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Clowns and ‘CactuSueños'

Artist Birsen Ozbilge, originally from Turkey, now lives and works in the Canary Islands where she is currently focused on painting clown portraits. She has already completed over 200 and feels the project may grow to 1000 or more. Birsen has been painting professionally for 25 years and identifies periods in her artistic career linked to where she has lived – from Istanbul to New York City. In this interview, with Carolyn Murphy, we find out more about Birsen, her passions and her love of TAE.


“I could say I am a positive and giving kind of person who doesn’t give up easily”, she said when asked to describe herself. “I can commit to a specific subject or series for long periods of time. About 15 years ago, after relocating to the Canary Islands (Spain), I got inspired by the beautiful nature of these unique islands. In this period, I created ‘Cactusueños’ paintings and mosaics. During the last 3 years, I have been busy creating ACEO* clown portraits and linocut prints, as well as commissions.”


When did you first take part in TAE and why?


The first time I sent a postcard was back in 2012, so almost since its inception. I saw the open call invitation on Twitter. I really liked the idea behind the collaborative art exhibition project and its good cause.


TAE12, "By the Lake", by Birsen Ozbilge
TAE12 postcard, "By the Lake", by Birsen Ozbilge

My first TAE postcard was inspired by the artwork project I was working on over that period: a big cactus plant by the calm lake scene and a lady practising yoga.


How did you get started on your clown project?


Since my childhood, I’ve always admired clowns, mime artists and the circus world. I started to create clown portraits about 13 years ago. The first eight portraits were imaginative clown portraits inspired by a book called “1000 Clowns” (Taschen publications). I placed the clowns on hold for a while, then, about ten years later, I restarted with more ACEO clown portraits. This time I added the famous French mime artist Marcel Marceau’s portrait. There were 24 pieces at that time.


"Flunky Concertina", by Birsen Ozbilge
"Flunky Concertina", by Birsen Ozbilge

So how did the project grow from there?


One day, a young clown from Germany reached me through my Instagram page and he became my first Patron on Patreon.com. From that moment I started to paint clowns that were living, as well as more legendary ones that were gone. I have created a list of clowns to be painted - and I add new ones all the time, and even take commissions if requested and time allows.


Besides the clown portraits, I created a linocut print series called “Flunky the Clown”. In fact, I sent one of these series to TAE 2019 in Edinburgh.


Birsen Ozbilge standing with her ACEO clown portraits.
Birsen Ozbilge standing with her ACEO clown portraits.

Why did you choose ACEO format?


I found *ACEO to be a challenging, unique and fun format. Painting small has additional advantages; I can paint ACEO size artworks basically anywhere I go; they are easy to store and I can mail them at a low cost. It’s also very rewarding to be able to glance at the whole series at once.


Birsen working in her studio on clown #36
Birsen working in her studio on clown #36

 

What drives your creativity, Birsen?


Right now, mostly the subject itself, and the story behind each of the clowns. It forces me to fully research them. It’s very rewarding to learn the peculiarities of each subject. People’s appreciation of my artworks is, of course, a plus; seeing them happy inspires me to create more.



"Blue Canary", TAE21 postcard by Birsen Ozbilge
"Blue Canary", TAE21 postcard by Birsen Ozbilge

Tell us more about your TAE 2021 postcard


This year I used watercolours to create my postcard. “Blue Canary” is a popular American song by composer Vincent Florino. The Italian version of the song was used in Slava’s ‘Snowshow’, a Russian clown theatrical show, that I always admired. The three clowns in my artwork are performing this song while dancing.



What do you particularly like about TAE?


The event takes place in different places each year and they do a great job organising them. I also love the motivation behind it all. Seeing it grow is the result of a job well done, and a great idea!


TAE supports artists like we are a family. Since I started participating in TAE exhibitions, I have discovered many very kind and talented artists and art lovers from all around the world. I have seen videos introducing exhibits - and you can feel a passion and connection between the speaker and the attendees.


What would you say to others about taking part in the next TAE?


I totally recommend it. It’s truly inspiring. It’s a great chance to showcase your talent while collaborating with beautiful causes. Mark your calendar to remember to work on your postcard!


 

What is the highlight of your creative career so far?


My last solo art exhibition ‘CactuSueños’. It took place in a wonderful gallery space, and it’s a highly inspiring subject still today.

You can check out her ‘CactuSueños’ exhibition on her Flickr page


 

What about the future?


I am hoping that soon the world will be safe to travel again, as that would be a good sign of the pandemic coming to an end, or mostly controlled, hopefully globally. I will keep on creating paintings that inspire me and make people happy. My next short-term goal is to reach 250 ACEO clown portraits by the end of June.


If you would like to find out more about Birsen’s clown project and her other work, you can visit her blog and social pages at linktr.ee/birsen or shop for her work on Etsy or Ko-fi. Birsen on Twitter: @BirsenOzbilge


 

*ACEO stands for “Art Cards, Editions and Originals” and the one rule is the size: 3.5 inches by 2.5 inches.

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