Daily Sabah Arts - An earthly underworld: The macabre naturalism of Ali İbrahim Öcal

At the Sanatorium gallery in Kemankeş quarter bordering Karaköy, the fourth solo exhibition by the multi- and mixed-media artist Ali İbrahim Öcal is a post-naturalist macabre reflection titled ‘Nature Morte,' open until Jan. 27, which reimagines the anthropomorphic env​ironment with ravishing, intensive beauty

The stylish and historic European port neighborhood of Karaköy is a hyper-local front up against the encroaching horrors of the gentrification that consumes and wastes all forms of life overnight with the spike of a third-wave coffee. Its few, vine-terraced streets are studded with overpriced bars, high-end cafes and world cuisine. Where the labyrinthine maze of its haunts begin in Kemankeş quarter around the corner from the 16th-century hamams (Turkish baths) of the Kılıç Ali Pasha Complex, the spare, warehouse space of Sanatorium Gallery offers passersby a window into the earthly underworld of post-naturalist art with the "Nature Morte" exhibition by Ali Ibrahim Öcal.

Found in 2009 as an art initiative by eight artists, the current doors to Sanatorium opened in September of 2011 and have since curated solo and group shows with locals and foreigners, sharpening the creative edge of inner-city designs cultivated in the decadent and expanding megalopolis that defines contemporary Istanbul. Its walls and corners, floors and lights, nooks and ceilings are grounds for the open and illuminated public dismemberment of the artistic process, as the gallery especially looks for developing bodies of work by artists who are unafraid to expose the rawness of unfinished and experimental visions. For the "Nature Morte" show, independent curator Necmi Sönmez instills a vibrant, piercing continuity in line with the source inspiration from the seven pieces on display.

Walking through the storefront entranceway, the industrial concrete environs crack and split in hissing shots of powdered stone. Taxis cram through the narrow cobble, grazing the jackets and shoes of ubiquitous pedestrians who stroll into the hipster disarray, where antique dealers and graffiti artists rub shoulders over the caffeinated glories of impromptu, postmodern urban communities. There are some five art galleries on the single alleyway corner by Sanatorium as the city trembles to overflowing with an intoxicating blend of creative juice that never ceases to fire the imaginations of globetrotters and nationals alike. Born in Germany and educated in Turkey, the fourth solo exhibition by Öcal integrates the greater horizon of local art.

Nature Morte refines and advances the concepts and practices of EcoArt with a powerful eye for extracting the phenomenal qualities of the earth from the normally mundane perceptions of everyday existence. In like mind as the legendary declaration by Nietzsche that "God is dead," the current exhibition at Sanatorium delivers a paradigm-shifting decentralization of daily life from the monotonies of habitual behaviors and thoughts. While drawing from natural materials like leaves, thorns and branches, Öcal does not succumb to what Shakespeare called the "wasteful and ridiculous excess" crystallized in his classic phrase, "to paint the lily" from his 1595 play "King John." Instead, the "Nature Morte" pieces rise from the anthropocentric perspective of the post-industrial and unsustainable world of global cities.

The epoxy resin that shapes and petrifies the overlapping, reserved magnolia leaves for the 227-centimeter-wide "May-August Magnolia Scale" (2017) gives the piece an apt aesthetic uniformity as pressed into the forged earth of metallic buildings and pixel-distracted eyes. Bronzed and gleaming in subdued, muted reflections, the shape of the leaves almost disappear, forming an abstraction of hues that darkens toward the floor. With a closer look the spines and veins of leaves come through. And although flattened, the textural integrity of the plant fibers are retained. It breathes with the quality of a painting. When seen as a unity, it is a shock of distinct colors. In detail, certain techniques are exposed, like brush strokes, only in the placement of each leaf, blatantly dead and dry, fractured and cut.

Aside it, "Skin of Sea - III" (2017) makes waves, frozen in a paralysis of crested lines. Its roughly applied oil on a 250-centimeter-wide canvas evokes the effects of surface water with a masterful, post-realist impressionism that stings in its fine execution. Against the bare, white background wall, there is a dynamic lifelessness to its indulgent, action-paint style. In three tones of grey, it is reminiscent of Monet and Pollock. Inside a curious, narrow hall within the modest gallery space, the bronze sculpture "Rosebud" (2017) is presented with a lofty air under soft yellow lights, upheld and free-floating on a stand. Its slender figure in the manifestation of an artificial thorn branch appears almost holy in a dedicated space practically enshrined with its careful curation, as could befit the invaluable heirloom scepter of a prehistoric sun king. With his peculiar bent for deeply original, post-naturalist trends, his sculptural work hones in on the theme of natural death with a revivalist disposition.

"Three Loops for Lephitos" (2017) is the sole video installation of "Nature Morte," concentrated over the torso of what looks like a horse, it realizes the subtle and sinuous, pulsing and muscle-toned skin of a strong and healthy, living animal. The taut, ribbed belly of the being is cut to frame, compartmentalized into the viewable standard of a moving image. That a creature of nature is reduced to size, and rendered into a fragmented abstraction through the narrow lens of the human perspective captures a microcosmic point relating the entire construction of the deadly anthropocentrism that turns the naturally abundant earth into an intellectual exercise in real-time planetary ecocide. It speaks to the ancient Indian parable of the "Blind Men and the Elephant," specifically in the first, blind impression of the elephant as a wall, ultimately contributing to the overall truth that no one may fully grasp nature because they will only know a part of it, and finally, are of it themselves. As the late philosopher Alan Watts repeatedly explained with comic clarity, such an assumption is tantamount to the old saying: Pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps.

"Burnt Forest" (2017) is a 270-centimeter-long triptych conceived from aluminum epoxy resin in the configuration of pleated plastic forming rivulets, valleys and gorges of wrinkles enough to emerge into view like the sight of an aerial landscape. It epitomizes the notion of an earthly underworld, as the monochromatic realm is proportioned like the 2-dimensional map of a theoretical planet reformatted into rectangles set with computer precision. "Hand Knows - Cosmos II" (2017) is visually the most impressive piece at "Nature Morte" considering the meticulous consistency of its design. Delicately crafted with individualized thorns decontextualized over a slab of aluminum and patterned to a swirling, galactic effect, it has the characteristic ingenuity of a Tibetan sand painting, though with a rustic quality that is conspicuously the result of one mind rather than that of a collective religious aesthetic.

Finally, in terms of pure novelty of invention, the flagship piece at "Nature Morte" is the "Untitled" (2017) installation in the form of 19 tree branches, each fitted handle-free with the spade end of shovels. Contiguously stretching upward in a wild tangle of arboreal tendrils, it bears the post-naturalist aesthetic incarnate. More, the work has the force of a blunt statement questioning the anthropocentric utilitarianism of nature. A tree is not merely intended for human use, as to facilitate the digging of its rooted earth. Öcal, in his strikingly macabre images and understated artistic intelligence, is showing that when people force the earth to torture itself they are raising the underworld and its plucked leaves, its dead seas, its preserved limbs, its burned forests, and its cut thorns all the way to the over-civilized high ground beyond the pale of natural life toward artistic resurrection from a most natural death.