Commentary by Yalın Alpay

Necmi Gürseler’s Pure Ego Map: The Twirl of Collective Unconscious’ Universal Relations


Is mankind historical or universal? Is a human being made of experiences acquired during a lifetime, or is s/he born with an accumulated past and an immutable substance embedded in his/her genetic codes? Necmi Gürseler’s answers to these questions through his paintings show that the artist in search of a spiritual essence. This essence is the “id”. While accepting relativity and spiritual evolution, he wishes to draw a limit to them and tries to disassemble the constructed psychology of post / modern man, starting from the premodern period. For Gürseler, when artificial constructions of the modern and postmodern periods are removed, what remains is the universal origins of the essence possessed by human beings. For him, no matter how much personal experiences transform, no matter how post / modernization veils, there is an unconscious, independent of its own consciousness and common with the entire humanity that resists rationality, and that can be expressed only through mythological narratives. This collective unconscious is reflected on all the decisions of the person, regardless of which history or geography s/he is in. What looks dangerous to Gürseler is that the id, which is the ground for collective unconscious in its roots, is tamed by modernity and then postmodernity to an extent that no trace is left behind. He stands against the cultural seen as fiction, swallowing the primitive that he regards as original / natural: One must shift from Artificial to the Essence.

But what is the essence? Collective unconscious is invisible, it cannot be touched or described. It’s a feeling. Gürseler focuses not on what collective unconscious is, but what it would look like if it could be seen. The feeling of the essence, that is the id, can only be reproduced through symbols and this can be extended to a generated common meaning. Gürseler has to rely on some familiar visuals in order to describe his narrative in a way that produces a common meaning. He chooses mythological signs as the most appropriate visuals for the id. Thus, Gürseler’s paintings are arranged by stories that rediscover / produce mythology, by figures that animate these stories, and by networks of meaning that convey these figures. These networks of meanings are not signs that enunciate the signification they emit, but rather symbols whose interpretability lasts forever. No visual stands in its place, all are equipped with possibilities of meaning beyond the one they reflect. This is a gateway of archetypes, a journey from the canvas into the human being, a guide to deep diving of what was never self-discovered before, in which each person can reveal different aspects through their own personal experiences; a collective unconscious archaeological excavation.

By nature of their field of inquiry, these works are painted not with the conscious, but through the unconscious. There’s neither a sketch, nor a setup: Gürseler sits in front of his canvas and in the blink of an eye creates a narrative under the sway of lines. He portrays the collective unconscious through unconscious relationships that his own unconscious establishes with the collective. Gürseler’s painting is a relationship between various kinds of unconscious.

A Map of the Unconscious

Gürseler’s work is an official map of the unconscious. In this map, the topography, together with the public and personal memory are transformed into signs. Everything from life to death, from jealousy to joy, from mental breakdown to well-being is infiltrated onto this map. When looked at in detail, this map can refer to everything related to humankind and to life. However, since Gürseler’s map is not a geography, but a reproduction of an unruly space unlike geography, its interpretation extends to the infinity of personal possibilities as well as its construction. There is nothing in this map, although there is reference to everything. This map is the “Existence” and the “Absence”. It requires a mind to exist, and each mind decodes the map with its own allegories. As long as these allegories are not involved, Gürseler’s map looks like a dead-end street, the meanings it refers to are beyond the meanings it produces in itself. The gem of this treasure map is not on paper like a pirate scroll, but where the paper points at.

Nonetheless, the map is an embodiment, a beginning for consciousness, a bearing, a handle point, a framework within which the data of life can be placed. And the singularity of this map, as well as of its very framework, makes it a unique interface that can be rebuilt every time.

A Guide to Self-Understandin(terpretation)g

Gürseler’s art is an interface for every viewer: a concretization step to look consciously at their unconscious. His paintings are a guide to self-understanding / interpretation. A guideline to being able to tell new lies to ourselves. And all numbers in this directory are each time, a call to ourselves. Some painters make self-portraits, Gürseler’s paintings are auto-calls. A map of generating new lies in one’s search for self. An attempt of the consciousness to give a consistent meaning to the inconsistent unconscious. Gürseler describes the abstraction of the unconscious with concreteness that can be translated into consciousness, whereas every interpreter of translation analyzes this inscription differently. While each code can be broken in Gürseler’s work, one has to encode new passwords to all of them. This map does not show what exists like geographic maps but implies. It’s based on opinions, not facts; here, a person does not open, but rather closes to him/herself. S/he narrows infinite possibilities with his/her consciousness. Definition limits the existing by reducing it, and Gürseler’s paintings allow to enframe a person. One has to demote in order to know oneself. Gürseler brings this degradation together with the widest pool of possibilities. The rest depends on the imagination and courage of the viewer. It is not Gürseler who narrows the possibilities, but the viewer…

Primitive / Lean Lines, Identical Colors

Gürseler’s paintings are dominated by lines, the entire work is adorned with lines. In Gürseler’s universe, a line is in its simplest form, considering it’s the idea that is privileged and not the material. This is also an aesthetic preference that will suit Gürseler’s main theme: the id. Whatever is artificial – covering the essence – is excluded from Gürseler’s drawing. Each figure, building, animal, or mythological creature is completed in the most common representation by which one can understand what they are. The painting’s details are not created by the details in the figures, but in the complex relationships between these figures. 

Although Gürseler does not use more than three colors per painting, his work looks extremely colorful. The reason is the way he enriches the colors he uses – albeit limited – with their own intermediate tones. Gürseler’s painting, rich in terms of formal figures, refers not to the particularity of the individual, but to the collective unconscious of humanity, and since he thinks that contrary to all subjective human qualities, the collective unconscious is the same in all human beings, he paints all figures with the same color. The body structures of all of these figures also look identical and almost all of them are completely naked. Although there is room for sexuality from time to time in this nudity, no hidden eroticism exists. The reason why all of the figures are represented with very simple drawings and paintings, and why they look identical, both naked and physically, is because Gürseler wants to make visible, the essence that is the same in all human beings. In his drawings, Gürseler withdraws one by one all different eye colors, body types, clothes and jewelry that differentiate people. What is symbolized here is that individuals are stripped of their particular characteristics until they cease to be an individual, and this process continues until all humans reach an essence where everyone looks the same. When all features differentiating a human from others are removed, the remaining substance is an identical essence with that of all other people in Gürseler’s universe. This gem is the collective unconscious for Gürseler. A person’s entire operating system, algorithms, life-comprehension strategies, perception and sense networks, and intuitions are the embodiment of this collective unconscious. Gürseler wants to paint not the individuals, but their common essence, an invisible piece of equipment. The method Gürseler has come up with to depict this invisible essence is to strip people’s own selves until they reach a collective self, making them all identical.

Mythological Figures

Among figures, references to the earliest mythological symbols of Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, and Buddhism are common. Human bodies with animal heads and figures wearing authentic headdresses are inspired by Egyptian mythology, while figures with athletic bodies, curly hair and bushy beards are reminders of ancient Greek sculptures from Mount Olympus. Greek mythological figures like unicorns, centaurs, sirens, gods such as Zeus, Poseidon, human heroes such as Odysseus tied to the main mast of his ship, and Greek pillars are all scattered in Gürseler’s paintings. Buddhist mythology is represented with cross-legged figures. Mythological images are used directly as well as through other painters’ mythological drawings. Among Gürseler’s naked identical figures, the viewer may suddenly encounter a reference to Matisse’s pagan dance composition, or other famous visuals reflecting the collective unconscious.

Gürseler’s Unconscious Metaphors

In addition to mythological images of the collective unconscious, Gürseler’s personal unconscious is also reflected in his paintings. Hearts with simplified biological forms, roses and fish are visible to the attentive eye in some unexpected corners of Gürseler’s paintings. The frequently used Galata Tower, various castle gates, inscriptions written on different pillars or towers, and a man hanged by his neck who makes himself some room in a corner appear in almost every painting. In these images, Gürseler’s unconscious, which is a subset of the collective unconscious, is both separated from the collective unconscious and connected to it with separate links.

Interdimensional Relation

Gürseler’s paintings are built on a two-dimensional stacking. They are spread over a large rectangular background where all figures and objects look as if they were hovering in a symbolic space that does not look like any place on earth. There is no distance or proximity, no depth, they all have been deliberately removed from the painting. Gürseler’s preference for a two-dimensional plane derives from his desire to suspend time and space in his painting. In a non-existent space, in a universe where everything historical is removed from the figures, when everything time and space related disappears, the painting shows immediately the infinite, that is the universal, the essence that does not change based on time and space.

However, from time to time he shutters this consciously used two-dimensionality with some staircase drawings. Sometimes a mobile wooden staircase, sometimes imposing marble stairs of an elegant architectural space, and sometimes totally independent, unconnected stairs with no beginning and no end, rising to the uncertainty of the sky bring a deepness to the image on the surface. The fact that the third dimension gets into the painting almost only through staircases seems to be associated with the stairs, imagined as an intermediate transition used to change dimensions. Gürseler symbolizes the seemingly immutable elements of the collective unconscious in two dimensions, and the changing paradigms with three-dimensional stairs. Thus, Gürseler refers to the fact that the collective unconscious of the humankind remains constant even though the dimension changes for the society or the paradigm is fractured, and even though we shift from primitive to premodern and from modern to postmodern through these fractions. Gürseler’s stairs ascending to the sky by leaving an open end also point to an unknown post-postmodern stage, yet they too will remain under the sway of the collective unconscious.

Mystery Doesn’t Find Refuge Under a Shadow 

Gürseler’s art is two-dimensional, hence there is no room for shadows. The light directly hits the entire painting evenly, with the same illumination. The source of the light is where the viewer is, that is, directly across the painting. Since no shadows are used, all figures are under the light with their utmost clarity, they cannot hide themselves, everything is crystal clear. Mystery is hidden in itself not in the plastic properties of the images, but in the sense they make.

Chaotic Stacking

There’s no single void in Gürseler’s painting, the entire canvas is packed with fullness. His paintings are so full that, at first glance, neither all the figures, nor the complete composition, nor the entire narrative can be grasped. Besides, the eclectic structures of the paintings bring together multiple narratives instead of a single one, whether they are connected to each other or not is not an issue. Gürseler’s compositions are paintings in which layers of chaotic stacking are brought together by suspending space. As much as his own image, every figure opens up to visuals, to concepts, feelings and stories that are not his own; while producing different meanings by themselves, they scatter into various possibilities of meaning in Gürseler’s universe. The visuals in Gürseler’s work are related to other elements in the painting, while making reference outside the big picture. Yet these connections are invisible links; the network of relationships here is like in real life; there is a butterfly effect, but it remains unclear which element affects which one through which action. It is not possible for experience to always give accurate answers to this presupposition of logic. That’s why, rather than a cosmos, a chaos seems to prevail in his paintings. Nevertheless, there is harmony in this chaos.

The distances between the figures are filled with rhythmic linear patterns. As they fold in curls, these repetitive linear movements make their presence felt even without turning into a sea or hair, or to brick walls when they consist of rectangles or to black and white checker-style squares into the interior floors or the entrance of a castle.

A Divine View

The perspective that Gürseler permits himself in his relationship with his paintings is always overhead, broad and divine. Although the paintings include many figures, the viewer never sees them from the figures’ point of view or as if they were one of those figures. He can simultaneously visualize many things that people cannot see. Many figures, unaware of each other, are under the eyes of the viewer. The fact that the figures are naked indicates that they cannot hide anything from the painter’s or the viewer’s eyes.

Portrayals of Hope 

Gürseler’s paintings are primitive postmodern tributes. Today, the opportunity to look back at times when the primitive self was seen as golden age, and to return to that primitive golden era by giving up everything is out of question for the postmodern man. Yet Gürseler points out to another possibility, that even if postmodernity could uproot everything, confine existence to the surface, and disengage all links with the ground, one can still re-establish connections with his/her id. Gürseler hopes that through the symbols of the collective unconscious one can excavate one’s self, reveal his/her own roots through this excavation and take shelter in the natural and essential truth, against what’s artificial. Gürseler’s paintings are portrayals of this very hope.

Yalın Alpay

Note : Please use this link to access Yalın Alpay interview video with Necmi Gürseler (Youtube video).