FG: First Person
l2 September l992
The Fetiye Painting
That Fetiye Weekend
The ululant call to prayer pulsates the Istanbul night. From where I curl
myself-up in the tufted green studio chair, the enormous moon luminates
this Fetiye painting, and I wait for the thick coffee to amplify my
adrenals. I had wanted to make a painting about that weekend: a painting
that would last (unlike that weekend). While working on the linen surface
I had searched behind my eyeballs for memory: a thoughtless process that
had summoned up a chronological filmstrip, unrolled a recollection. In
Fetiye I had intentionally followed contours with my eyes , talking to
myself about color and form. Later, in the studio I recalled the broiling
hotness, the parched white light, the unblemished cerulean sky, in which
the relentless sun had , each night, yielded to the heavy moon.
From the port side of our boat we would dive into the Mediterranean where
we'd glide and gaze into the glazed layers of the Sea. At the end of
prolonged days we'd bob alongside archeological boats where scientists and
divers had excavated ancient underwater cities, digging the subterranean
landscapes, hauling up amphoras, planting them in the sand to dry.
Late one afternoon, when the sun had been tangent to the horizon, we
anchored near a cave. I followed Ustun to the opening, sensitizing my eyes
and ears to articulations, reverberations, chromatic textures. Ustun
disappeared until, suddenly, I felt his head between my thighs; grasping
my knees he adjusted my body on his shoulders so I might better see, so I
might drag my hands across the rough, brittle surfaces. Cupping his jaw in
my hands I looked at him, upside down, relating the stories about the
French school boys' discovery of Lascaux Cave, and the Spanish child who,
sitting on her father's shoulders, looked up and discovered the Altamira
Cave paintings. How do you know such stories, Freni (he had not believed
me). Ustun Bey, I looked down into his Black Sea eyes, I am an artist.
It is my job to know such things! He laughed and flipped me into the
In the heat of the night we made slow, wet love, ignoring the hideous
pitches of screeching mosquitoes. The following night, when the bus rolled
out of the station and and the ochre dusk had blended into the ultramarine
sky,tears flooded my eyes. Next to me, Ustun whispered, "Good-bye,
The all-night ride from Fetiye to Istanbul snaked through the mountains
which were lighted like a Montagna landscape. The great low moon sculpted stark hard-edged
forms that were so white against the landscape, I was tricked into believing there was snow
on the ground. I couldn't sleep. Next to me, the man with whom I had just spent the last
weekend of the summer, held my hand in his lap and snored on my shoulder.
During the night he awoke and pulled at my knee, pointing up at the sky,
where the ultramarine had gone violet and every star in the galaxy appeared
in blinking formation. It was as close to ole' Vincent's Starry Night as
I'd ever seen. Ustun fell back asleep and I examined the Van Gogh night,
asking myself what I might say about this sky, this heat, this light,
Several hours after the bus dropped me on the E-5 Highway in
Bostanci--exhausted, wired, unable to call up a vocabulary to write in my
journal--I began this extraordinary painting--a painting that erupted from
the guts, from a place somewhere deep in DNA. Because it was impossible
to have said it any other way. It is a fervent painting: circles, arches,
blazing gold orbits. Glazed layers, like the flesh of a Titian. None of
this was ever planned; it simply emerged, autonomously.
Clearly, this painting says something about libido, about love--though,
not necessarily the object of that love. I begin to acknowledge my need
for passion (other than painting passion). I also understand that while I
love Ustun, I am not in love with him. Surely this painting is a mythical
summation of these three-and-a-half years in Turkey: ubiquitous domes
and mandalas; splendid artisans and antiquities; voluptuous fruit and
vegetation. The relentless sun. And my relentless self.
When Ustun calls again I tell him that I have finished the most wonderful
painting about Fetiye.
"Finally! At last," he exclaims. I picture him at the other end of the
line, leaning back in his swivel oak office chair, crossing one leg over
his thigh, lighting a cigarette and exhaling the smoke through a wide
grin, up at the ceiling fan.
Four days later he is at my door with flowers, pistachios and Champaign and
caviar, "from the Russians," he winks. "I want to see, Freni, this painting
about Fetiye," He kisses me and carries his gifts to the kitchen.
So I pull at his arm, and his solid body follows me to the studio. For
slow, quiet seconds he scrutinizes the painted surface, rubbing his jaw,
squinting his stare. He leans forward, backs up, teeters on his heels,
and shifts his thick weight from one foot to the other.
At last he turns to me, his palms outstretched, his shoulders shrugged and
asks, "So where's the boat?"