanced way. As a result, I think I have reached a satisfactory conclusion.
What do you hope audiences feel or think when they encounter your work?
As an artist, it is enough for me to be able to arouse some good feelings in people who look at my drawings. However, if I can raise awareness of the architecture shaped by tradition and faith, it will make me much more satisfied for sure.
What are your creative plans and hopes? Projects in the pipeline?
I work on inclusive collections containing different architectural elements, similar to the one in my work Ornament of Cities. I will share them gradually. In addition, I have comprehensive drafts of compositions that will emphasize the architectural diversity in the Islamic world.
On the other hand, I work on coloring and drawing books in order to raise interest and awareness among children by providing them something catchy. Because I believe, it is really important to raise new generations of artists, architects, engineers and urban planners to save what is left of our heritage and revive it with a new taste.
What does the future of Islamic arts and culture look like to you? What are the opportunities and potential?
It is motivating to see the increasing interest in Islamic arts lately. However, I do not think that Islamic arts will progress adequately without the necessary financing, educational infrastructure, and solidarity among artists. In this respect, I think that there is a need for umbrella organizations and organizations that will raise awareness and encourage people to support these arts. At this point, I find your Bayt Al Fan initiative very important, and I follow it with appreciation and admiration.
For more information check out https://www.etsy.com/shop/AhmetFarukArt
And follow Ahmet on Twitter https://twitter.com/afaruk_yilmaz
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