Immortal Plants

Işık Güner

Işık Güner, who has a quiet but stormy wooden studio in the middle of nature, is a botanical painter who brings together the plants he immortalized with green and nature lovers! Işık is a unique artist for me, who has participated in numerous exhibitions at home and abroad and won awards for the natural wonders he immortalized. Are you ready to meet the truest friend of nature, who distributes every color he touches to the right places with his brush, and creates the feeling that you would touch a real flower with every painting you reach?

You paint pictures that it is impossible not to admire when we see them, Işık. How did you choose to paint the beauties of nature in this way?
I am the daughter of a botanist father. As long as I can remember myself, my father goes all over Turkey, collects plants in the fields, dries them, photographs and does a lot of research. He took me to his first land when I was six years old, to Akdağ in Muğla. He would gather herbs, and I would hang around with him, helping him dry the herbs as much as he would allow. My interest in plants, my familiarity with botanical science is very old. On top of that, we are from Çamlıhemşin, right in the middle of nature, from the heart of the mountains. That's why plants have always been in my life. My childhood love is also painting. Maybe as much as every child, but I am one of those who never quit. So my interest in plants and painting comes from my childhood.

My encounter with plant painting was many years later, during university. While studying Environmental Engineering, I started to enjoy making pictures of plants and preparing scientifically correct drawings. However, doing plant painting as a profession was not my choice at first. Ok, the plant painting was excellent, there is a plant in it, there is a painting, there is science. All my strengths seem to be gathered together, yet my intention was not to do this as a profession, but just to paint plants. After all, I was going to be an engineer, the trend was showing that.

My only choice was to take a break from studying for a year after graduating, without continuing any master's program. coinciding with it may have little effect. I chose the solar eclipse, took a break from engineering for a year, and that year, compared to years ago, I made very beautiful pictures, I produced them constantly.

It became a process that progressed on its own as I painted, as the pictures I made developed, and when I started to earn a little income from it. At the end of that year, I started to take small steps as a plant painter.

Art is progressing very slowly in our country. What kind of process did you go through to get to where you are? How did you get involved in this field?
My process went through being able to paint constantly. In this area, my paintings have taken their place more than myself. In my works, I have always tried to keep the plant in the foreground rather than the painting itself. I pretend to explain who the plants are, paying attention to aesthetics, but approaching them as a concept that can be sacrificed if necessary. I developed myself in order to make more scientifically accurate pictures and to describe plants in their best and simplest form. I focused on the details, too much. When my studies became east in terms of botanical science, he made a place for himself in this field.

Since you are a person who is so intertwined with nature, I wonder what nature makes you think, how does it make you feel, and what kind of connection you have?
My intimacy with nature comes from my childhood. Even though I grew up in cities, I always had one foot in the middle of nature. The fact that our relationship goes back a long time and has never been broken has strengthened this bond, but it has also normalized it. I live in the middle of the green, but I don't pass out every day. I wake up in the morning, bird sounds, I listen. Mountains in front of me, I take a deep breath. At night, the sound of coyotes, I listen to it again. And it happens every day, thank you.

Of course, when my life is so deep, green, plants, trees, nature, you get used to it. You get used to the spaciousness. Only the sound of the surrounding wildlife, the incredible smell of the forest, the sound of the stream coming from afar, on the one hand, become normal, on the other hand, it penetrates deep into your heart and you cannot stay away. You really can't stay, the brain and body are starting to fail.

It is said that dealing with plants creates a meditative effect. It's the right approach to deal with the land physically, but can we say the same in the picture? Can you talk a little bit about its positive effects on you?
Painting keeps me in the moment, neither going to the past nor going to the future. It organizes my thoughts, balances my feelings. It allows me to be a healthier, stronger individual mentally. When I paint, I know that all my worries vanish and my narrowed heart is relieved. One of the most challenging concepts in life has always been time. I never had enough time for myself. The days have always been short, the hours have passed quickly. The whole world turns in a flash. I couldn't keep up with the speed of time. But when painting, the concept of time disappears. What stays, what flows, disappears. I love that state the most. So, of course, I can draw long pictures. It is not easy to get up from the table. Of course, the disappearance of the concept of time for me does not stop the rotation of the world. While I am buried in the painting, losing myself among the details, while my mind and heart reach the sky, my hands, waist, back and eyes are sometimes dying. But of course the act of painting is a meditation for me. Touching and seeing plants is a different meditation.

Is the vegetation in Turkey rich enough to inspire your paintings? Or do you mostly paint plants abroad? Can you tell us a little about these processes?
Türkiye is an incredibly rich country in terms of vegetation. The sea on our three sides, whatever climate you seek, this makes these lands really fertile and diverse in terms of plants. Let alone Turkey, even the plants in the Fırtına Valley will provide me with a lifetime of inspiration and a wide variety of choices. There are thousands of species on this land that I will paint with pleasure. However, I have always been more busy with painting the plants abroad until now. Some of the plants I paint are very foreign to me. Everywhere I went, I met a lot of species that I did not know, did not know, and saw for the first time. Of course, I enjoy making plants in these distant lands, but the reason for this is entirely related to the projects and the funds allocated to these projects. In other words, they say that we have this much budget for me to paint a picture of a plant abroad, come and do it. The financial aspect of the job sometimes compels our choices. But I will paint, of course I will. I live on a mountain in Fırtına Valley, who will paint the plants there, if not me.

You have a very nice workshop in Camlihemsin. Why did you choose to live there?
I have lived in many different places because of my job and my choices. I've been going back and forth in the Edinburgh, Barcelona, ​​Istanbul triangle for years. I travel constantly, and I still do. I lived in Barcelona for several years, during which time I worked in Edinburgh. I once tried to return to Istanbul, but failed. Then I started a nomadic life. I was a nomad for 3 years, I didn't have a home, but I had lots of projects. I have been to countries such as England, Chile, China, Nepal, and Spain for these projects. We traveled as myself, a small suitcase, a huge portfolio. I paint a lot everywhere I go. While jumping from place to place in this nomadic period, I constantly looked for myself. In fact, this process took a long time because I did not know where I wanted to live. My heart didn't get warm anywhere, I couldn't stop anywhere. Not because I'm spoiled, but because I'm not sure what's right.

Then, with the same questions still in my mind, I was walking with my friend in April 2015, in Nepal, in a corner of the huge Himalayas. Again, mountains. And just at that moment, there was an earthquake, a magnitude of 8.1. This earthquake that swept Nepal and destroyed Kathmandu did not scare me at all when I was on the mountain. The mountains swayed in all their glory, but it did not frighten. So, during that earthquake, I decided that I wanted to live close to the mountains, and settled in Çamlıhemşin. My concern is the mountains, actually being close to them. I've always felt more peaceful, more secure when I'm in the high mountains.

Now I live right in the middle of the green in Storm Valley, which will provide me with lifelong painting material. Actually, if you look at it, I mostly spend the winter months in Çamlıhemşin. My travels still continue, but having a home to return to, especially at the foot of the mountains, is priceless.

Is there any interest in plant painting in our country? Or do you see potential for growth?
In 2008, I organized my first 'Plant Painting' course at Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden. For this course, I made posters and hung them everywhere. I went to universities, talked to botanical teachers, and asked them to pass it on to their students. We didn't know any acquaintances, I informed everyone. Eight people attended my first course. I have never made such efforts for any of the courses I organized afterwards. As soon as the course is over, my classes are full and I have never canceled a course due to the lack of participants. In other words, my knowledge of the potential for growth in plant painting dates back ten years, during which time we had so many valuable painters that we found the courage to do the 'Illustrated Flora of Turkey' Project. So we intend to paint all the plants in Turkey.

I know that there are not many greenhouses and gardens developed on botany in Turkey, unfortunately. Or what I know is really less than 5 fingers on a hand. Do you have any places you can recommend us on this subject? Where can we go and see natural wonders?
I know Istanbul, Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden best. It is a fully active botanical garden, established at the highway junction in Ataşehir, in an extremely interesting location, where valuable studies are carried out. They are constantly developing, providing trainings and acquiring very valuable collections. It hosts many projects such as the Illustrated Flora of Türkiye Project. It will be worth seeing, it will be nice to be involved in activities. There is a lot to learn at Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden.

Do you have any suggestions for botanical gardens and greenhouses that we can see abroad?
What can we discover?

In this, I can recommend Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden, which I know and have been working with for years. It's great that Edinburgh has gardens all over the place, and that there is a botanical garden in the middle of the city where you can see such active, serious researches and plants collected from all over the world. Because of my heart connection, it is my favourite.

By the way, I'm writing this from the Denver Botanical Garden. A very small, sweet garden in the middle of the city that I have just met. They bloomed quite colorfully all over. I've just met this garden, too, I've been painting here for a while, and I'm just discovering it. However, I think if you happen to be that far away, I would recommend going to the mountains of Colorado more. Wild plants have always interested me more.

After all these plants, I think your house is full of plants :) Are you successful in plant care? How many types of plants do you grow?
Actually it is not. I don't have many plants, even a few cacti and succulents. The plant needs care, you can't take it off easily. Because I travel a lot and for a long time, my plants often die. Instead of killing the plants, I gave up trying to keep them with me. Instead, I built a workshop in the middle of the green, right next to the trees, with glass all over. Now I can pick berries from one pine and apples from the other. I guess that's enough green for me.

Actually, again precisely because of my job, I kill the plants I work on rather than growing the plants. Scientific plant painting generally takes place at the table. You do some work in the field, find the plants, make photographs and sketches, but in order to prepare a scaled, complete and accurate study, if it is not a very rare plant, you take that plant and bring it to your work table. Therefore, if I paint a plant, there is a high probability that the individual I am painting will die. Of course, after you immortalize it by painting it.

You know that edible flowers are often used in the food and beverage industry lately. How are you with the kitchen? Do your talents also affect the cuisine?
My relationship with the kitchen changes periodically. I am a cook when I am at home. The periods I travel, my eating habits and my cooking skills also vary.

My love of cooking usually comes from the kitchen. In a comfortable and clean kitchen, I can work for a long time, then I can cook really delicious meals. I have created a comfortable environment for myself in my own kitchen and cooking is extremely enjoyable. I have the pilitam (kitchen), which is perfect for cooking delicious oven dishes while using it for warming in the winter. I love oven food, and if you have a wood-fired oven, I can cook legendary meals every night.

I have a very experimental approach, but when it comes to food. I love to create new dishes based on the ingredients I have on hand. For this reason, it is difficult for me to cook a meal I cook again, but you gain a lot of practicality in home economics. It's very rare that I throw an out-of-date or rotten food item in the trash.

Is there an interesting story between you and nature in the time period you lived in?

Last year, I was in the comfortable environment of my workshop during the winter months. It has snowed white everywhere, but the air is clean, the sky is partly blue. On a day like this, I have a Skype conversation with Edinburgh, our topic is courses, lectures. From where I sit, you can see the ridge of the mountain and the tea fields in front of you. Just during this meeting, I raised my head, two wolves are descending the opposite ridge. One of them is dragging an animal, I don't quite understand what happened but I think it was a pig. The other is looking around. It was probably perfectly normal for the people of our village, but for me it was a very exciting moment. Of course, with my cries, the meeting was over after this point, and I was busy broadcasting what was going on to Edinburgh. The need to share the moment, I guess.

Does nature have a message for us city dwellers?
I guess it would be really hard for me to speak for nature. When you come into contact with nature, you must ask yourself this question, you must answer it yourself. You should listen to what nature wants, not what you yourself want. What does nature want? I guess nature wants to live. That's why, whether city dwellers or villagers, we all need to erase the traces left in nature. We must not leave our footprints behind. Nature must remain wild. In short, it should be left as is. If we cannot achieve this, we must lock ourselves in the cities, we must be content with the flowers we grow in pots.

The state of Fırtına Valley, which I have witnessed most closely, is heart wrenching and fills your eyes. Many species living in these lands are dying and are under the threat of extinction. With the giant roads to be built into these mountains, this extinction will be certain. Only on steep slopes, giant roads can achieve this alone. However, there are thousands of people who flock to these lands every year. Unfortunately, people who come here do not know what nature wants, even if they come for the nature of this place. You wouldn't believe it if you saw the garbage heap they left behind, in the most beautiful place, their only interest is to take the most beautiful photo. Hard to believe, hard to believe no matter what. Sometimes I ask myself if they may have forgotten? I don't know... My heart is broken for the city dwellers who came to Storm Valley.

I think the most beautiful message that nature would give us would be "first educate yourself, then come visit me".

words: Sinem Uysal

photography: Ekin Özbiçer