Ogulcan Kush – "The American Daydream"

This is artist Ogulcan Kush’s first solo exhibition and stands as a goodbye mark to the past 6 years he has spent in the United States. See below for the artist statement and a few stills of the works from the show!

Artist Statement:

Growing up as a Muslim in Istanbul, Turkey, I was exposed to a lot of Eastern Art through the rich cultural history of my surroundings: at school and on family trips we took around the country. At the same time, I’ve always been interested in American pop culture, through cartoons and films I used to watch growing up, which is probably why I identify with this country so much.  

The one big difference between art from the West and the East (specifically Islamic Art) is aniconism, a proscription against the creation of images of sentient beings. This has led to Islamic Art being dominated by geometric shapes and patterns. When one walks into a mosque, these geometric patterns are supposed to put the viewer in a state of euphoria and spiritual uplift. On the other hand, Western art is full of figures, narratives told through these figures and various representations of spirituality. As Western Art, for the most part, has derived from the art of its religions, it has progressed extensively in terms of iconism, symbolism, and storytelling. In my work, I intertwine my interest in both worlds to deliver the concept I have in mind for each piece through a visually bold and vibrant way. 


The American Daydream:

I was born in Istanbul, Turkey. Growing up, my favorite activity was to watch cartoons and foreign TV shows on Nickelodeon and similar kids channels; the other-worldliness of them mesmerized me. These shows were usually in English with Turkish subtitles. I wanted to understand what was happening without having to read the subtitles.This sparked an interest in English for me. And as I continued to grow up, I was realizing that in addition to cartoons, a lot of other things that I was interested in were coming out of the US so I started getting into the broader American culture. The more I found out about the US, the more I wanted to go there, until finally, my mother took me on a trip to New York in 2004. After this, I was sure that this is where I wanted to live in the future.

In 2011, I moved to New York to study Graphic Design. After a year of navigating the scene, I decided that I wanted to study fine art. In addition to practicing art, I got a job at MoMA PS1. From there, I went on to working in various galleries first as an intern, then an assistant, and for the past couple of years as an art handler. My work allowed me to be around art all the time, and when I was off, I was working on my own art in my studio. I was finally in a position where I was able to afford a place to live and a separate studio space for making art, all funded by working in the art industry. Everything seemed to be on track until I realized that my visa was about to end soon and eventually I would need to leave the US. I had been living here for so long that the idea of leaving the life I had built here for myself seemed both absurd and out of question.

Throughout this period of instability and uncertainty, I had been looking for something rigid to lean on and ground myself in. I saw this as an opportunity for my painting practice. I decided to be okay with leaving the US, and use whatever time I had left to react to the situation with my art. 

I decided to take a mechanical approach towards my paintings. I would create a task for myself and I would work on my paintings to solve it. I had this idea for a series called limitations. I made up a set of rules for these paintings: only 8×8 canvases, only three colors, and using only a ruler and a compass. I wanted to see if I could come up with thirty-six designs. This allowed me to test my creative limits within a certain range so that I wouldn’t lose track of what I was working towards. I found this very comforting because I was in control of the solution. I didn’t have any control over my immigration status but at least I had control over my work. However uncertain the future was, the project was moving onward little by little consistently; I would go to the studio every single day, even if only for an hour, and keep up the momentum.  

This project had opened a new door for me. The process of painting the pieces was just as crucial to my practice as the finished product. Then I started getting into the use of patterns through repetition of simple geometric shapes. I was borrowing from Islamic art and delivering it in bold style that was based on my interest in pop art. As the works were evolving through time, they started getting more conceptual as well. Working at MoMA, I was around lots of art at the time so my works started reacting to that of the masters I look up to.I looked at Jasper Johns and appropriated his Flag painting with an eastern twist, expressing my identity as a mix of the East and West. Having art as a big part of my life, it became inevitable to make art about art. I turned towards Dadaism and Anti-Art, made works inspired by these movements, studying where they stand and what they mean in the contemporary world. Magritte’s thought provoking works and his witty style inspired me. My works Circus Dome and Beehive are grounded in my admiration for his works. 

As these works were coming together, I realized that the entire body of work was born from my admiration for American pop culture, the motifs of Islamic Art, and creating links between them as a reaction to the current position I was in as a “nowhere man.”Therefore I decided to call the body of work The American Daydream.