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26.02.2018

With Meral Alma in the urban jungle

The young artist has just completed her studies at the Academy of Arts Düsseldorf. But she already is well known to the collectors. By Bertram Müller

When Meral Alma paints, she gives her heart and soul. You can find her on scaffolding to fill three-meter-high canvases, or she uses her hands to bring paint on the canvas and often leaves the studio at four o’clock in the morning. The young artist, who has just graduated with her degree from Siegfried Anzinger at the Düsseldorf Academy, is not spared, but she does not mind working exhaustively day after day, night after night. Finally, the images that float through her head are captured on the canvas. And the collectors are already waiting and their names fill lists. (…)

Actually for Meral Alma everything is going too fast, because she does not want to take leave of her many paintings that fill her small studio next to the academy, actually she needs a vacation first.

For the moment she is not interested in reading anything in the newspapers about the selling prices she is realizing with her wild but at the same time highly disciplined paintings. But so much is revealed: they are amazing. However, considering the effort involved in a six meter wide canvas filled with small single scenes, the hourly wage may not be so remarkable.

In one of her recent painting, that at the same time is also the largest one with a size of 4x3m, and its 5m wide twin painting, Meral Alma has summarized what is partly known from her earlier paintings: faceless, shadowy figures, punks, kings and a floating ballerina. It is a colorful panorama, and even the smallest of the picture boxes that make up the compositions, brims over with energy. Couples and musicians populate the canvas, black and white, and like in a collage, some motifs jut into the neighboring box, because outstretched arms need space.

About the creation of the first of the two paintings from 2018, “Circus of Life – Act 1”, the artist tells: “I painted like a madman, only went home to sleep, sometimes I got up after two hours to continue painting in the studio.” There are good friends around the academy at night. Sometimes the gatekeeper calls out well-meant “Go home!” when the clock turns to four or six again, and some neighbors bring me food.

The “circus of life” is a mixture of urban jungle and fairytale – one of four working groups in which Meral Alma has ignited her “color inferno” so far. A second group is made up of the punks created in the past twelve months: one full-frame head with the typical coiffure diverging in many colors, as they defined the streetscape around the Ratinger Hof in the 1980s.

Alma reveals that these wild, self-confident people have a second face. It is revealed when you turn off the light and notice that the heads are phosphorescent. Some buyers did not realize that until they had this experience in the privacy of their own home and then calling and asking her if this effect was wished.

And there also is the group of faces: heads between man and monster in the style of an exaggerated, caricature expressionism. The spectrum ranges from the king on wheels over the big-eyed timid to the “happy esthete”.

The fourth group consists of collages in which portraits and figure scenes shrink to a small format and look as if someone is strolling through the big city and looking curiously through every window. This group’s showpiece is the 6.40 x 2.20 meter painting “Ratinger Straße Urban Life” from 2014/15. Here naked lovers meet a pianist, a skeleton meets a seated man who might be Rodin’s “thinker,” and most of the time, and one thing overlaps the other. More pictures in this series add boxes to boxes, but in “Ratinger Strasse” every motif seems to want to assert itself against the other, no format is the same.

But how do you compose something like that? Meral Alma renounces not only pre-drawings on the canvas, but she also does not make a sketch on paper. As she says she has the sketch on her mind and lets herself be guided by the process of painting.

Thanks to the strong colors all these paintings seem to be life-affirming, optimistic, but if you look closely you will also see lonely and sad ones. Meral Alma does prettify the circus of life. Her pictures are images of our time. Robert Fleck, a professor at the Düsseldorf Academy, calls her “a small encyclopedia of contemporary emotional situations.”

At the Academy, Meral Alma has had the experience that everyone made there: first you learn the craft, then you have to let go of everything because the creative process begins. Meral Alma is convinced: “Art is about not to please.” Nevertheless, her paintings are just beautiful. It is not a cheesy beauty, but one that flows from experience.

Thinking about her biography, Meral Alma says: “I’m lucky.” She was born in Mönchengladbach, grew up in Jüchen, her name is Turkish, her first language was Arabic, then Turkish and German were added. She attended a Catholic school, but is also familiar with Islam. “I feel good everywhere,” she says. And if she visits Istanbul again, she will meet with the poor and the rich, with conservatives and critics of the regime. Her boyfriend is a German. Before she graduated in art, she had already graduated from the Heinrich Heine University with a master’s degree in German and sociology. Now she is registered as a doctoral student.

Painting until late at night and writing a doctoral thesis – that would fill a human life. But Meral Alma wants more. She would love to arrange an event about punks in a vacant building in central Düsseldorf. She says that this event may last four days, because then people from different cultures could come together, dance, watch art and talk. And in the middle of it all you will find the spirited, enthusiastic and inspiring Meral Alma.

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