Friday, April 24, 2009

New Paintings in Istanbul!

The world is but a canvas to the imagination.

Henry David Thoreau

It's interesting how certain places I have lived have lent themselves to different mediums.In Canada, I painted pots and made journals to sell in a market. In Taiwan, I was an avid collager/ printmaker, and in Shanghai I painstakingly sewed blankets by hand from different fabrics found in the local fabric market. And here in Istanbul, I've been excited about painting with gouache.

As an art history student at the University of Victoria, many many years ago, I had a part time job working in an art gallery- a touristy little Canadian gallery that sold painting next to maple-flavoured chocolate hockey sticks and the like. I loved this job despite the low pay and the terrible hours. I chatted with people from all over the world, explaining to confused tourists that the "Totem Pole Seeds" would actually grow to be tree, and that the the French side of Canada did still use the same currency as the English side. Sigh. I digress.

We did have one artist in amongst the Native carvings and eagle prints that I loved. -Alaskan artist Rie Munoz. I loved the spirit of her paintings, playful, unpretentious, unapologetically happy. Such a contrast to the angst ridden artists that I was studying in art history at the time. I even thought about pooling all my money together to buy a print, but alas, hunger and university tuition won over the whim to buy a piece from the gallery I worked at.

A few months ago, and several years since I've worked in an art gallery in Canada, while walking across the Galata Bridge with my sister, the idea came to me: I want to paint scenes of Istanbul with the spirit and playfulness of Rie Munoz, but with a Turkish twist and with my own painting style, of course. Here are a few of my favourite results so far!

Rene and I went to the Asian side a few weeks ago and I snapped pictures of a few stalls. I loved the bare light bulbs dangling down, the rawness of the fisherman, working away with little care of getting dirty or smelly. The butchering that is a natural part of street life in Istanbul happening right there and then, guaranteeing the freshest of fish. Fish is extremely popular in Istanbul and it's not uncommon to see men fishing off the Galata bridge at all hours of the day and night. I'm sure there will be a few paintings of fishermen to come!

Once a week I hop on the ferry over to the Asian side to teach a class with a very nice Turkish man. I was hesitant to go to the Asian side to teach, thinking it would take me too long to commute (Istanbul is all about commuting for me these days!) but Emir talked me into it.

It's actually a nice little ride, bumping along the waves; the passengers watch other little boats contend with the big tankers coming through the Bosphorus to and from the Black Sea.

The ferry stops at old ferry stations built in the Ottoman style, their names printed out in large Iznik tiles on the fronts of the buildings. Once Rene and I saw a school of dolphins jumping alongside the ferry, so now I keep my eyes peeled for them. The seagulls follow the ferries and some of the passengers throw bits of bread to them which they catch in mid-air. As you can see from the roundness of the boat, this is actually the back of the ferry. Some paintings from the front may follow!


Istanbul is loaded with Gypsies. Often they are found on the streets with bundles of beautiful perfect flowers, lovingly displayed in large tin tomato cans. If I had money to spare I would come home with bundles of these flowers, but often the smell of them wafting across the Istanbul breeze is enough for me to enjoy.

Sometimes men sell them, but I am partial to the outfits of the large bosomed gypsy ladies, who really have no rhyme or reason to the clothes they put together. These ladies are quite well put together compared to the real thing! The fountain in the back is actually a small fountain found close to the Hagia Sophia in Sultanahmet. After spending so much time painting the design, each time I walk past the fountain now I feel like I am greeting an old friend.


I love going to the hamam. The first time I went with my sister was 2001. The Turkish ladies pointed us in the right direction and we found ourselves wrapped in cloths much like these on a giant marble slab in Cemberlitas hamam.

Soon big women in stretchy bras and underwear came out and scrubbed our suntans completely off! It was hard to tell if it was a massage/cleaning or a beating and a beating with water and soap, but I loved it.

I also love the idea that women of all shapes and sizes and ages gather together to bathe and gossip: grandmas and daughters, daughter in laws and grand children. I think if we females could grow up in the comfort of a hamam with our aunts and sisters and grandmothers, we'd all have a pretty healthy body image.

I am hoping to make prints, al a Rie Munoz which will be sold along this the originals. I am working on having a show in Istanbul in the next little while. Watch this space for details!
XXX Melanie


  1. Love your work. I understand you're writing a book, too? - fonzi/Boris

  2. What? This stuff is incredible! I wouldn't even know where to begin in choosing a piece. I have an art fund and really haven't known what to do with it, but now I do. How and from where can I buy a few of your pieces? I'm sure they are selling quickly. I would also like to buy a couple of pieces as gifts for friends I know would love your art as well. Please reply soon.
    Marlene Hutzulak (Canada)

  3. I had two of Melanie's previous works in my Middle Eastern restaurant in New York City where we also have a gallery for emerging artists. They're sold! We need more! Would love to take three more. Is there an auction?

  4. can't wait for the show so i can finally get my hands on one of your fab prints! the only tough part will be deciding which one...maybe i'll have to get two! don't forget i'm looking forward to the book of prints too!