One Mind, Many Mediums
Boulder artist Belgin Yucelen spreads her talents across a wide swath of memory and materials
A glance at Belgin Yucelen’s portfolio, and it’s clear: She’s an artist with broad range. She switches to and from mediums with ease, courage and confidence. From oil painting, she moved to sculpting, print-making and, most recently, installations that incorporate fashion, in the form of traditional Turkish dresses reinvented or sound recordings from friends and strangers answering existential questions.
“I have been criticized for that [range],” she says. “People want to see an artist do something good and do it forever. I do not believe in that. An artist should be open to new ideas, to new methods, new techniques and materials. For me, most of the time, an idea comes first. Some of the ideas can be done in only one medium,” she adds.
Each project is an adventure for Yucelen’s curious mind and her wide artistic lens. Crucial to her process is a commitment to stopping before the work is overdone, before too many details are exaggerated. “I learned to know when to stop, which is way before I thought I had to stop. That seems to be the problem for many artists: knowing when to stop. If I don’t stop, I go into details,” she adds. And to her, that deprives the viewer of the opportunity to see the art as it is meant to be.
She glides from one project to another with the grace of a natural-born artist who sees her path unfold slowly in front of her wide-open, aching-to-try-thenext-thing eyes.
It took Yucelen 17 years after moving from Istanbul to Golden to become a full-time artist. What uprooted her from Turkey was a commitment to getting a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. In Turkey’s educational system, it is quite common to pursue an engineering degree as a money-making and stable career, something she felt compelled to go after. It was 1994, and her then-boyfriend, now-husband was following the same career track. He joined her across the ocean and today remains a chemical engineer.
“It was so freeing to be in the United States,” she says. “Everyone can be anything and do anything.” And so it became the perfect place for her to explore her passion for art. “Colorado is the place I wanted to live in. I love the mountains, the bookstores, the coffee shops, the hikes and mountaineering,” she says. Little by little, Yucelen inserted more art-making into her daily routine, more so after the birth of her daughter in 2005. Art became her main focus, with the support and trust of her family here and abroad. “I waited patiently for the time to feel right for this.”
It came easy. “Art was always a part of my life when I was a little kid. My family was truly very imaginative as I was growing up. The whole family did arts and crafts all the time,“ she says. Istanbul did not have modern museums at that time, but she visited the historical museums to learn about art, and she spent long afternoons at the American consulate reading about it too. “I would cross the Bosphorus, walk to the American consulate, and spend my afternoons there reading books about art. They had amazing books on art.”
Her Turkish roots show themselves in her work. Clothes from the Past, her first art installation, includes sculptural metal dresses and shoes, an homage to her culture, showing off garments similar to those worn by Turkish women in Anatolia and Europe from the 17th through the 19th centuries. “I wanted to bring something from my past to today. I wanted to bring the clothes of the time from darkness and give them light again,” she explains.
Words, an art installation that combined organza spheres hanging from the ceiling with a soundtrack of voices sharing existential issues, was inspired by a poem from back home. “I had a poem on my wall when I was a child that said: ‘Where do the words go when we become quiet?’” she says. “I always thought about that, and I visualized it and eventually that exhibition came up.”
These installations and others came after years of oil paintings— some of them portraying landscapes or exploring fairytale-like stories—and sculptures, bronze pieces of art centered around the essential elements of life.
Wander through her sunny Boulder studio, and it’s impossible not to feel the busyness of her mind as she goes from medium to medium, expressing with grace and skill what comes to her in any given moment.