Unzipped: An Interview with Suzan Batu and Sally Lelong


On November 9th, 2012 Suzan Batu opened up a solo show of new work at the Phatory titled Unzipped, on view in the East Village until January 19th, 2013. However the entire run of Batu’s solo exhibition paralleled the dramatic events that took place during hurricane Sandy, which left New York City emerging from flooded waters.  Art galleries throughout the city were hit especially hard. However in discussion with Suzan Batu and gallerist Sally Lelong both ruminated over the nature of the arabesque, the unpredictable line and its possible metaphor to the waves of water that came and went throughout the fringes of this urban landscape, even though the Phatory fortunately evaded massive loss.  

On-Verge: How did Unzipped evolve? 

Sally Lelong:  I love Suzan’s work especially her courage to push the envelope of traditional Turkish design, taking this elaborate graphic imagery into the discourse of contemporary art.

Suzan Batu: I had been working a lot around my show in Istanbul where I presented a continuation of the work I had previously shown at the Phatory. So I already had a new series of paintings ready to go, and Sally seemed to like them so we decided to schedule the show over the course of two months.

On-Verge: Describe the change in your work from 2008 to now?  The gestures currently seem more defined, leaving a trace of your presence.

Suzan Batu: In terms of the work – I have been moving away from the limited color palette, away from flat dimension and in the direction of optical tension through the use of very bright, complementary colors. I have also incorporated design elements that stem anywhere from 18th century curlicues, to Ottoman decorative writing and Chinese decorative painting. I eventually started using more complex compositions adding elements seen in cartoons, graffiti, scribbles and paint marks.

Roy Lichtenstein’s frozen brush stroke is still a very visceral point of departure for me.  I like to capture the spontaneous gesture, which is also why I admire Cy Twombly. For Unzipped I needed to expand my palette. I am also enamored by kitsch, since there will always be a sense of kitsch because of the hierarchies and exclusions that shape the viewing process. Pop art’s inadvertent positive energy, for instance, reflects a time in the United States that was characterized by growth and optimism.


On-Verge: Were there any parallels between the subject of Suzan’s paintings and the chaotic, natural events that the East Coast experienced with Hurricane Sandy?

Sally Lelong:  To the extent that cosmological significance can be projected into this current body of work, which seems like snapshots of multi-dimensional chaos, I can see echoes of Sandy’s superstorm dimensions reflected in these five six-foot square paintings. Adding to the size of these compositions, her use of high-contrast colors, and the way each element is active and ready to travel outside the boundaries of the canvas, I can make a lot of associations to Sandy.   

Suzan Batu: Of course the work was done earlier, but being here and witnessing the devastation of the storm was and is very upsetting.  It is very sobering to see that such a major city could be so devastated. I was marooned in Brooklyn and could not communicate with Sally for days until I walked over the bridge to visit the gallery. I was very relieved to see no real damage, but her neighbors were not so lucky unfortunately.

On-Verge: How did the Phatory fare through that event?      

Sally Lelong: As the apartment building where I live is only five doors away from the gallery, I went to bed in dread of what I was going to find in the gallery post-Sandy.  My apartment building sustained a lot of damage, which is still being fixed including the clean up of a massive oil spill and the need to replace the building’s electrical system. Miraculously, the surge stopped just at the gallery’s doorstep so the only damage occurred in the basement.

On-Verge: Suzan, I understand that you’re living in Turkey as well as New York City? What is it like moving between these two cultures?  Do you see similarities and differences?  How does this play out in your work?

Suzan Batu: New York and Istanbul are both large cities that have a lot in common in terms of chaotic crowds everywhere and all kinds of people living together in relative peace. There is more of a social ease in Istanbul since it is also a port city, although that is most likely due to the Mediterranean culture that is still dominant, which people in Istanbul often take for granted. I like living in both cities although I now enjoy myself more in New York because when I’m here, it is for business which means that I am not stuck inside my studio – where I spend most of my time when in Istanbul.

Suzan Batu’s paintings were exhibited at Pier 94 as part of the 2013 Armory, with Dirimart Gallery.  Her paintings will appear again at the Istanbul Contemporary Art Fair in 2013, and the artist will close out the year with another solo show at her gallery in Istanbul.

Images shown:
1.) Suzan Batu. Mutual Attraction (2011). Painting with Black Ink Drawing Assemblage, 24″ x 25″ x 2″.
2.) Suzan Batu. Unzipped (2011). Acrylic on canvas, approximately, 63″ x 63″.
3.) Suzan Batu. Untitled (2012). Acrylic on Canvas,  72″ x 72″.
4.) Suzan Batu. Untitled (2012). Acrylic on Canvas,  72″ x 72″.




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About Jill Conner

Jill Conner is New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and is a Contributor to Afterimage, Art in America, ArtUS, Art Papers, Interview and Sculpture. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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