EVERY STORY HAS A FACE: Plein Air Portraiture

 THE TAILOR SHOP

The Tailor Shop ©2012 Trici Venola. Minerci, Yorganciler Caddesi, Aga Han #20, Kapalicarsi.

Suleyman the Magnificent

Sahin Gurvardar and his son Taner work up top in the Grand Bazaar in a shop the size of a teakettle. That’s Sahin as a young blade over his own shoulder, and that’s his father in the photo below. The Gurvardars have been in this shop since the Republic, laboring under towering piles of fabric, making thousands of cushion covers and bedspreads, and when you buy a pair of jeans in the Grand Bazaar, these are the guys that shorten them.   They work constantly. They have a nice summer house in a town a few hours away, and Taner just got married. Sahin is a direct descendant from Suleyman the Magnificent, the great Sultan of the Renaissance, although not from the infamous Roxalana. You can learn a lot about this place, drawing the people.

I sat in the shop for about three hours, mostly getting the background.  I’m increasingly grateful that I can do this because it makes people very happy. These folks are not on the tourist track; nobody makes a fuss over them. They were so excited! Sahin and I had a celebratory tea while Taner rushed off to the photcopiers with the drawing. It was an event.

A 16th-century Ottoman painting of Suleyman the Magnificent

A portrait isn’t a figure study or a lesson in facial anatomy, although it may be used as such. A portrait is a celebration of that particular individual at that moment. These are all Plein Air portraits: done on the fly, from life, and cleaned up later. Yes, I was sitting there with the person at the time. It all has to come alive from lines on paper, so I ask myself, “How can I make this more interesting?” One way is  to put it in context. Lighting, background, placement on the page: all contribute to our information about the personality.

TEA IN A CAVE

Tea in a Cave ©1999 by Trici Venola. The Open Air Museum, Goreme, Kapadokya.

Here are guards at the Open Air Museum in Goreme, Kapadokya, descended from The Conqueror, the Conquered, or both. They gave me tea after I spent four frigid, gritty hours drawing St Barbara’s Chapel, and pointed out a stone gorilla in the rocks opposite.

THE BROTHERS AKBAYRAK

The Brothers Akbayrak ©1999 by Trici Venola.

Mike, Alpaslan and Hasan Akbayrak of the Kybele Hotel. Nobody posed, I was just noodling around. Always carry your sketchbook!

AIN’T SHE SWEET

Ain’t She Sweet ©2004 by Trici Venola.

New Year’s Eve 2004-2005. For years I was afraid to ask people to hold still so I could draw them. What if they didn’t like it? Would they hate me? I prettified people. Not anymore! There’s pretty, and there’s beautiful. So now I just let ‘er rip, and if they don’t like it, sorry. I believe this lady was a journalist, but I’ll never know because she hated her portrait and left before I could get her name. Everyone else thinks she’s adorable.

MISCHIEF

Mischief ©2006 Trici Venola.

Drawing women of a certain age…my nightmare. I am one, and I know the horror of realizing that the elder person in the photo is you. But some folks don’t care. This lady came out to investigate and watched for two hours as I drew cave houses across the way from her home in Goreme, Kapadokya. She held absolutely still in the chill winter sun for about twenty minutes. I was able to get the scarf shadow on her face and the pattern on her shalvar. Placement on the page is important. I tend to put people where they are in relation to me while I’m drawing them. Filling the page above or below is not always a good idea.

OLD POET

Old Poet ©2006 Trici Venola.

He loved his drawing. A translator and poet: seated in a rattan chair in the 16t-century Writer’s Union Han in Sultanahmet, he looked right out of a Somerset Maugham story. Shrunk in his white suit, he carried an old leather briefcase stuffed with clippings about himself and made great conversation in elegant English. Sadly his name has been lost to me, but I’ll have him always.

NURETTIN AND HIS WALL

Nurettin and His Wall ©2011 Trici Venola.

Master craftsman Nurettin Mantar is fond of this wall he built from local stone in his hometown of Ortahisar, Kapadokya. I tried to show that Nuri and the wall are somehow of the same material. As I drew him, I asked if the derelict cave, next to the beautiful one he restored, was part of the original complex. “Hibe dede,” he said, “grandpa grant. 800 years ago, seven brothers came from Uzbekistan and settled here. They married, had children, and they lived in all of these caves. They were my ancestors.” Now how many people can tell you who their ancestors were eight centuries back, let alone make a palace from their caves?

STREET DRAMA

Sogukcesme Street ©2004 Trici Venola.

To draw this little street next to Gulhane Park in Sultanahmet, I sat on the porch of an ornate building on the tramline when  I noticed a line of village women sitting across the street. I drew them and left out their faces, since I didn’t want to offend them. One of them noticed and brought over her little girl for a portrait. Here she is in the center.

Outside the Juvenile Court ©2004 Trici Venola.

I thought these women were waiting for the bus, but I was sitting on the portch of the Juvenile Courts Building. The woman on the left was very angr when the others, all delighted, showed her the drawing. She made smearing motions over the page and dressed me down in Turkish. When I found someone who spoke English, I realized that all these women were waiting for their sons to be tried, and the woman’s anger was about a stranger witnessing that. When the soldiers came out with her son between them like a criminal, she fainted in the street, and all the others revived her, henna-stained hands patting her limp ones.

JEANNIE AND LEYLA JANE

Baby Face ©2010 Trici Venola

Baby Face ©2010 Trici Venola

What is it that creates that need to catch a face? I see people, and like it or not I just have to have them.  I want to dress them in line and share them forever. I hung out between drawings at the hotel Jeannie managed with her friend Rhonda in Sultanahmet, watching the sun and the moon on her growing belly as the three of us solved all the world’s problems. How we found time for this I’ll never know, because nobody ever worked harder. It paid off: the hotel thrived and so did Leyla, who was born with the brightest red hair anyone had ever seen. For Jeannie and her famous blonde hair in the sunlight of Leyla’s happy childhood, I used very little shadow. And I wish it to the both of them, in life.

MOMO

Big Momo ©2010 Trici Venola.

Genghis Khan

Muhammed Rahimoglu looks like a modern version of Genghiz Khan. I had never seen a face like this and have drawn him many times.  He’s Turkman from Afghanistan, from the area of the giant Buddhas. It’s not farfetched to claim Genghis Khan as an ancestor if you are from Central Asia: DNA testing proves many, if not most, people are direct descendants. Modern depictions portray the great warrior as craggy and fierce, but contemporary portraits show a wide face with a long straight nose and Asian eyes.

Genghis Khan

Muhammed remembers walking out of Kabul through the Khyber Pass with his family when he was three, remembers his brother getting lost among the forty other families, remembers hungrily drinking milk from a red spice bowl like the ones in his Istanbul tribal arts shop now. The familly grew up in Pakistan. Muhammed pioneered tribal felt in Istanbul: items made by the women of Kyrgystan, cottage industries started by Unesco seed money to give them economic parity. Starting from a few pieces of silver and a lot of guts, Muhammed did his own buying, touring the ‘Stans with his many languages, and became an institution in Tribal Arts. His shop, Ak Gumus, is still in the Grand Bazaar, but we’ve lost him to Kyrgystan, where he’s now cornering the market in Green Tea.

GHOST OF ISTANBUL PAST

Then there’s Nizam. Huge presence and a fascinating face: dozens of drawings over the years. Here he is in 1999:

Nizam Odalisque ©1999 Trici Venola.

and again in 2003.

Still A Porsche ©2003 Trici Venola.

Here’s our friend Bayram in his salad days:

Bayram in a Leather Jacket ©2004 Trici Venola.

I used the hands and jacket from this portrait, re-drew Bayram in profile, and dropped him–using Photoshop– into this drawing from 1999.

The Everlasting Carpet Shop ©1999, 2006 Trici Venola

Here are the same guys in 2010.

Ghost of Istanbul Past ©2010 Trici Venola.

Some people are better as art, God bless ’em.

PETER HRISTOFF PASHA

Professor of Art Peter Hristoff flung this priceless tribal blanket around himself and sat for 45 minutes in front of his rapt class from the School of Visual Arts in New York: our lesson in portraiture in the Grand Bazaar. I spent the time drawing Peter and got the exact pattern of the blanket later from a photo. It was important. Peter’s gift for teaching and his enthusiasm and expertise in tribal arts are major elements of his personality as I see it, so I’ve couched him in these terms.

ISMET AND HIS SAZ

The donor kebab is fabulous at Hayat, Ismet’s corner stand on Akbiyik Street just down from the Arasta Bazaar, but his saz music is even better.

If I were a better artist I might be able to catch that instant when the still, posed face breaks up into curves as the subject cracks up in self-conscious delight. Still I try. If time allows, I sit there a bit and let them talk, and then I ask them to Hold It…. It’s only five minutes, I lie, and the more you hold still, the better it will look.

CLASSIC MARIO

Mario here loved having his picture drawn and held his patented ladykiller grin rock-steady for twenty minutes. Not many people can do that, but he’s had a lot of practice. I usually start with the eye on my left, proceed to the nose, and go from there. I often cut off the top of the head. It’s not intentional. At least I’ve progressed from the bad old days when the neck looked like a stick and the ears were too close to the eyes.

ANNE

All these guys are well turned out by their mothers. Anne is Mother in Turkish, and this magnificent matriarch posed for me in 2004 in her village near Kayseri. These hard-working women have palms textured like the soles of the feet of city women. And what a beauty she was! Below, her daughter busied herself in the kitchen, making us welcome.

COOKING CHICKEN

Cooking Chicken ©2004 Trici Venola.

The kitchen, plaster over cinder-block, was painted deep turquoise, inspiring the color for every bedroom I’ve had since. Tribal art decorated the walls, all of it with a purpose: curtains, tools… She squatted down and in about fifteen minutes cooked the best chicken I ever ate, while I stood there and drew her. Drawing someone is intense: Immersion in that personality. This is why I don’t draw on demand or do street caricatures. I take commissions, and sometimes I work from photos, but I’m a real prima donna about who I draw.

THE BACKGAMMON PLAYERS

Oh, I love portraits. I started before I can remember. All the architectural stuff and landscape, that’s more recently-acquired skill, very hard to learn. As I labored, the principle of portraiture spilled over into the surroundings, making the backgrounds as personal as the people in them.

The Backgammon Players ©2004 Trici Venola.

Eventually I was able to make a drawing interesting to me without people. Now I draw a portrait of a place or object at a particular point in its existence, and I make it as personal as possible. I include all the little details. I love old buildings for this reason. A building that’s been sandblasted and made to look new is no fun at all. What makes something drawable is that individual personality, the patina of having lived.  There’s another word for it in English: charm.

Topkapi Wall at Gulhane Park ©2004 Trici Venola.

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All drawings Plein Air. All line art © Trici Venola. All drawings are from sketchbooks: a two-page drawing measures 18 X 26 cm / 7 X 20 inches, done with drafting pens on rag paper. All art is from The Drawing On Istanbul Project™ by Trici Venola. Thanks for reading. We love your comments. The Drawing On Istanbul Project has many friends but is not affiliated with any government, university or corporation. If you are interested in sponsorship, or purchase of a particular piece of art,  please  contact us here.

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