Discovering Elements of Reality: Interview with Senem Oezdogan

Senem Oezdogan is a Brooklyn based artist and is currently working on paintings and wall-based rope and wood constructions.

Her goal is to make work that is an invitation to observe the world through form and color. To discover elements of reality — depth, flatness, tension, structure, color and time — she uses materials that are accessible and tactile and combines them into an arrangement of shapes and compositions that feel complete and harmonious. Her rope and wood constructions emphasize elements of the work that are not just about pure geometry but also about preserving a textural quality that conveys the softness of fabric or tapestry.


Tell us about your artistic background. When did you decide to pursue this path?

I always knew that I would work in the creative field and really enjoyed exploring various aspects of it–design, illustration, and painting. Looking at it now, all of the steps in the past have served as a foundation for the work I’m doing today. Prior to studying Design & Illustration at FIT in New York, I have also worked at several galleries in Germany and New York. Those were great opportunities to meet other artists, go on studio visits, work on fairs and just get an overall idea of how the art world works.


 How do you come up with the shapes and geometry in each piece? What inspires your paintings?

Even though I am not a figurative painter there are a lot of references to figures, nature, and architecture in my work. I draw a lot of inspiration from my surroundings – the city, my relationships and other interactions I have with people. We move through our days and see so much–people are on the move, objects are moving, moods are changing. 

I’m translating these fragments into extremely simple forms and I’m interested in how primary structures can be visualized. Combining all of these elements into compositions that feel complete is the challenge and beauty of abstract art. It forces me to constantly reevaluate my artistic vocabulary when creating meaningful work that communicates emotional depth. Each piece is an invitation to observe and investigate the choices that have been made. A lot of the work is intuitive but I always ask the same questions: How does one form, relate to another? Does it touch, exclude, or frame it? Where is the visual tension? The shapes on the canvas seem like cutouts – in a way you get the feeling that they can be shuffled around and that the images are not static. 


How do your rope and wood construction pieces relate to your paintings? How are they different?

Developing the fiber works took a while. I wanted to make wall based fiber art that could be created without having to use a loom. I was looking for ways to approach the pieces more like paintings with the freedom to work from all sides. I started to experiment with paper – when I wanted to go up in scale I needed more durable materials and started to work with wood and rope.

The rope work is more physical and at times it feels like building a sculpture. The wrapping of the rope and the time it takes for the image to emerge gives the work a physical and temporal experience. It’s a slow process and it can take days for a form to take shape whereas on the canvas I can do that quickly and see the results instantly. There is a sense of instant gratification when painting.


Name a few artists that influenced your work.

The Bauhaus was a huge influence and still is – architecture, product design, textiles there are so many great things. Especially Klee’s theories on art and design – not to imitate nature and objects but to observe the process that shaped/created them. It is a fascinating way to look at our surrounding, study form and shape and a reminder not to be too literal when using visual language. I’m also a huge fan of Sean Scully’s work, Ellsworth Kelly, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Alexander Calder, as well as Friedel Dzubas and Ray Parker.


Describe your process. How do you prepare for each piece? 

Half of my sketchbooks are filled with text and the other half with drawings. Most of the time I will write out what a painting should look like or how I imagine several shapes next to each other. I also make collages with torn and cutout paper to create relationships in color and form. When the relationship of elements becomes more than the individual parts, and the shapes move across the surface, everything finds its place.
Once I move to the canvas I usually have a clear idea about how I want to place elements and the colors I’m going to use. The sketches and collages are very loose and I leave a lot of room for experimentation. Working on the canvas is the opposite—it is a very controlled environment.
What are you currently working on and excited about in your studio practice?

I’m currently working on a new series of gradient paintings. I had previously worked on a gradient series inspired by the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. The new paintings are a variation of that technique – while the earlier work was a visualization of movement – the new work is about the interaction of light/dark and sound/silence.
This work has been exciting in many ways - finding the right balance in color, refining the technique, and working on a larger scale.


Share a piece of advice that helped you in your artistic journey so far.

Just keep working - there are always ideas that work and some that don't but it is important to work your way through it and see how far you can push your ideas.