“I love art. In fact, I would say I’m married to my art, and I’ll be doing this work until the day I die!” Serpil Kalkan exclaimed as we sat together at her street studio sipping tea and chatting. It was a chilly winter day in downtown Bursa, but Serpil’s charm was warm and inviting. And her passion for her work was evident. “Sometimes I even cry when I sell a piece of art because my paintings are like children to me,” she said.
Serpil’s art shop is situated in the pedestrian-friendly cobblestone alley just off of busy Atatürk Caddesi next to the Tayyare Cultural Center in Bursa’s downtown Heykel area. The official name of the alley is Third Orhan Street, but it is better known locally as Sanatçılar Sokak, or Artists Street. Serpil came to the alley five years ago after the shopping mall that housed her gallery was closed. Currently, though, she is the only working artist on Artists Street.
“Eight or nine years ago, this street was full of artists,” Serpil recalled. “Today, I’m the only one left.” Artists Street is now mostly occupied by shoe shiners, trinket sellers, and tea shops whose tables and chairs spill out of shop doors and into the street. But Serpil is not at all bothered by the fact that she is the lone artist on Artists Street. “I love it here,” she said. “I love the art, I love the work, I love the street, I love the people. I try to be here all day every day, and when I’m not here, I’m usually just a phone call away.”
Serpil’s love of art started as a schoolgirl, and she credits her primary school teacher for recognizing and encouraging her talent at a young age. After earning a university degree in human relations—a field that has nothing to do with art—Serpil finally began pursuing her passion for art as a young woman in her early 30s. Her first major work was an oil series featuring natural landscapes from Turkey’s Cappadocia region.
Today, 25 years later, Serpil is well-known in the Turkish art community for her pastel and pencil drawings, her oil and watercolor paintings, and her larger-than-life portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic. Serpil frequently shows in galleries and exhibitions throughout Turkey, has won a multitude of awards, and has been featured in numerous press publications. She was keen to tell me about her current exhibition at the Çagdaş Art Center in Ankara, January 3-13, 2016.
Despite her nationally recognized skills in the finer media, on the street Serpil offers pen-drawn portraits and cartoon caricatures, a form of art more appealing to today’s young passersby. “The demand for oil and water-based art is a little low these days,” she explained. “Today’s tourists and young people prefer to spend money on cartoons. And I’m more than happy to sell to them. I can make a living at it.” A stand in front of her table advertises her ability and willingness to draw portraits and caricatures for potential customers walking along Atatürk Caddesi.
When she is not on the street drawing portraits, Serpil is in her home workshop painting or dabbling in her other art forms: stone carving, sculpting, and photography. She also offers private art lessons, a task she enjoys greatly. Some of her former students have gone on to win seats in prestigious university art faculties.
After a good time chatting and snapping photos, Serpil motioned to me to take a seat on the stool next to her. She pulled out a sheet of paper, grabbed her drawing pen, and looked me square in the face. With a few easy strokes of her pen, my caricature began to take shape on the page as my wife looked over her shoulder in amazement. She captured my cartoon-self well, and she was even gracious enough to leave out the grey hairs in my beard, the deepening lines around my eyes, and the extra kilos around my belt line.
Please visit Serpil Kalkan’s website for contact information and to see a sampling of her work. And next time you’re walking along Atatürk Caddesi near Heykel, be sure to stop by Serpil’s table and say hello. Maybe even take a moment to have a seat at her table, buy her a cup of tea, and ask her to draw your portrait. She’s certainly among The Best of Bursa.