White Pictures

Huskies bait us from their white surroundings. With their white fur they can barely be seen in the snowy landscape. The picture format merges with the white wall. Where does it begin, where does it end? It does not matter, because the image lives from its tempo and the immediacy of its representation. It's as if one could hear the panting and loud baying of the dogs. But even so, everything remains mysteriously peaceful. As peaceful as a birch forest. Another of Dogan's motifs. Birches are pioneer plants. The name means something like shining, shimmering, which refers back to their unusually white trunks. The tree trunks mysteriously line themselves up together in Dogan's paintings. The treetops are not seen, and so the white forest floor creates a tension-filled contrast to the dark spaces between the trees. The landscape appears cold and enigmatic. A gentle melancholy accompanies the viewer, as gentle as the artist himself.

When considering Dogan's artistic production it is clear that he is concerned not with reduction but with multiplicity, even though he largely limits himself in his paintings to the 'non-colour' white and all its shades. But what leads a painter to reject colour in the normal sense, or to consciously reduce 'colour' to white?

Dogan's work continually displays a distinct environmental awareness. He is interested in Nature and the dangers to which she is exposed. In his work he emotionally simulates the 'worst case scenario', which ends in natural catastrophes, wars and horrors against the animals for which mankind is responsible, and which he attempts to counteract with his own symbolism. He does this in his paintings particularly through the reduction of colour to its sum, for the colour white is physically the sum of all complementary colours and stands in Western symbolism as a sign of unblemished purity.

In art, the colour white as a specifically targeted norm has the possibility to achieve its effect and power, whereas the difficulty in figurative painting lies therein, that it is hard to define proportions with white. An image of a known object on a pure white surface always appears too small, even when reproduced full format. And here one can see Dogan's calibre. He is a painter through and through. Again and again, he confronts the problem of dealing with colour. In doing so, the colour white becomes not only the sum of all colours, but also an exercise in concentration. No shrill colour, no unnecessary brush stroke, no superfluous word in his videos should distract from the essence.

The colour white is also for Dogan a medium. It implies a symbolic statement as well as a metaphor. It does not stand for the end of painting. It is no denial of colour; rather it is itself chromatic. To exaggerate, one could say that Dogan's pictures are extremely realistic, and not only in terms of what is represented but also in their basic conception. What interests him is the combining of the ‘uncolourful’ colour white in all its possible shades, colourful nuances, and light-influenced changes with the pictorial motif, and to stage it always anew.

For those who can see them, Dogan's pictures are always an exciting experience. It is not without reason that huskies are present in his earlier works, for Eskimos have around 200 different names for the colour white, according to the shade and texture of their surroundings. Thus the painter repeatedly includes white animals in his works. In the painting, 'Hope at the North Pole', they are not immediately visible and only on closer examination, is it possible to recognise a flying horse on the right side. It is a unicorn. This Middle Age, shy, white mythical creature will only lay its head in the lap of a virgin, and counts as the most noble of mythical animals. Symbolically it means the best. Its colour is variably described; sometimes it is pure white, sometimes it is all shades of white, and sometimes it is all colours. No wonder that it made an entrance in Dogan's imagery. Beside it, one can recognise that largest terrestrial predator: the polar bear. The bear serves as a symbol for resurrection and its qualities further include wisdom, loyalty and strength. The endangered situation of the polar bear is always mentioned in conjunction with global warming. In this image these two animals meet in a mystical way; they meaningfully circle a dark, shadowy oval that can be seen between their moving bodies. Is this already the first sign of the consequences of altered climatic conditions? One hopes that in Dogan's white world bear and unicorn survive.

Over Christian centuries, white as the colour of power and strength underwent incredible changes in meaning. Ultimately, Jesus adopted the white lamb as a symbol of sacrifice. White no longer stood exclusively for divinity, radiating strength and power, but also for chastity and innocence. But even if Dogan's pictures are white - innocent they are not! In his 'Noah's Ark', he depicts no more than a white line on an almost white background. This endless white line is an element traced from the cradle of mankind. There are drawings of guards made with a single endless line. One must get past these guards when one seeks the entrance to the afterlife. Only those who can trace the long way without breaking the line have a chance of life after death. In this sense, Dogan's white images are not the end of painting, but its beginning.

Susanne Kujer, consultant for visual art
Department of Culture, Frankfurt am Main

 

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