In the Studio with Hira Gedikoglu

In the studio with Hira Gedikoglu, a contemporary visual artist whose works are an amalgamation of characters and locations taken from Ottoman and Renaissance paintings combined with her photographs taken in Istanbul. We met with Hira to tell us more about growing up in the South of Turkey, her greatest influences, and unexpected sources of inspiration.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

I think my parents and grandmother saw me as an artist before I did- I owe them a lot. My mother would put paper on the walls for me to draw over as a child, and built a studio for me in the garden when I was sixteen (even when it was financially challenging to do so). Despite these efforts (and 4 years of Fine Art education) I didn’t psychologically commit to the role of “artist” until I was at the Royal Drawing School. My experience there was the day-day reality and sparked some sort of addiction, lockdown only added fuel to that fire. 

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?

I am from the South of Turkey: a town called Adana. I tend to collect a lot of images for references when I’m there, and as I’ve grown older, I collect stories too. It is a really nostalgic place and not objectively beautiful, which is a great opportunity for an artist! I moved to the UK when I was about seven and didn’t speak any English but surprisingly, it was a fairly smooth transition for me, I’m not sure if that was the case for the rest of my family. 

I didn’t have the courage to make figurative work about my roots until recently. I always approached the subject matter in a cartographic/ detached way which was a safe place, void of any complicated narratives. Spending lockdown in my family home enabled me to re-root and gave me a voice in a conversation about identity in a less abstract way.

What’s the message of your work? Where do they come from? 

I think aesthetic is a problematic term. I tend to work in series’ so my paintings and drawings don’t really have a consistently recognisable style. The subject matter and the narratives are the only constant throughout. I explore themes of motherhood, sisterhood and familial roles.

Who & what are your greatest influences?  

Artists I really look upto are Francis Alys, Marlene Dumas, Micheal Armitage, Edvard Munch… I mean there are hundreds but they tend to get me “unstuck” when I’m lacking momentum. And my wonderful artist friends of course. I learn a lot from my peers and look to them for support all the time. 

An unexpected source of inspiration?

Coronation of the Virgin by Bernardo Daddi. It is in room 60 at the National Gallery. I sat in front of this painting with my sketchbook for half a day and could not find a way in. I’d drawn the two figures as avocados by the end of the day. When I took the drawings back to the studio however, the mother-son became a pair of lovers, mother-daughter, sisters… and that motif became a recognisable symbol in my work taking on different forms. 

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?

I’m not particularly prescriptive about all that. I don’t think I can be because I am making a reference to years of art history simply by oil painting, some of which I’m not familiar with. Again, no not really, I just hope my work is accessible and inclusive.