As a painter whose canvases initially come across as playfully light-hearted with a wink of cartoonish mischief, Turkish artist Nazim Ünal Yilmaz also lets a shadier psychology penetrate this group of figurative paintings exhibited at PSM. Self-discovery (embracing who you really are) and finding oneself (let’s say, in unexpected situations that feel right) are common themes. If this sounds sentimental then it shouldn’t: “coming of age” might be more colloquially termed “cumming of age” in the context of this show, as sexual exploration and the revelation of repressed desire come to the fore.
“Cruising,” 2017, for example, is a large-scale canvas that sees a smiling, longhaired philosopher-cum-religious prophet wandering through a mountainous landscape lifting his scarlet-red robe to expose his flaccid penis, which is the color of pale lilac and the same size as his downward-pointing, elongated nose. Upon closer inspection, these hills are actually fleshy buttocks, breasts, phalluses, bent knees and arched backs, a series of all-pervasive, sumptuous curves depicted in grays, browns and purples. Fluids are joyously squirted into the air like fountains, milk and semen curving into the sky; simultaneously, brown forms emerge from arses (yes, shit), one even rising up akin to a charmed snake.
Older works on show include “Object Calling Me,” 2010, a small-scale diptych hung in a corner across two adjoining walls, which depicts a naked man embracing (probably copulating with) an anthropomorphic sideboard with arms that grab his arse cheeks. Meanwhile, the other panel renders an inverted keyhole (or glory hole) through which a huge teardrop of liquid emerges — it’s as if the artist implicates us as the Peeping Tom peeking into the secret life of others.
Symbolism of this kind appears throughout the suite of paintings: a rainbow being poured from a jug in “Tare,” 2012; a huge ladder rising into the sky, up which a child must climb in “Leaving the Lap,” 2018; pink-tipped walking sticks next to a naked man who is smoking in Dorothy-red heels while trundling up a Stannah Stairlift (“Atlas,” 2018). As such, an orgy of art-historical references from Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico to Philip Guston is manifest, updated for a 21st century where dogging beneath a nosey moon (“Moon Erosion,” 2017) is counterbalanced by brooding over the complex universe (“Study,” 2018).
The playfulness of depicting a sexuality coming into being with such bawdy undertones feels vital and on point in a moment where bigoted sexists (yup) like Trump are implementing transgender military bans. While the practice of Ünal Yilmaz is far from satire, its frisky expression of joy in exploring the depths of our sexuality is more necessary than ever, unapologetic in demanding an atmosphere where people can fulfil their desires without shame or repression, and delight in these. And while the show’s title, “Fieberblasenmond (Cold Sore Moon)” reflects the artist’s somewhat pessimistic assertion that “the moon appears to me like a round white cold sore caused by the herpes simplex virus,” it’s an uplifting note that we’re left with, one that reminds me of a scene in Luca Guadagnio’s recent film “Call Me By Your Name,” 2017, where the protagonist pits a peach and cums in it because he’s curious. Sure, it might be gross, but it’s also beautiful.
“Nazim Ünal Yilmaz: Fieberblasenmond (Cold Sore Moon)” is on view through April 21 at gallery PSM, Schöneberger Ufer 61
Click on the slideshow to have a sneak peek of the exhibition.