Füsun Onur

Dividing Space on a White Piece of Paper


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Not on display

Füsun Onur born 1938
Ink on paper
Support: 302 × 226 mm
Purchased from the artist with funds provided by the Middle East and North Africa Acquisitions Committee 2014


This is one of a group of twelve drawings in Tate’s collection from Turkish artist Füsun Onur’s series Dividing Space on a White Piece of Paper (Tate T14394T14405). Made between 1965 and 1966, and drawn in ink on paper, they show the artist exploring – as the title indicates – the possibilities of representing depth in two-dimensions through the relationship between lines and volumes. The drawings offer a sense of volumetric form seen as architectural or sculptural mass articulated on a flat surface. Delineated blocks of solid white and rectilinear black planes dominate the pictorial space. The artist’s intervention on the paper is minimal: using black ink, she created lines that essentially divide the paper into areas of white and black, creating shapes and a sense of depth out of its surface. The drawings demonstrate a compositional tension, emanating a sense of energy that arises from the interaction of the black and white motifs. The bold white volumes, with their geometrical configurations are seen against the strong black lines, a technique that produces a positive-negative effect.

This early body of drawings anticipates Onur’s mature sculptural style and her concerns with surfaces, folds and spatial structures. Onur drew upon elements of abstraction to create works of strong linear composition inspired by rhythm, music and poetry, which subsequently informed the sculptures she produced from the 1970s onwards. The drawings, seen together as a group, define the artist’s explorations into rhythmic sequencing, structure, repetition and variation, elements that also exist in the different fields that informed her practice.

Growing up in Istanbul in the 1940s and 1950s, Onur’s life and career were deeply connected to the city’s cosmopolitan and modernising character at the time. She began her career as a traditional sculptor, realising figurative works such as portrait busts. She abandoned representation from the late 1950s and began experimenting with abstract forms, engaging with the history of modernist abstraction. The cultural and intellectual wealth she was exposed to during her formative years in Istanbul, and her dissatisfaction with what she saw as the limitations placed upon her artistic development, led her to leave Turkey in 1962 to study in the United States. While there, she immersed herself in sculpture and theories of abstraction, basing her works on structural, spatial forms; she introduced elements of chance and found elements – such as metal, wood, fabric, mirrors and other everyday materials – into the solid plaster forms of her biomorphic, geometric and architectural sculptures. Having returned to live and work in Istanbul, though recognised as a pivotal female figure in the local context, she eluded categorisation, at times deliberately marginalising her practice. Refusing to repeat similar sculptures twice, she destroyed many of her works by throwing them into the Bosphorus, an act that she saw as liberating her production and allowing her continuously to explore new forms. She explained, ‘I was always breaking my sculptures because I wanted to change … Because I didn’t like my sculptures, I would throw one out to do another.’ (Quoted in documenta 13 2012, p.21.)

The loss of most of Onur’s sculptures and installations reflects the importance of her drawings as surviving indications of the artist’s ideas. The motifs, patterns, structural compositions and spatial configurations seen in this group of early drawings thus serves as a pictorial framework for her three-dimensional works, such as the sculptures made out of wood, plexiglass and Styrofoam that she produced in the 1970s.

Further reading
Margrit Brehm, Füsun Onur – For Careful Eyes, exhibition catalogue, Yapi Kredi Kültür Merkezi, Istanbul 2007.
Füsun Onur – dOCUMENTA (13), exhibition catalogue, Cologne 2012.
Füsun Onur – Through the Looking Glass, exhibition catalogue, ARTER, Istanbul 2014.

Vassilis Oikonomopoulos
July 2014

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