Ebru is an old, traditional art in Turkey, it passed out of mind until Hikmet Barutçugil found out his passion for it and started to bring it back to the Turkish culture. I had the chance to talk to him and two of his students.
We Love Istanbul: A lot of people never heard about Ebru before, what is Ebru?
Ebru, well you call it paper marbling, the first name that was given to this technique in Central Asia was Ebre. Then it came to Iran and they called it Abru. “Ab” means water and “Bru” is face, also surface. So the shortest way to explain it would be water-surface-painting. And here in Turkey we say Ebru, which means colourful. In Turkey it was developed in the 15th century, in the 17th century this technic came to Europe under the name Turkish Paper.
WLI: When did you start to practice Ebru and what was the reason?
HB: I started to study at the Academic of Fine Arts in 1973. You haven’t been born this time, it’s too long ago. I studied Fine Arts and Textile Design and I met a Calligraphy master who was teaching us the Latin alphabet calligraphy. But he was also kind of explaining our old culture, our based culture. Turkey has turned its face to the Western world and so many things were just pushed away.
This traditional culture we pushed away. We had different rules back then as the Western culture. If you look with your western eye to the eastern culture, you don’t see reality, because they have different traditions. So my teacher tried to teach us this old cultural heritage and then I got interested into the Calligraphy. The Arabic alphabet calligraphy, which is the most beautiful art as I believe. Picasso said: “All my life I tried to reach the aesthetic level of the Arabic alphabet”. Then I researched the old examples of Calligraphy masters and some of them have a background in Ebru, some of them used the Art of Ebru to frame their works. That was when I fell in love with this unknown beauty. In those years there was only one single man in whole Turkey doing this technique. It was like a kept secret all the time, there was no interest, no one wanted to learn it. So this is how I started. I am self-thought. I started to train and invent new things, actually I tried to learn the traditional way, but coincidence, no that isn’t the right Word, by destiny, and I discovered some new techniques. That is how I came to this level, I have now.
WLI: When did you start to do it as a professional?
HB: Well, since the beginning I focused on Ebru. I finished my Textile Design Studies, but then I connected Textile Design and Ebru. So that I can use the Art of Ebru on fabric. Also it is not said, that Ebru can only be made with paper. It’s a technique like sculpture. You would never say, that a sculpture can only be out of marble. So my idea was that Ebru can be used on other surfaces. Ebru always has been paper art, but with the right technique you can use the Ebru Art on many more different surfaces.
WLI: There are many old art traditions in Turkey, why did you stay with Ebru?
HB: Rumi, the poet, was asked the question: “What is love?” And he answered: “fall in love and see”. Because you cannot explain how it feels. It is like this with the love for Ebru, this unknown beauty. The secret things about this Art made me really excited to get involved. And I’m still having the same excitement and I still try to find something different, something new.
WLI: What is the difference to other, to Western Art styles and techniques?
HB: Very shortly I can say, Western Art goes to the eye, but Eastern Art goes to the heart. It is all about imagination. In the Turkish language we have a special Word for when the heart is full of love, when it touches your soul. That describes how it feels to do it and to see Easter Art.
WLI: When did you decide to teach it and open the school? And why?
HB: Long ago I was so pleasured and happy about practicing this Art, I wanted to share this feeling. I’m teaching for more than 30 years now. This place started in 1973 and since 1997 we established it. It is called Ebristan, which means Ebru and Istanbul. I believe, when you share your knowledge with other people, people who need it, then your knowledge grows. But if you keep it, you can’t learn more, it always stays the same.
WLI: What kind of classes do you teach?
HB: We have two different levels, the first is Beginners. It takes 8 months. We start with the colour grinding, the brush making, the water and the whole preparing. It is an active teaching, the students learn by doing it. Then we have the Higher Class. She (the student sitting next to him) is coming for nine years now and is creating her own style. This is also a kind of therapy, because when everything is prepared, to make the Ebru painting don’t take you longer than a few minutes. This high-speed you cannot find in any other art. You can’t finish a painting in a few minutes or a sculpture. So in this short time-period you just focus on that process and it comes out of your soul. It is called catharsis, cleaning your mind or soul.
WLI: To ask you as students, why did you decide to learn Ebru, a kind of old-fashioned Art style?
Student1: As HB said. It comes from the heart, you have to love it. It makes you calm and peaceful. Through Ebru I got to know me and also the other people.
Student2: If you asked me, we can’t say, that it is old-fashioned. Right now Ebru is really popular in Turkey, we can find so many examples everywhere. For me there is a difference between the other Art styles and Ebru. I feel a love, I can’t explain. You are playing with water, you are playing with water, and I just love it.
WLI: Would you say Ebru became more popular the last years?
HB: Yes. It was almost dying in the past, but then some people were fighting for making it popular. They really worked hard to bring it back to the people’s minds. I think it is a big success. Also to come back to tradition, tradition happens in the past, but also in the future. Tradition is life.
WLI: You’re doing workshops all over the world. What kind of reaction to you get from the people?
HB: One thing is important, Turkey has a really sharp cut in history with its culture. But then we discovered that tradition is genetic. There are things that we bring genetically from the past. We realized that Western culture doesn’t really fit us. That is when Ebru became so popular. And it is quite interesting, because with Ebru, we bring something new to the other countries. Last week I was in Tanzania, they never heard of it before. They’ve never seen anything like this before. They were really amazed. They would never have felt like this if I brought them some piece of their Art that I made. But that is the thing we were doing in the past. We brought classical music to Vienna, nobody cared about it, because they have already the highest level. But when I bring Ebru, it is something new and exciting. Next week I’m going to Vietnam, I’m sure they’ve never seen something like Ebru.
WLI: Do the people invite you to come?
HB: Some of them invite me, but also the foreign minister or the minister of culture organize Turkish festivals, Turkish weeks in other countries. And because Ebru is one of the really Turkish things, they invite me. These events are quite new, Turkey is changing these years, and we are focusing on our traditions again. That’s all you can say about what I am doing.
WLI: Thank you for the interview!