In connection with Senem Oezdogan's recent exhibition, The Night Paintings, Marissa Graziano sat down with the artist to look further into her influences, and in depth perspective into painting.  Oezdogan is a Brooklyn based artist who works to create original paintings that look beyond the medium itself. 


MARISSA GRAZIANO: These paintings explore the absence and presence of light in dialogue with the darkness of night. In cities, we often experience this contrast through artificial light illuminating from open windows. Is there a play between interiority and exteriority within your works?

SENEM OEZDOGAN: In these works, I differentiate between experiences of the external and internal world. Some of the paintings use light as an indicator for inhabited areas such as urban landscapes or distant light sources. Trottoir was inspired by car and traffic lights bouncing off buildings and streets. The intention here was to capture night’s ability to absorb and elevate light and to investigate how that changes our relationship to architecture and space. Other works like An Avalanche of Thoughts deal with the theme of the night as an internal experience. Anxiety and racing thoughts, for example, can disrupt peaceful, comfortable darkness when thoughts keep crashing in on us one after another - and illuminating the darkness.

MG: The Night Paintings feel like a deconstruction of your previous work which models a kinetic use of color and pattern that lends itself to the Op Art Movement. What influenced this shift in your practice?

SO: It's not really a shift but more of a different branch of my practice. My work changes and evolves with me. Experimentation is a huge part of my practice and it’s always been important to me not to limit myself with materials, style, or artistic vocabulary. Curiosity creates new opportunities, and along the way, not every idea may end up inspiring a body of work but they all serve a purpose. I worked on the Night Paintings for the past one-and-a-half years, most of the time parallel to other works. The most significant difference is the fact that I've given myself a lot more liberties and wanted the work to be more painterly - I wanted to leave visible layers of paint, pencil marks, and brush strokes, and I really enjoyed giving up control and surrendering to a more spontaneous way of working on the canvas.

The absence of gesture is intentional in all my other works - they seem almost mechanical. My focus here is to create independent forms that should not be perceived as painted shapes on a surface but as three-dimensional objects that occupy the viewer's space. These works are equally painterly and physical - multiple layers of paint are brushed repeatedly onto the canvas to create smooth layers but the visibility of the painter's hand takes a step back.


MG: There is also an encouragement for viewers to carefully engage with each painting. The surface begins to reveal layers of color and drawing remnants as your field of vision closes in. This experience feels similar to viewing works from artists associated with Color field painting such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Ad Reinhardt. As a German artist living in New York, what is your relationship to American abstract expressionism and European modernism?

SO: The gradients instantly engage the viewer through the optical illusion of the three-dimensional effect - it's an involuntary and unconscious act. In The Night Paintings, the visual engagement is tied to the many layers of color that slowly reveal themselves to the observer. It takes time and I love the contemplative quality of these works. In both series, my intention is to pull the viewer out of the current moment and have him/her surrender to the pleasure of viewing shapes and colors. The common idea that connects all of my works is that I want these paintings to do something, to actively engage the viewer, and transform into something that's not just seen but experienced. That is certainly something I admire in Abstract Expressionism where scale, color, and gesture create intense emotional responses. I don't prefer one over the other and would say that elements of both movements resonate with me. The more I worked through my ideas and tried to answer questions that would come up in different stages of my work my understanding and appreciation of a lot of works for example by Rothko, Newman changed. I started to see these works with different eyes and it was a bit of an "a-ha moment" at times. It's a transformative experience when an artwork starts to reveal itself and you start discovering something that's been in front of you all this time. 

MG: In contrast to viewing the work so closely that it fills your entire visual frame, is the inclusion of a colored wall component set behind the painting, “Trottoir”. Can you speak about your decision to expand the picture plane out from the painting and how that begins a conversation with the architecture of the space

SO: My decision to change the color of the wall had a lot to do with how I wanted to change the viewer’s relationship to the artwork. The dark wall activates the space and is not just a supporting surface but becomes an extension of the artwork and the edge of the canvas is no longer perceived as “the end” of the work. Troittoir is about light's transformative quality and how we perceive architectural structures in the absence and presence of light and the ways it gets absorbed and reflected.




MG: We’ve had to dramatically shift the way that we’ve viewed art in the past year, primarily experiencing it online through our iPhones. In collaboration with Uprise Art on this exhibition, your work continually shifts between its digital representation on a curatorial platform and its physicality in the gallery. How do you think your paintings change for viewers through these different encounters

SO: My biggest fear is always the misrepresentation of the surface and color on digital platforms. I try to keep every image I release as close to the original as possible. For me, the biggest inspiration comes from seeing a painting in real life; how a painting occupies space, the presence it commands, and the body in relation to the exhibition space and the artwork. It’s hard to capture all these aspects of an artwork in an image. Throughout the pandemic, I have really enjoyed online viewing rooms, and I think the consolidated presentation of the work and information is an experience in its own right. There are many paintings I love, but never had the chance to see in real life and enjoy seeing these works through a digital platform. One of the things that fascinates me the most is how images get shared and the way they take on a completely new existence. Images get shared with filters, new crops, different color values and you end up seeing all these different and distorted versions of the original.


MG: The surface of the work feels particularly important in the translation between technology and physical viewership. Does the work begin in your preparation of the canvas or does the atmosphere of each painting reveal itself throughout the process of making?

SO: It’s a little bit of both. As much as I enjoy giving up control, there’s always a planned element to my work. Compared to my other works, I gave myself the freedom to directly experiment on the canvas, to change my mind about shapes, colors, and arrangements as I was painting. It was incredibly liberating to just follow the materials and observe how each color would respond to the other and build them up layer by layer. 

MG: I’d like to talk about your use of color in relation to your education at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. In thinking about the prominent use of indigo in this series of paintings, I’m curious to know if your work draws from any historical significance of indigo dye used in textiles?

SO: I have been experiment with fibers while attending FIT and started working on paper weavings and my rope works but haven't worked with textiles. I have been using indigo for a very long time - sometimes more or less prominent depending on what I’m working on. It’s extremely versatile and can easily be pushed into the greens or purples, creating melancholic or uplifting atmospheres.



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