Şevket Sönmez


About Paintings of Şevket Sönmez

History is, of course, a "fable of disasters"; as Theodor Adorno said, the meaning of this "fable of disasters"cannot be anything else than "the tale of a continuous disaster". Despite all the passion for "social progress" and even with the clearest vision of this "progress", there has to be an explanation for this endlessly growing "pessimism" reaching colossal dimensions. It is obvious that this is not the kind of hollow opposition which is put forward by the politicians or their defenders, who have been abundantly derived by the globalization process. This must have a meaning.

Karl Marx (who is one of the main planters of "pessimism" seeds) wrote that in the modern production process, people became so "innovative", like never experienced before, and as there can be no turning back now. For example, in the "aesthetics" articles penned together with Friedrich Engels, they suggested to the artists that they create "modern myths", and they accentuated that the old Greek mythologies have absolutely no social validity anymore. This "history of pessimism", and those who wrote this history with their ideas, tells us that while the "progress" of modernity proceeded on a line of no return, there was another line right beside this; and it was the "blinding" effect of modernity on people. "People's Second Nature" being created according to the conditions of modernity: Meta is now people's "Second Nature". There should be a difference between humans' "real" spirit; in other words, their will originating from their nature and "spirit of world of means".

"Pessimism" and at the same time "aesthetics negating" the current situation was growing in influence, and as an ideology, it created the most powerful opposition Marx said "As the workers created their own pessimistic language, this swept them out of the public space." Afterwards, Adorno complained with the same suspicion that the work of art was transforming into "concrete object of criticism". And much later Jean Baudrillard claimed that these materializing "objects of pessimism" are "fossilized utopias" and they were all in the right. "Pleasure", in other words "spirit", was still established by the Meta world; furthermore, this Meta world was making new "progress" through the appropriation of aesthetics. (It is always able to find ways to achieve this). Roughly speaking, "means" was still "spirit". However the same "spirit ", this time showed itself as "other" forms of opposition in the aesthetic works, but these forms, as well, remained in the Meta world. (And there was no other way out.)

That is the biggest "story of humanity" "written" in the 20th century by an intellectual process that began in the 19th century. As Adorno pointed out: "Tale of a continuous disaster"… The coming and going of the "Spirit", between nature and Meta, was leading to uncertain movements of "Pleasure" between aesthetics and violence. Now we have to remember Mayakovsky here: he was of course an artist and was already experiencing what Adorno later described: Mayakovsky was also a "progressive", like the other "pessimists" or "negativists". So much so, that he wrote his "The Worker Poet" with such a futurist attitude. "I am a factory –see? / And if you chaps declare / That I have no smokestack, perhaps / I find it harder to be / without smokestacks"… At first glance, as a futurist, Mayakovsky is not much different than the Italian futurist Filippo Marinetti. Mayakovsky as well was combining in his poem the "soul", created by the modern production system with his own natural. existence, and hence was turning his body into a machine. In fact if there is one aspect where Mayakovsky differs from Marinetti (who also highlights the antipodal opposition between two characters), which is the assertion by Mayakovsky of the differentiation between the "progressive spirit" and the "aesthetic spirit"; and while doing so his declaration of being a "supporter" by exposing his intentions for "improving" and "face to face engagement" with the proletarian class. Mayakovsky, as a "supporter" was actually declaring the following: although "progress" is inevitable, its "spirit" is not one's own "soul". There is such a thin dividing line here, and this line reveals itself through "pessimism". Then, in order to thoroughly emphasize this difference, one needs to find another starting point to "negate": and that point is bourgeoisie. And the "soul-entangling" image of the bourgeisie needs to be exposed. That is where one should search for the meaning of his poem "Cloud in Pants": the nature of a single person and the machine; "spirit" and meta… The ability to keep one's own frame of mind separate from this bourgeoisie mind which entangles these in the name of "pleasure". Without awareness, the human being cannot be anything more than an amorphous image, without "entity", strolling idly in the sky.

The danger that the "spirit" faced against "second nature" could not be understood without self experience; and in order to overcome this, one needed to team up with this "pessimism" that protects the spirit (aside from just blessing the "progress").

Let's take a look at these paintings of Şevket Sönmez in this exhibit; first of all an incident is being explained here: in 1910, representatives of the "Van Houten" company make an offer to a prisoner who is about to be executed with a guillotine. This is the offer: the prisoner will shout out "Drink Van Houten cocoa!" just as he is being executed (maybe as the knife of the guillotine is falling onto his neck). The prisoner made a deal with the authorities for shouting out this slogan in the brink of his death in exchange for money (no doubt that he wanted the money for his family) and carried out the advertising. This incident appeared in the headlines, and Mayakovsky mentioned this prisoner in his "The cloud in pants" poem. The fact that these paintings were inspired by Mayakovsky's poem is a magnification (under a strong lens, to the smallest detail) of the fine boundary line between human "spirit" and the spirit created by the modern production system. Such clarification of this boundary line, on the other hand, describes us the "pleasure" of pain. More accurately: the predicament that was set out by the previous aestheticians (and Adorno more than most) between pain and pleasure...

Yes, "pessimism" is necessary; and there is no remedy other than emphasizing the "pessimism" against the present situation in order to feel (and let it be felt) the distinction between pain and "pleasure". But as also mentioned in this article earlier, if this "pessimism" is transforming into a language, an object of criticism or a display of utopia (in total, an ideological marker), in other words, the " pleasure of pessimism" is being created – such an attitude cannot escape serving the "second nature" in the end. Let's not forget the critique of Marx: that the workers are swept away out of the public space because of the "pessimistic" language they themselves created. Thus we should not forget that "pessimism" alone is not useful, also that the world it creates can produce only "a supreme exhaustion".

Şevket Sönmez says about his own paintings, "against a mentality that perceives history as a giant 'mythology of pessimism' and life as an effort to reconcile with it; these paintings, where the poet's image turns into wild animals and heaps of metal into exotic flowers, serve as a certain sublimation for the artist". The main idea that is purported here is very clear: reconciliation of "mythology of pessimism" with life… Herein lies the problem. As we always repeat, although "pessimism" is necessary, its conversion into a mythology serves no other purpose than establishment of exhaustion. Efforts to produce modern mythologies were never made in the name of creating exhaustion. But if the art of 20th century nevertheless presented us a mythology of exhaustion, then this is nothing else than glorification of all methods for experiencing "pleasure": just like the pleasure felt from the surprising and really unusual behavior of the prisoner…

Şevket Sönmez's paintings also include portraits of Mayakovsky. This can mean only one thing: Mayakovsky was someone bearing a "factory spirit", but acknowledged that this "spirit" is independent from his own "soul"; he was a "progressive", but also was aware of the material world that was imposed by this "progressivism"; he was a "follower", carrying "pessimism", but was also aware that this pessimism can transform into the "mythology of exhaustion". In short, he was an artist but also did not embrace the "pleasure" produced by art with an infinite trust. In other words, he was always moving between these fine boundary lines. And now we are looking at the paintings of Şevket Sönmez. What are we supposed to think about them? How should we behave in the face of such ingenious work of art? Should we surrender ourselves to the "pleasure" we are experiencing? Wouldn't that be dangerous? Or should we try to get this "pleasure" under control? Wouldn't that be deceiving? Should we always have an infinite trust in arts? But didn't we experience the contradictions of this behavior? We are incapable of experiencing our own nature for quite some time now. On the other hand we do not want to become machines. So, we have no other choice but to think about all these contradictions in front of Şevket Sönmez' paintings.

And Mayakovsky... Showing his face (from the paintings in front of us) from right there. Posing as those thin boundary lines that created all these contradictions.

Emre Zeytinoğlu



With the arrangement I created by putting together my three different videos, and the paintings I chose from my big size paintings, I'm at Alanistanbul.
In my previous works, I was examining the oppositions of artificial and natural existence through the lens of my personal past, but in this exhibition, I continued my path by changing the lane; the half documentary logic of pantograph becomes a quality that evokes dreams.
This time, instead of the archived images of locations and people, the dreams created in these locations take place.
When creating the videos, my starting point was the two qualities regarding the process of memory; chronology and suddenness.
We are face to face with the stable but mobile images that are moving from left to right and then returning from the endless void that they were directed to.
Although our memory is progressing choronological on a cognitive level, the images of our personal history break this system by appearing suddenly (hopefully).
Every moment that is broken off the boundaries of its context and the flying images of these 'moments' are an oasis in the desert of civilization.
By overlapping the images I used to create the videos I wanted to touch upon the suddenness principle.
We are living in an trash of images and i'm going through the trashes.
Shopping centres and art galleries, family archives and history, political history, history of art, google images, agenda.
To think while standing on the cliff of an abyss and watching the world, and to think while falling from there.
Our memory can be considered as the 'gravity' of our daily lives.
When you are walking around in a big commercial complex where the kitch product wholesalers meet, you are not only walking around in a contemporary art exhibition or a bienal, you are as if you're flying with a parachute (or even falling) over the geography of your life.
You are falling into a chaotic world far away from the comfortable atmosphere of the concept of 'art'.
The weird thing about this is that we don't know if the parachute is open or not.

Şevket SÖNMEZ,
January 2011, Istanbul



The order of the day became Holyness nearly century after the emergence of the "individual" who read the newspapers instead of holy book every morning upon waking. Today, this agenda is the master of our minds. My memory and I, whistle to eachother while looking into our master's eyes.

There was somebody who took our black-white photopraphs from our house, then would bring them back enlarged and colorized. I think the name of this method was "manual enlargement".
We did everything we could to escape from manierisms fearsome ghost!
"A moment" which left a mark in the memory, can come out all of a sudden in another "moment".
The guy who enlarged and colorized the photographs was a kind of pantograph.
While preparing for this show, I wanted to be a pantograph too.

The collapsed Soviets, are just like "The Invisible Cities" of Calvino; the only difference is that they stand nakedly before us.
This country never turned into a 'wreck', with only its tragedy for company.
This 'project' doesn't refer to a dynasty, geographical or ethnical concern and seems to belong more to the future more than to the past.
It is no where near 'up-to-date'!

Today, our mind is a trashcan of images. In this case, I would like to be a good trash collector; an ecologist who is so good that he can't see himself from another ecologist's eyes, a painter so good that he can't be an artist.
From now on, while painting in regards to your own personal history with outmoded painting methods, it's a huge possibility that you may be transmuted into "SearchingForaPearlinaPieceofShitBobRoss"!
Within the trash heap of art, bad smells may permeate you.
Within all likelihood, the more we smell bad, the better it is.
Şevket Sönmez, 2009 Fındıklı


Hot Injection

As matter is separated and reshaped, as it is heated and then left to cool in moulds to reach its final form, there are happy coincidences and uncontrollable developments that are part of the very nature of the process. Could it be said that these unforeseen destinies harbor a mysterious inner beauty?
I have been both surprised and delighted by a similarity that I observed in two distinct areas. In recent years discoveries and developments in the medical field, focusing on a cellular level, have in a strange way paralleled common industrial techniques.
The works in this show are a reflection of these thoughts.
"Objects of desire", born from the industrial womb, bring with them their strange siblings, these unwanted cast-offs of the production process. It is these estranged byproducts which are central figures in this cycle of life/production. It is the yin and yang of the desired and the unwanted that come together to create a whole. One could regard this recycling as a second chance. Life and death.
I tried to discover and play among these coincidental progeny, these cast offs, these excesses. They came to life in assemblages and were reborn in paint. Fear of death, a factory, illness, a course of treatment, memory, confinement and a new house in the forest were their playgrounds.
The adventure of molecules.
In my observatory journey, tracing the paradoxical relationship between our flesh and our shiny metal boxes of transport, a very serious affliction resulted in my own transformation: I in turn became a construct containing metal. These alien substances that threaten our fragile existence - bullets and shrapnel, the raw material from which we create our modes of transport - this time gained new meaning... as a part of my body.
In matters of health, no one desires to get sick or die. In matters of production no one wants defects and unwanted byproducts which increase costs and slow production. However, in matters of the production of life, we are discovering that what had been regarded as useless now holds the key to life, to a theoretical immortality. One may regard my search through these industrial cast-offs as a naïve desire to reach the same results, to rally these strange siblings of the industrial mother under the banner of a creative process and to perhaps create a new platform of immortality.
Şevket Sönmez 2008


Flesh, metal

In the everyday images that we are subjected to of car crashes, throhere is a strange feeling attached to that tragic atmosphere, the disturbing union of form and substance.
The images of cars as icons of the modern age go through an abrupt transformation at the moment of impact.
A new car that is put on display for sale bares no ressemblance in form to the graphic portrayal of mankind, but the moment of impact forces these two disparate elements of metal and flesh into a transformed union.
Maybe that is the true tragedy that the object of desire is destroyed and in turn destroys.
In my opinion, mankind with its natural biological structure always seems at odds wiyh the mechanical boxes they are placed in, but as a concept that brings these two elements together the crash is a more powerful force than the accepted theory of modern city life.
These uniform metal formsa are brought closer to the complex nature of body... it is at times impossible to visually differentiate a hand trapped in the wreckage.
It is a paradoxical relationship...
Beyond the complex and often confusing, psychological relationship between man and vehicle, even the archival records of car crashes offer us the opportunity to infer depths into this paradoxical relationship.
We love cars, but they love us also, sometimes they love us to death...
Şevket Sönmez 2005