For as long as she can remember, Pelin Karaaslan, B.A. ‘17, has been a painter. Her exhibition This Means You Remember, currently on display in the Plateau café LA MAISON OFLORE, dives into a memory-based exploration of solitude, relationships, and intimacy. Karaaslan’s work is figurative and anecdotal; her use of acrylic and oils on wood panels creates soft lines and colour block brushstrokes of earthy brown, warm beige, and tender mauve which blend effortlessly to craft an intimate atmosphere. In her paintings’ small, warm vignettes, the viewer peers into rooms where women sleep and lovers hold one another tenderly as their bodies meld, and faces, eyes, mouths, and hands dissolve into their supple surroundings.
Karaaslan grew up in Istanbul and came to Montreal when she was 18 years old to study at McGill. Graduating in 2017 with a double major in Political Science and Economics and a minor in Philosophy, Karaaslan developed many of the tools in university that she now uses to approach her artwork. In her political philosophy classes, she studied the fundamental questions about the human condition and what it means to be a person existing in the world—a theme she explores in her work today. She also learned about the academic research process, a technique she applies to her paintings as well.
“My classes [taught me] a lot about research, how to formulate a question, and I realized that painting as a practice [is] always […] research,” Karaaslan said. “You create a new body of work. It all begins for me with a concept, and then you research based on that concept. You form […] questions, […] gather resources, and then you translate your research into the form of painting.”
Karaaslan had many inspirations while creating her work for This Means You Remember, one of which was her upbringing in Istanbul. Karaaslan spoke fondly about the memories she has of her father providing her painting supplies when she was a child, sharing that she even slept in the room where she painted, the air smelling of oils and paint thinner.
Outside of her personal life, Karaaslan is influenced by the work of painters Tala Madani, Cheyenne Julien, Ambera Wellmann, and the writings of Khalil Gibran, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and James Baldwin. Baldwin’s writings about the creative process and the artist’s role in society were especially formative for her.
Karaaslan notes a phrase in Baldwin’s 1962 essay The Creative Process that particularly resonated with her:
“Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.”
Tying her work together to Baldwin’s thoughts, Karaaslan hopes that through her art, she can explore her truest self by depicting her relationships with others. Consequently, she wants to understand the essentials of what it means to exist in a relationship, in a body, and in a soul.
“I try to depict the fundamentals when painting, closer to the essence, no add-on elements like clothes,” Karaaslan said. “[The paintings are] raw, […] exploring the wilderness of myself, understanding my inner tides, and translating the process into a new tongue [….] In doing this, I hope [to] create a platform, a portal for others to compare their own introspective processes and to understand the commonalities of each experience.”
Pelin Karaaslan’s paintings are exhibiting until December at LA MAISON OFLORE, 511 Duluth Ave E, Montreal, Quebec H2L 1A8.