“I come from a multicultural city,” says painter Ozlem Thompson, who spent her childhood wandering the cobbled lanes and domed mosques of Istanbul. Straddling Europe and Asia, the populous Turkish hub played a central role in east-west economic and cultural exchange during the 16th century. Ruled by ancient Greeks, converted Christian Romans, and finally Ottoman Turks, the city remains a global melting pot to this day.
“[Istanbul’s] history has inspired me since my childhood,” says Thompson, who now lives in London, working from the same flat where Piet Mondrian painted before the start of WWII. Influenced by both her childhood in Istanbul and modern art from the likes of Joan Miro, Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky, Thompson creates joyful botanical paintings layered with rich, jewel-toned colors. “I try to express how I interpret the world,” Thompson tells NOT REAL ART. “Within my inner world, there is the constant energy of joy which the viewer can share.”
Thompson’s second passion is nature. With an academic background in biology and botany, the artist is keen to explore her fascination with “the microscopic world of living organisms” and “the morphology of plants.” Interestingly, her work avoids illustrative charts, ordered taxonomies, and other scientific trappings in favor of a subjective, almost spiritual approach. “I always believe art should be freeing,” she explains. “It should create itself naturally rather than through any concepts, so with the information my subconscious provides, I let my hand take the lead.”
If you’re in the area, consider attending The Great Painted Egg Exhibition in Sloane Square, Chelsea, London. Chosen as one of only seven artists to participate, Thompson will contribute an original fiberglass egg as part of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The exhibition opens May, 16, 2022.
In Today's Q+Art Interview…
Ozlem Thompson discusses her fascination with Hilma af Klint, sharing joy through authentic moments of expression, and how she gained a new perspective from her background in biology.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Ozlem Thompson: In my shelf and audio book collection there are mostly classic authors, such as George Orwell, Dostoyevsky, Hesse, Zweig, Freud, Nietzsche, Carl Jung, and also of course art books of the work of Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Miro.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
OT: I definitely would like to have dinner with Hilma af Klint; her unusual abstract style is very unique, and she was the woman leader of contemporary art in the time when the art world was dominated by men.
What do you wish you learned in art school but weren’t taught?
OT: I think art school is a shortcut to learning technique, but it's not always necessary to be an artist. I instead have learned how nature evolves and genes express themselves, plants create their flowers, and it gave me a different perspective and expanded my imagination.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
OT: Best one is “follow your inner voice.” And the worst one: “consider what others think when you do something.”
What's your biggest barrier to being an artist?
OT: I think the biggest barrier is worrying about other people's opinion about your art. You can only get over it by following your inner self.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
OT: I love mixing them together, so I get inspiration every single moment.
What does generosity mean to you as an artist?
OT: I believe getting so many messages saying, “Your art makes me happy,” makes me feel as if we are all connected to each other, even if we haven't met. Generosity is sharing the feeling, something beautiful from the heart.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
OT: I think if a person creates the life that they are happy living, that is success. So it could be living in a mountain with a tent for one person, while creating art or music sharing it with the world for another, so it depends on what dream you have.
What role does the artist have in society?
OT: Art is the only thing that gives an answer to existence, it creates undefined meaning, makes you alive, creates different realities. So artists do this job for society, then when you see a piece of art, your mind travels into a new universe that hasn't been accessible. To be able to create different perspectives in life, we need artists.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
OT: I have worked in many interesting jobs and traveled all around Turkey while giving education, so I can't say anything I did as worst—everything teaches something in the end.
If you had to pick one, would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist? Why?
OT: Historically significant artist, because it is my dream. Those who wrote their names in history are the only ones who are eternal.
What role should money play in the art world?
OT: Artists should be able to create their art in a nice space with enough materials. So money brings more time, and free time enhances creativity.
What’s your relationship with money?
OT: I have never had a serious relationship with money. I was lucky enough to not have to think about it too much—it comes and goes at the right times.
How do you deal with the ups and downs of the market?
OT: I don't deal with it—I only continue creating and opportunities come through.
Have you ever turned down an opportunity? Why?
OT: I have, like collaborations that limit my imagination or demand compromise. If there is a certain concept I feel uncomfortable following the instructions of what to create.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
OT: I am working on a project coming soon that will be my largest platform in London. I will announce it soon!
What do you do to maintain your mental health?
OT: I go walk in nature and observe nature; that is the only thing I do. And I paint, of course!
What do you dislike about the art world? How would you change it if you could?
OT: I think women artists are undervalued and that's the biggest problem in the art world. The largest galleries choose more than 70 percent male artists to show. Only a small number of women artists are accepted by museums and important galleries. It was worse in the past; I hope there is going to be equality in the future.
Is there a specific time you recall feeling marginalized by the art world?
OT: I feel like I will always stay as an independent artist doing collaborations world-wide; that makes my mind free.
Please share with us a real-life art-world horror story.
OT: “Pay to show” exhibitions; my email box used to be full of them. Also art dealers and promoters who charge high fees for nothing, but even then I have learned a lot from these experiences.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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