x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Ripping art: Ebru Uygun on creation through destruction

The Turkish artist Ebru Uygun explains her technique of tearing up her paintings and then reassembling the fragments at random

Ebru Uygun’s Lucid Dreaming consists of a series of images torn up and then randomly reassembled.
Ebru Uygun’s Lucid Dreaming consists of a series of images torn up and then randomly reassembled.

When the first stage of a painting is complete, the Turkish artist Ebru Uygun tears the whole thing into strips, systematically shredding the work with her bare hands so that it's reduced to a pile of torn canvas.

From the heap on the floor, she then sets about plucking the pieces one by one, reassembling them in strips and swirls that form gradations of colour on the spectrum. It's a creative process that was borne of a moment of crisis early in her career, she recalls.

"It started seven years ago, with a work I had in my studio. I found myself looking at it and simply hating it. I felt this overwhelming impulse to destroy it. On the spur of the moment, I took a pair of scissors to it and cut it up into pieces."

Destroying the piece was a cathartic experience, says Uygun. She then set about recomposing the tattered pieces into a new arrangement.

"I looked at what I'd made, and it had become something completely different. The process of destruction and reconstruction had somehow injected it with new life."

She pursued this method to refine it into a creative process that is systematic but yet retains elements of spontaneity, with each strip selected arbitrarily from the heap.

"I kept going with that attitude, and began to organise and plan the process more methodically, experimenting with different movements, like arcs and curves, for instance.

"Now I've begun working on three or four different canvases at once. And I've begun to tear the canvases by hand, rather than using scissors."

Her latest paintings, entitled Lucid Dreaming, are a series of formal experiments in colour and tonality that become theoretical exercises in abstract form. The work forms the inaugural exhibition of the Green Art Gallery's new space in the Al Quoz district of Dubai.

During the initial phase, the canvases are both mounted on the wall, giving a streaked effect, or on the floor, in a way reminiscent of Jackson Pollock's drip technique of "painting in air".

In the finished works, residual vestiges of the original get reconstituted in strips of monochrome, flecked here and there with details of brighter colour that offset the predominantly muted palette.

"In the past I worked with a lot of colour, but over time I've reduced the technique and simplified it to mostly monochrome schemes," she says. "The strips overlap and clash to create new, unexpected tonalities."

The works are notable as exercises in pure form, so that the technique becomes a subject in itself, and colour, spectrum and tone become central themes.

Another pervasive theme is the ethereal nature of light, and the way this affects the subconscious, as she references in the title of the series.

They are also paintings about taste, and Uygun demonstrates a fine sensibility as a colourist, in the tradition, say, of American abstract expressionists such as Robert Motherwell.

Uygun mixes the acrylic with a layer of PVC glue to give the surface veneer of the work a peeling texture, bearing details of the broad strokes and daubings of the original canvas, before it was torn apart.

"The work becomes endowed with a kind of three-dimensionality, because the surface is broken and disturbed by the ruptures in its texture," she says, and you can see this in the way the glue adds body and substance to the paint, giving an effect of warping and buckling in the way the paint cakes on the surface.

As a student in London, Uygun had previously worked in media including photography, video and installation. "I think that fed into the performance element in the paintings," she says. "The work becomes like a kind of sculpture. It starts with painting, but then comes to incorporate elements of performance.

"I visualise the abstract form, and then go through the whole cycle of constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing from the pile of shredded strips on the floor. And because the selecting of each strip is improvised, you can sometimes get these wonderful surprises."

It is a process that gives rise to a series of almost philosophical meditations on the states of mind inspired by arrangements of colour, and in her most successful pieces, makes for work that is both subtle and quietly moving.

Ebru Uygun, Lucid Dreaming, at Green Art Gallery, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai, until February 14.