Stefan Turk creates illustrations as a means to evolve

From the series 'Figures' © Stefan Turk
From the series 'Figures' © Stefan Turk
From the series 'Figures' © Stefan Turk

From the series ‘Figures’ © Stefan Turk

“Contemporary art often reflects our societies’ situations and is focused on exteriority. Many artists shock their audience or try to awaken thoughts in people. I endeavour to establish a connection with the inner paths of life. In this way I want to influence the audience positively, stir something inside them by gentle means. The direction an artist may choose is also conditioned by shifting trends and market opportunities. From this point of view I think that both the ethical position of an artist and his intention are most relevant. My aim is to try and convey positive feelings and vibrations through colours and shapes. I believe it is possible in this way to affect people’s unconscious.”

Stefan Turk (1974, Trieste) is a Slovenian artist and art historian living in the far northeast of Italy who currently works as a supervisor and educator in various art workshops and summer camps for children organised by local cultural organisations and schools.

From the series 'Sufi'; Mullah Nasruddin © Stefan Turk

From the series ‘Sufi’; Mullah Nasruddin © Stefan Turk

Kaleidoscopic artwork
Working in various styles and applying differing techniques, Stefan Turk’s kaleidoscopic artwork has a charming, inspiring and often multi-layered nature both literally and metaphorically. Comprising a multitude of expressions ranging from children stories’ illustrations, landscapes, figurative art and abstract images, a significant part of his work is unmistakably reminiscent of the Maghreb and Orient. Some pieces incorporate Berber symbols and Arab geometric patterns, whereas others employ themes derived from popular medieval Sufi stories related to Attar, Rumi and the exemplary Mullah Nasruddin. As I felt increasingly drawn to Stefan’s work, I contacted him in order to learn more about his background and artistic development.

You have a particular view on what art should embody and transfer. What does it entail exactly?
“If we consider the concept of art nowadays, it can be linked for instance with music, literature, plastic arts, constituents of a nation’s imagery and history et cetera; it includes all aspects of life. As a matter of fact, the present idea of an artist refers to many different fields and is perhaps used too frivolously. The oldest evidence of man’s presence on the earth proves that his creativity was related to his confrontation with the surrounding world. His close bonds with nature, or so to speak his reverence and fear towards it, inspired him to create mainly tools that were useful for his survival, as well as realization and acceptance of his fate.”

How does that latter context relate to contemporary societies, in your view?
“Ancient artistic activity had a supportive social function, for it provided people with a deeper meaning and enriched human life in general. Past thinkers like Pythagoras, Plato and Boethius considered art as a means of spiritual growth. Art, to them, meant a science in itself; one with a specific meaning and goal. Nothing was accidental and superficial in it. If we read their works, the differences between this approach and the common widespread consideration of art are obvious. Some 20th century writers pursued and promoted this idea, like Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, Tithus Burckhardt and Pavel Florentsky. They pointed out that this concept was still present in both Europe and Asia. Their works clearly show that the ancient idea of art and the concept of beauty were strictly connected to the purpose and propriety of its creator’s action. According to this view, the ethical and moral rightness of a person stands out. The work of art becomes thus like a mirror that reflects an artist’s inner life.”

Can you offer an example of your own experience in this realm?
“Whenever my mind is not clear, my artwork fails. Therefore, the right attitude and a certain extent of inner harmony are essential for any artistic expression. But its purpose is also relevant. Ancient works of art like temples, cathedrals, mosques, carpets, sculptures and paintings still reflect universal, natural laws and were intended to stimulate people to think about their life and existential condition. The symbols, colours, decoration, shapes et cetera processed in their designs still ‘speak’ to people who know how to translate them.

From the series 'Portae aureae' © Stefan Turk

From the series ‘Portae aureae’ © Stefan Turk

What do the notions of ‘audience’ and ‘an artist’s impetus’ mean to you then?
“It is very difficult for an artist to exist without other people. Like in other areas, others influence the life and fortune of the artist, and most artists seek consent and approval. From this point of view we can consider the importance and the value of the artist’s signature that determines his work. But the idea of the artist that we have today and the value that we gave to it in the past are quite different. In the Middle Ages and in traditional Oriental art, for example, it was common that the author didn’t sign his work. He was a craftsman and only an instrument of the divine Will. Unlike today, he used to lead a particular kind of life and follow strict working rules and instructions that determined the final result of his actions. If there was any innovation, it was in accordance with the tradition.”

A journey within
Stefan’s artistic research is linked to endeavours in the realm of his inner development. “My purpose in art is intrinsically connected with my effort to change my way of looking at and experiencing the world, a point of view derived from various lectures about individual development which I attended over the years next to working on myself.” Stefan linked his inner journey not only to his interest and passion for antique art, but also to modern artists like Vasilij Kandinsky and Paul Klee, who explored and approached the world of children.

From the series 'Children's book illustrations' © Stefan Turk

From the series ‘Children’s book illustrations’ © Stefan Turk

“The latter influenced my experiences with children in school and creative laboratories. Other factors of influence and importance are world tales and primitive and oriental arts. “These approach the world in a simple, fantastic, wonderful and innocent way, like a child who sees the world through his own eyes.”

So, compared to adults..?
“A child is always amazed by what surrounds him. Nothing is obvious. He is curious and always open to a new experiences. His point of view is not static. In the world of a child, the conditioning influence of society and the adult world is still absent, or at least not as present as in later years. When I started illustrating children’s stories, it altered my conception of art: I started to simplify my artistic language and investigate the qualities of colour, signs and symbols.”

Gateways to inner development
Stefan speaks of artwork as a threshold enabling one to access other dimensions, something in which other persons are invited to enter. “When people connect to art they may step out of time for a moment, forget their problems and difficulties. They can take a break and step on the flying carpet and fly away so to speak; they can live out fantastic adventures. In that dimension people may come in touch with the deepest part of their being.” In order to achieve this, Stefan drew inspiration from different types of artistic and cultural traditions, at times combining elements to reach the desired result. “My link with the past is important to me, especially with regard to age-old universal ideas. I’m trying to reinterpret these ideas in a contemporary expression. Today, many artists create works only for themselves; they don’t care about an audience, whether or not their work is understood by others. But in my view some questions should be raised: What does an artist want to say and express with his work? What themes does he (she) approach, and how?”

Why is this important?
“Right now, as our Western society experiences a crisis which negatively influences social and ethical values, we need artists more than ever, for they are suited to help and direct people’s expressive researches in a better way. The approach to art is not supposed to be a simple game; we need it to transform it in a real work, a work with a fixed purpose to help people evolve.”

From the series 'Sufi': based on Attar's story 'The Conference of the Birds aka The Simourgh', passage 'The Vision of the Simourgh' © Stefan Turk

From the series ‘Sufi’: based on Attar’s story ‘The Conference of the Birds aka The Simourgh’, passage ‘The Vision of the Simourgh’ © Stefan Turk

Stefan Turk’s work (all “work in progress”) can be viewed on his Facebook page.

Between 1990 and 1993 he attended open-air painting courses held in the summer by the respected Trieste-based artist Nino Perizi. Later Stefan attended a course in illustrating by Svetlan Junakovič at the International Foundation for Children’s Illustrations in Sarmede, located near Treviso in the region of Venice. He is a member of the “KONS” art association for the Slovene minority community and of the association of artists residing on the Slovene western coast. In the past he contributed to several Slovenian children’s magazines such as Mavrica and Ciciban. Moreover, he illustrated five Slovenian children’s books between 2010 and 2011. At present Stefan illustrates texts for the Slovenian children magazine Galeb. Prior to his activities in this regard, Stefan’s autonomous art work was exhibited at various galleries in Italy, Slovenia and Japan.

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