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Nuri İyem

Image by Patrik Velich

One of the important figures in the art history of our country, Nuri Iyem adopted an independent and original pictorial understanding belonging to the land he lived in. Starting from the years he studied, he earned his living by painting alone. He tried to create paintings that society could connect with. He created oil paintings, usually on canvas or hardboard. In his paintings, he paid attention to plastic elements such as form, color, light, composition, and balance before the subject and created different textures in his paintings by developing original techniques.

Although he is especially known for his portraits of women, he created landscape, still life and interior paintings as well as abstract and abstraction paintings. He depicted the subjects of his figurative paintings in their own social realities. As a witness to the society and the era in which he lived, he reflected the images that influenced him in his paintings in an original style. Among the subjects often found in his paintings are Anatolian people, women, faces, eyes, ordinary love, migration from the countryside to the city, laborers, houses, laborers, Göreme, Şile landscapes, nudes, landscapes, and object abstractions.

Nuri İyem was born in Istanbul in 1915, and after his education in Albania and Istanbul, he went to Mardin with his mother and father in 1925. He finished elementary school here. In 1929, he started Fatih Gelenbevi Secondary School in Istanbul. In 1932, he continued his education first at Pertevniyal High School and then at Vefa High School. In 1933-1937, he worked in the workshops of Nazmi Ziya, Hikmet Onat, Ibrahim Çallı, and Léopold Lévy and graduated from the Painting Department of the Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts ranking first place. In 1939, he went to Giresun to teach painting at a secondary school. In 1940, he re-entered the State Academy of Fine Arts to attend the newly opened Higher Department of Painting under Léopold Lévy. Together with Haşmet Akal, Agop Arad, Avni Arbaş, Turgut Atalay, Ferruh Başağa, Abidin Dino, Fethi Karakaş, Kemal Sönmez, Selim Turan, and Mümtaz Yener with a common understanding of painting, he became one of the founders of the Yeniler group. The group's first exhibition, titled "The Harbour”, was opened in 1941 at the Press Association in Beyoğlu with paintings depicting fishermen and dockworkers. This exhibition attracted great attention from writers and thinkers. In 1944, he graduated from the Higher Department of Painting by winning first place with his painting titled “The Blacksmith". In 1946, his first solo exhibition was opened on the third floor of a department store in Beyoğlu, at the İsmail Oygar Gallery he participated in the fourth exhibition of his group titled Yeniler and the international exhibition opened by UNESCO at the Museum of Modern Arts in Paris he joined with his painting "The Blacksmith". In the same year, together with Fethi Karakaş, Azra İnal, Ferruh Başağa, and Pindaros Platonidis, they opened a special painting atelier in the attic of the S.Önay apartment in Asmalımescit Street. The students who were trained in this workshop opened group exhibitions under the name "Painters of the Ceiling'' over time in different places. Nuri İyem participated in all the exhibitions held by the Yeniler group; opening every two years from 1947 to 1951 in the exhibition hall of the French Consulate. In 1948, he turned to abstract painting. He mostly made abstractions of landscapes and objects. In 1951, after the dissolution of the Yeniler group, he joined the Association of Turkish Painters as a member and participated in the first exhibition of the association. In 1952, his second solo exhibition, consisting of paintings on the theme of nudes and portraits, was opened at the Maya Art Gallery. Since that date, his solo exhibitions have been opened in different venues every year. He participated in the Venice Biennale in 1956. Unfortunately, although the archival records contain details such as Nuri İyem's work information and artist biography along with all the participating artists in the Sao Paulo Biennial exhibition file, it is still unclear today why İyem's works are not included in the exhibition. He continued his abstract and non figurative works until 1965. From 1959-1970, he painted various murals in many places in different provinces, such as Istanbul Municipality Palace, Ulus Anafartalar Bazaar, and Izmir Emlak Kredi Bank. In the same period, he wrote articles on art for the magazines “Yeditepe” and “Dost”. In 1986 in Istanbul TÜYAP Fair Centre an exhibition in honor of his 50th year in art was opened and a subsequent book within the exhibition was published. He received the Republic's 50th Year Painting Award in 1973, Sedat Simavi Visual Arts Award in 1989, and TÜYAP Istanbul Art Fair Honor Award in 1997. Together with his wife Nasip İyem, he made paintings influenced by Şile, where their summer Atelier is located. In 2001, Evin Art Gallery launched the "Nuri İyem Paintings Archive and Documentation Project" recording and certifying the artist's works. As a continuation of the project, the retrospective exhibition consisting of 1504 paintings "From Yesterday to Tomorrow, Nuri İyem" was opened at TÜYAP and a two-volume book containing the images and information of all the archived works was published. His works are included in the permanent collections of important private and corporate collections as well as museums such as Istanbul and Ankara Painting and Sculpture Museums, Istanbul Modern, Türkiye İş Bank Painting and Sculpture Museum and Odunpazarı Modern Museum. İyem's  works continue to be exhibited and certified at the Evin Art Gallery, where he worked from 1996 until 2005 when he passed away. In addition, the gallery has been organizing the Nuri Iyem Painting Award every year since 2006 in order to keep the artist's memory alive and to support young painters from Turkey.

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