Sheffield artist takes inspiration from 14th century Black Pen

Images from the 14th century have inspired Sheffield contemporary artist Richard Bartle to produce a new series of works, Nomadic Tales, now on show at Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 12:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 2:30 pm
Insan kaçıran demon (Demon Kidnaps Man) from Richard Bartle, Nomadic Tales, at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield
Insan kaçıran demon (Demon Kidnaps Man) from Richard Bartle, Nomadic Tales, at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield

When Richard Bartle discovered the drawings of Siyah Kalem, or Black Pen, 15 years ago, it began an enduring fascination with these images from late the 14th and early 15th century which had crossed the borders of Iran, Turkey, China and Mongolia and what they represented.

With Nomadic Tales, Bartle, like many storytellers before him, explores the power of myth to span cultural boundaries. The exhibition comprises a new series of large-scale paintings in which the artist re-presents visual symbols and social and political images he observed on the streets of contemporary Istanbul to create his own personal version of the drawings of Black Pen.

Bartle first saw the drawings in a Royal Academy exhibition, Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600–1600, in London in 2005. These small works, depicting demons, nomadic lifestyles and ancient cultures inspired Bartle to seek out the full collection at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and ultimately spend long periods living and working in the Turkish city.

Sheffield artist Richard Bartle surveys his exhibition at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield

“When in 2009 I had a residency in Istanbul I managed to find a catalogue of his work and have carried it around ever since,” he explains.

“I realised I didn’t know enough about the city. I looked at what was in the pictures and realised it was all around me.

“For example I had taken a photo of a young guy on a step and saw it was exactly like a figure in the book. He’s in the Anatolian Sitting Position (squatting cross-legged) which they had been doing for centuries. Life may have changed but not the people.”

The photo was to feature in his painting, Demon Kidnaps Man, on show in the Sheffield exhibition.

Demonların Dansı (Dance of Demons) from Richard Bartle, Nomadic Tales, at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield

´But first I went away and learned more about the city,” he continues. “I learned the Turkish language and ended up having five artist’s residencies there.”

“I was a foreigner on my own in Istanbul and I realised he was an outsider like me. He painted what was happening in Turkey when there was this strange dynamic.

“I identified 37 social observations of his and I made 37 pieces representing concepts of materiality, architectural idiosyncrasy, politics, tradition, and craft.” These were exhibited at the Halka art gallery in Istanbul.

In the Sheffield exhibition is one three dimensional piece, a hand-cart bearing wooden chairs.

Sheffield artist Richard Bartle with his painting, Two Demons Taking a Sick Donkey, at the Millennium Gallery.

The paintings on display are larger versions of work he had undertaken in his studio in Istanbul. They incorporate imagery that includes architectural and design motifs, marks appropriated from graffiti and street art, stencil art representations of political figures and individuals Bartle encountered, and a textural language made using the objects he found in streets of Istanbul.

Through this intersection of historic and contemporary, intention and interpretation, Bartle questions how the journey of these drawings continues as the stories they tell are told once again.

Siyah Kalem s image of woodworking demons has been re-imagined with a chainsaw and figures in hi vis jackets.. As in Sheffield trees being felled by developers has been an issue in Istanbul, apparently.

Quarrelling Demons has opposing figures in the colours of Istanbul’s rival football teams, Galatasary and Fenerbeche colours. “It could be Wednesday and United,´ Bartle observes.

In Sacrifice Scene he references Istanbul’s abudant street art and graffiti. Three faces reproduced in a stencil are Kurdish activists who were hanged.

One of them is Deniz Gezmiş, a,student leader and political activist in the late 1960s who has become an icon on posters and T-shirts like Che Guevara.

As to the process, each canvas is first wall-mounted and for the outlines to be applied and then the contents are painted on the floor.

Richard Bartle, born in Rotherham in 1967, is founder and director of Sheffield’s Bloc Studios, home to more than 65 fine artists and crafts people.

He has exhibited widely in both solo and group exhibitions, including the aforemenetioned Şeytan Tüyü in, Istanbul, Deities at the Bottom of the Garden (2018), Manchester Central Library, Confluence (2018), Herrick Gallery, Mayfair, London, Blasphemy (2010), Irish Museum of Contemporary Art, Dublin and Pan-demonium (2009), AC Institute, New York.

“There are similarities between Istanbul and Shefifield,” concludes Bartle who now spends equal amounts of time between each city. “It’s on seven hills for a start and Kadikoy where I have a house likes to call itself the socialist republic.”

Richard Bartle: Nomadic Tales is in the Craft and Design Gallery at Millennium Gallery until April 12.