Filinta Önal, one of the leading figures of sculpture in Turkey, is an award-winning sculptor who organizes various diplomatic monumental projects, symposiums, exhibitions both here in Turkey and abroad and brings his works to life using natural stone materials. We talked with Filinta Önal, who has been interested in natural stone since the first moments of his career and produces works by combining life and art practice, about his current works, his relationship with the material, sources of inspiration and the effect of natural stone on his sculptures.
What’s your story? What led you to sculpture?
My desire to be like a stone, to be as permanent, stable, solid and reliable as a stone can be the main motif. Maybe it’s an effort to seek some immortality. All of the arts involve an attempt to seek immortality in some way. It would not be wrong to say that civilization begins with stone, as the way the stone is processed and technologies develop, the human being who built his place has started the process of building himself. Although we do not limit ourselves to materials in sculpture, stone has always had an attractive and magical structure.
When I was a child, walking with my father in Ankara, I saw that most of the buildings were made of masonry andesite. I was fascinated by the fact that both ancient and new buildings in Bahçelievler district, Altındağ, especially in Ankara Castle, were made of andesite, the local material of Ankara, using the rough-hewn technique. Because, whether it is from the Phrygian or Roman period, from the republican period or later, a unity, a character in terms of building materials and style passes into the city and the people. Paving stones were also made by hand in the form of rough hewn, stairs as well. The memories of the places you lived and wandered would almost be passed on to you. Conventional reinforced concrete structures do not have that temperature. If only the first two floors of all buildings, at least up to eye level, could be in the carved andesite texture, there would be a sense of unity and continuity in the city.
Because stone is a material that contains the memory of all time since the existence of our planet. It existed long before the short story of human existence, and it will continue to exist long after our extinction. It is a great pleasure to have the chance to meet such a material in my short life span of one breath and to accompany. I can also say it’s like being able to know ancient secrets that no one can reach, or an effort to be in search of a mysterious self. There is also the fact that working with stone excites my childlike side, as if it were a game, and it also claims to be able to do bigger things than me. There is also a technical aspect where I can convey a design that I have planned and desired, and there is also the desire to suddenly encounter the opportunities for improvisation offered by the material that contains secrets and endless opportunities. It is a surprising and happy story, but it is tiring and wearisome in terms of the body.
What concepts inspire your works?
Although the starting points in our official and original works are different, the method of developing the idea and form does not change much. While I think a little more analytically in designs for the resolution of institutional or social needs in official projects, I leave myself more free in original works, because this area is completely personal and contains a little more freedom and existential concerns. I can briefly summarize what the issues might be as follows;
Actually, you don’t need to say much. What I do is an expression of what I have experienced. The artist is the witness and interpreter of his age. I turn my testimonies into sculptures in line with my worldview. Sometimes a short moment, sometimes a long process allows me to produce my works. But the thing that does not change is this: Life and art are whole. Whatever I experience, what I observe, what I miss, what I am against or for, in short, whatever life brings us, I turn it into art.
As I have been saying this for a long time, the events that develop periodically and regionally have affected the themes.
As it is basically history and mythology, current events also get involved. In the early 2000s, during the wars that broke out in the region, I made the ” Savaş Arabaları” series with metal material. It was sharp and pointed. I said what I was going to say. Sometimes social, sometimes personal events can affect our production process. It is mostly personal, because every human being is a universe and he creates objects from his own universe.
In recent years, I have been focusing on life, the rebuilding of life, mostly through the themes of self-construction, love, family, and children. Being happy in life is essential. I want to be happy, hopeful and peaceful both while producing and sharing my sculptures with people. There must be hope, even if there are too many stimuli and events to be unhappy. I say that even if there is no hope, we should be the hope itself. Thoughts like this affect my perceptions and sources of inspiration these days. Man should be a developing and transforming being, and in this context, themes may include periodic differences according to our age and world of thought.
How did your relationship with natural stone begin and continue in your art life?
My first stone was naturally Ankara andesite. The 1990s were the years when municipalities started to replace paving stones with concrete casting materials. Those were the times when scrap stones could be found and used even cheaply, almost free of charge. It’s both the cobblestones of my childhood and it’s free. It was heavy and difficult to carve by hand at first. The dust was dangerous, processes that constantly dulled our chisels. Over time, my learning to quench steel and make my own tools has also had a great impact. It was a material that I used very fondly at the beginning of my studentship and in the following years. Although it does not allow very fine detail, it was good for learning and improving the rough sculpting technique. Then limestone and of course marble started to feel softer and more fun after almost all kinds of marble andesite. The fact that marble can hold sandpaper and polish when necessary is a distinct richness and beauty.
How would you describe the character of natural stone as an artshaped raw material?
What’s attractive is the “natural” part anyway. You choose a material created by nature from the stove in accordance with the color and texture of the project you need. The sculpture to be made with this material will either stand outside in the landscape or be made of reinforced concrete, etc., which is a completely industrial production. indoors of buildings or entrances, gardens, etc. around Whether it is indoors or outdoors, it is possible to add a taste made by human hands, whether it is semi-processed or fully processed. Depending on the length of the project’s delivery time, it is possible to shorten the time by using diamond cutting and chipping equipment, pneumatic tools, etc. Although stone gives us this opportunity, there is a dangerous limit to using these technologies. It is possible to turn into a stone butcher when you say that I will make a sculpture. When using technology, it is necessary to leave it in its taste and consistency so that the stone does not lose its stoniness. Let it present its beauty as a stone and be a sculpture.
What kinds of stone do you sculpt with? Are there any obvious quarries that you prefer?
Marble, serpentine, limestone, andesite, travertine, granite, basalt, tuff, I have worked with them all, but the most enjoyable is marble. Especially Afyon White, then Marmara, Kastamonu Pink, Elazig Cherry and Green, maybe a little Muğla, occasionally Ankara Andesite.
What, in your opinion, are the pros and cons of working with marble?
The detail-permissive structure of marble is an eye-opening advantage. It can also be polished. If you manage to switch between natural carved texture and polished clean surfaces, it gives very enjoyable effects. I do not know if it can be called a disadvantage, but for the employer, the time and cost are higher than other materials. Also, materials such as bronze etc. are not broken or spilled during attacks, and materials such as paint are easily removed from the surface. Cleaning, maintenance and even restoration processes are all possible in marble, but we feel very sorry when it is attacked and broken. This can be a disadvantage. The difficulty of the material is not a problem because life is already difficult. Also, marble may not progress very quickly, in general, the stone will sometimes resist and force it. These can be overcome with patience and technology. Sometimes it may be necessary not to force it, to wait, to listen to the material. You can listen to the marble, and the marble can hear you. Sometimes you can achieve a slightly different result than you initially imagined. This result is usually surprising and good if a fine dialogue can be established with the material.
What are you currently working on?
I haven’t been able to work for a long time, but I’m starting soon. About eight months ago, I had an operation due to a ruptured tendon in my arm. A month ago, an operation was performed between the joints in my waist. These can always be evaluated in the context of professional deformation and perhaps also the disadvantages above. During the healing process, I made clay busts with one hand, it was an official and diplomatic projects. There are requests from various embassies. It wasn’t very difficult since there was help in mold and casting, but it took a little longer because I could work with one hand and it was a very painful process.
Next in line are the marble pieces, half of which were hewn, waiting to be completed due to accidents and surgeries. The theme generally develops on hopes, dreams and freedoms. It consists of works that I will prioritize for personal exhibitions and collections.