Altan Gürman

(1935, İstanbul – 1976, İstanbul)

“Art ought to be less sacred and closer to life.” Altan Gürman

Altan Gürman was one of those rare artists who questioned accepted artistic approaches in terms of both structure and idea. He employed a variety of techniques such as printing and mounting materials on the surface of the work, cut-and- paste, and using specific ready-made materials in order to cool off the relationship between personal expression and the painterly object. He turned familiar objects from daily life, such as sugar beets, potatoes, ropes, and coal into the subject of painting, and indeed into painting itself; he questioned human freedom and the relationship between art and life through materials and symbols that analyzed the military and state bureaucracy. In the 1960s, when figurative and abstract art were the name of the game in Turkey, Gürman was a student in Paris, and in a letter to fellow artist Bilge Alkor, he wrote that he wanted to forget everything he knew and had done before and make a fresh start. Gürman’s innovative educational approach, as well as his artistic practice, had a deep impact on his peers and younger generations of artists.

Dated 1965, the İstatistik [Statistics] series comprises paintings Gürman made, which introduced a new approach in his practice, using illustrations, sketches, and graphics from the statistics journals he acquired while in Paris. These works, often take potatoes as their subject. The humble potato as basic food, source of energy and even a device for imprinting a message is transformed into an agent to articulate new concepts. These works can be read alongside Vincent van Gogh’s De Aardappeleters (Potato Eaters, 1885) and Victor Grippo’s works from the early 1970s, where the artist pointed to social and political power and the potential for change by extracting electrical energy from potatoes. His stamping of the images first seen in the İstatistik series opens this work up for discussion in the context of autographs and titles.