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Avni ARBAŞ
 
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AVNI ARBAS

(1919, Istanbul - 2003 Foca,Izmir))



He was born in Istanbul in 1919. His father, Mr. Mehmet Nuri was an officer in the national Independence Army much loved by Atatürk. Besides being a soldier, he was an artist who built a small workshop in every house they moved to and worked by himself. Because Arbaş started to paint a lot before his earliest childhood memories and because his father, discovering his talent encouraged him eagerly to become an artist, he was never bothered with the problem, “what am I going to be when I grow up?”. He was so talented that even at 15 when he was a day student at Galatasaray High school and was going to the Academy in the evenings to follow art lessons, he almost became an artist, his pictures accepted by exhibitions “larger than his size” and he himself was always welcomed in bohemian circles of art.
When it was time, he left high school for the Academy to become an artist with a diploma. His first teacher was İbrahim Çallı (celebrated Turkish artist) but he also feels so much love and respect for Leopold Levy, in whose workshop he worked later, that he says, “Whatever I learned, I learned from him”. First place in school competitions for time after time, mixed exhibitions, a brilliance making some jealous…What changed Arbaş’s life was a full scholarship given by the French government. Paris was the dream of every artist but his luck was that he didn’t have to attend a particular workshop. All workshops, all galleries, museums, cafes, libraries, all of Paris was his. He spent such a fantastic year that he could not stray from Paris. In that city in great destitution in the post-war period, he persevered for nearly forty years as a poor artist.


It was a tragedy that Mrs. Zerrin whom he married before he went to Paris died while giving birth to their daughter Zerrin. He sent his daughter to her grandmother and didn’t see her for twenty years. Once in a while, he sold pictures, did “mise en page” jobs for newspapers, he held on. After his second marriage there was another call from Turkey; he had to complete all official procedures and return to his country for military service. Since there was no way he could stay away from art for two years, he was stripped of his citizenship. After years he spent stateless, he could only come to Turkey for his mother’s death with special permission. His reinstatement of citizenship was a painful story to take years. His first personal exhibitions in his native country coincided with that period. At that time, there was no place he hadn’t exhibited, from New York to Berlin to Vienna…We had seen his pictures most recently at the comprehensive exhibitions at the National Reassurance Art Gallery and at İş Art Gallery.


It is a good thing to be a horse


When he met with Picasso who apparently liked his pictures a lot, Avni Arbaş first got very excited and then he thought, “If he is Picasso, then I’m Avni Arbaş. I never imitated him”. Arbaş was not a traditional, conservative artist at all but since his issue was with art itself, he dreaded being similar to others or being caught up in a current he wasn’t fond of. Until the last phases of his illness, he was at his canvas seven, eight hours either in his workshop at Asmalımescit, Istanbul or his house in Foça. Because the master likened the opposite to an act of treason against himself…


Let’s finish by an anecdote: The series “Horses”, which inspired his friend Nazım Hikmet to write the poem “The Horses of Avni”, was being discussed in a panel. Avni Arbaş said, “I sometimes feel like a horse”. The chair of the panel broke in, “No sir, not at all”. He says, “Actually, being a horse is a good thing”.