Crossing over several continents, Turkey seems a very long way from Chappaqua and producing textile clothing designs for Ralph Lauren. Developing artwork on three-dimensional canvases and painting for the visually impaired seems even further - unless you're Chappaqua artist and entrepreneur Sitki Gulergun .
Gulergun left Turkey over thirty years ago to study art at Oxford in England and professionally has done all of the above. Coming to America after completing his studies in 1980, he was an art director for fashion designer Oscar De La Renta, started a textile fashion design studio working with Italian, French and English suppliers and later put his artistic talents to work for Ralph Lauren. “Mr. Lauren would go into the meetings and see most of the designs that were later replicated onto clothing,” he says.
But always producing and selling impressionist paintings, his clothing art eventually jumped out at him, causing his creativity to morph above a single dimension. "That really gave me an idea," he says. No longer limiting his impression of art to a single side, he says, "I started reinventing the canvas," and pyramids, cubes and spheres opened up his work.
The effect he found was an optical illusion of movement, but it was the loss of a friend's sight that made him realize the art form’s limitation. He refers specifically to the fact that art lover’s passion – like his friend’s – is never dimmed.
At about this time, he was putting together a piece by squeezing tubes of acrylic paint to his canvas. Of course, raised off the page with more texture, Gulergun realized that his friend would at least be able to interpret the work with his fingers.
With his friend appreciative and receptive to the work, Gulergun decided he wanted to continue producing similar pieces and likens it to abstract art. “Do you know what the artist is saying to you? No,” he says, and for someone who is blind, it’s a matter of interpretation through touch.
In a larger context, he also wants to advocate on behalf of art lovers who have gone blind. For instance, going to the museum serves almost no purpose to the visually impaired if their sense of touch is also restricted. Even in the case of sculptures, museums put limitations on the blind, where touch can really mean something in the absence of sight. "We can't feel it through gloves," Gulergun relates the frustration of his friend.
Rather than standing by powerlessly, Gulergun's vision has him crossing paths with Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown. He became acquainted several years ago with Jeff Dunn who set up Guiding Eyes’ assisted technical center for its students.
Losing his sight at an early age, Dunn never let the disability put limits on his creative passions. A tactile artist, it was his creation of a wire dragon that got Gulergun’s attention. “It was an incredible piece of art for both sighted and non sighted alike,” says Linda Press of Guiding Eyes, and the intricate detail gave Gulergun cause to exhibit it among his artwork at a showcase for three dimensional pieces.
Unfortunately, the talented artist and computer wiz was stricken down in 2008 to a rapidly spreading form of cancer at the age of 41. Despite the tragedy, Gulergun won’t let the association end where life did. “He offered to create a custom work of 3D art as a gift to the White Plains center and in tribute to his Jeff’s life,” says the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for Guiding Eyes.
Predicting the finished product will mean great deal to all the people passing through the location, the ongoing affiliation has him describing Guiding Eyes as “his charity,” according to Press. “To have somebody giving on our behalf with such compassion for human beings and those with disabilities,” she says, ”is a privilege.”
Gulergun hopes the good will and attention finds the larger outlet he’s seeking. Advocating that museums should set aside touch appreciation rooms for the visually impaired, New York City is where he’s setting his sights and strongly encourages other artists to join him.
Look for Sitki's next Arti is Not Blind Exhibit at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation's WPA Gallery from April 6th to May 12. Artist's reception on April 6th from 12-3
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