Monday, September 4, 2017

The Turkish Cypriot artist who created the flag of Cyprus: Ismet Guney…

The Turkish Cypriot artist who created the flag of Cyprus: Ismet Guney…

Sevgul Uludag

Tel: 99 966518

Constantinos (Costas) Emmanuelle from Australia who has created the web page "Tales of Cyprus", a few days ago published the story of the life of the Turkish Cypriot artist Ismet Guney who created the flag of the Republic of Cyprus…
I thank Constantinos Emmanuelle for this…
He writes:
"Today I'd like to present another one of my Cypriot heroes. His name is Ismet Guney. Some of you may know him as the man who designed our beautiful Cypriot flag. Like so many other 'unsung' heroes of mine (Mehmet Aziz, Frank Newham, Necmi Bodamyalizade, etc.) there is very little written about Ismet Guney, especially in any Greek or English publications. That is why, in my own small way, I have decided to present and promote his life story here on Tales of Cyprus. I have also decided to create my own portrait of this great Cypriot artist, which one day I hope to include in my series of posters dedicated to the 'unsung' heroes of Cyprus.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this short tribute to Ismet Guney.
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Ismet Vehit Guney was born in Limassol on the fifteenth of July 1923. His father Vehit Yusuf was an officer at the municipality of Limassol and his mother Yegane was a housewife. Ismet was the eldest of three children. He had a sister named Zehra and a brother named Ahmet.
Guney's first experience with painting happened in primary school. He remembers how his teacher would place a vase of flowers on a table and ask the pupils to draw it. His parents were not particularly fond of their son's interest in art and took steps to try and curb his enthusiasm. Guney once wrote in a memoir that his mother was always upset if he wanted to paint at home because of all the mess he might create. Once Guney succeeded in forging a career as an artist however, his parents became proud and more approving.
As a young boy, Guney remembers a Turkish man arriving from Egypt to set up a signwriting shop in his neighbourhood in Limassol. Guney would often go and observe the sign-writer who in his spare time would paint landscapes using oil paint. "There was absolutely no one else around me who was painting like this," recalls Guney. "The art scene in Cyprus in those days was pretty much non-existent."
Thanks to influences at school and people such as the Turkish sign-writer, Guney began to experiment with paint and to some extent; his earlier work would depict an enhanced creative sense of colour and composition.
In 1935, Guney attended high school in Nicosia. He bought an exercise book and started to use graphite (lead) pencils for the first time and would spend the time between his lessons drawing pictures of film stars and famous people such as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk based on photographs that he saw in magazines or on posters. Encouraged by a teacher named Kadi Burhan, he began to experiment with watercolour and oil paints.
In 1940, after the outbreak of World War Two, Ismet Guney joined the Cyprus Volunteer Regiment for the British Army. Apparently, it was his high school English teacher Faik Muftuzade who encouraged him to join the CVR. With few jobs available in Cyprus for high school graduates the seventeen-year-old Guney joined the army and became a sergeant almost immediately (because of his education) where he would earn a handsome monthly wage. Guney served in Palestine where he attended the Military Academy in Haifa. Incredibly he was even able to study art at the academy.
When the war ended in 1945, Guney was discharged from the army and returned to Limassol where he continued to paint and draw. He was now twenty-two years old.
In 1946, Guney became the first Turkish Cypriot artist in Cyprus to have a solo art exhibition. The show was held at the British Consul in Limassol. A year later he had another exhibition at the British Institute in Nicosia where he was working as a trainee art teacher.
After the success of his first exhibition Guney was asked to give lessons to a number of private emerging artists including a Greek Cypriot woman named Androulla who became very skilful under his tutelage. The two artists worked side by side for a while producing paintings for sale. Guney once stated that it was mainly Greek Cypriot women who liked and bought his paintings.
Guney had a second solo exhibition in 1949 in the exhibition-hall of the Victoria Secondary School (in Nicosia). Many people felt that Guney's artwork was a positive contribution to the cultural life of Turkish-Cypriot society, particularly to female students even though many girls would often turn their heads with embarrassment in front of a nude painting.
Guney's third exhibition was held at the prestigious Ledra Palace Hotel, again in Nicosia.
In 1946, Guney attended the Teachers Training College in Morphou. This was the only educational institution in Cyprus that accepted students from both communities. The instruction was mainly taught in English. When Guney graduated two years later in 1948 he started teaching art (and art history) at the Nicosia Turkish Boys' Lyceum. The Principal of the school allowed Guney to convert a large room at the school into an art studio where he could teach drawing and painting. Guney would teach at this school for twenty-nine years from 1948 until 1977.
Guney married Tomris in 1951. Apparently, he spotted her one-day walking down the street in Nicosia wearing a green dress and was instantly attracted to her. Tomris, an elementary school teacher (who played the violin) was from Nicosia. A year later, in 1952 their daughter Nilgun was born. Twelve years later saw the arrival of their second daughter Fatma.
In 1956, Guney visited Turkey where he met the celebrated artist Ibrahim Challi. It's fair to say that Challi had a profound effect on the Cypriot artist. Many experts regarded Challi as a true master of Turkish twentieth century art and many important painters were trained at his workshop.
"We were like father and son," Guney once said in an interview. "He would call me son and I called him 'maestro'. I remember he had a lot of paintings in his workshop. One day he selected six of his paintings and gave them to me as present. He behaved that way to show how much he appreciated my friendship."
On another occasion, Guney remembers admiring a painting that Challi had painted in his workshop of a nude. The Turkish master upon seeing his pupil from Cyprus admiring his painting immediately reproduced an exact copy and presented to him as a gift.
Whenever Guney would paint with Challi he tried not to adopt the master's techniques but rather to develop his own creative style. Although Guney was often regarded as an Impressionist artist he saw himself as a Romanticism-style painter inspired by artists such as Corot, Delacroix, Constable and Turner.
Ibrahim Challi certainly took Guney under his wing. He exposed him to the rich culture of arts and painting that existed in Turkey at that time. Guney became a member of the Turkish Painters and Artists Association. He attended the 57th anniversary exhibition of Statues and Paintings where he was invited to exhibit one of his own artworks. Challi introduced Guney to some of his artist friends such as Hikmet Onat, Feyhuman Duran, Berdi Rahmi, and Zeki Faik.
Guney would continue to visit and work alongside Ibrahim Challi every summer until the maestro's death in 1960.
In the 1950s Guney formed an Art Club in the building that is now the Bayraktar Turkish Maarif College in Nicosia. The club was formed out of necessity and sheer frustration after Guney realised there were very few places in Cyprus where aspiring artists could go to learn how to paint and practice their art. Evidently, the club became popular with students from all over Cyprus who were taught by Guney himself how to paint in oils.
In 1960, Guney saw an advertisement in his local newspaper calling for artists to submit their designs of a new flag for the Republic of Cyprus (following the island's recently acquired independence). The competition rules stipulated that the flag should NOT include red or blue colours (the colours of the flags of Turkey and Greece), nor should the design portray a cross or a crescent. Guney decided to enter the competition.
Out of the five hundred entries submitted, Guney's flag design was selected as the winner by the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Makarios III and the Vice-President Fazil Kuchuk. Apparently Makarios had asked Guney to explain his design featuring the map of Cyprus and two olive branches. Guney explained that the colour of the map represented the copper that was found on the island and gave Cyprus its name. The two olive branches represented the Turkish and Greek Cypriots communities living together in peace. The white background of the flag also represented the cleansing of all problems with the formation of the Republic. Guney received fifty pounds and a congratulatory letter from Makarios for winning the flag-design competition. Thanks to Guney, Cyprus became the first country in the world to show a map on its flag.
Makarios commissioned Guney to also design the Coat of Arms emblem for the new Republic as well as a set of commemorative stamps and a new lira bank note. Unfortunately, Guney was not paid for this work. According to some members of the Turkish Cypriot press, Guney was promised twenty pounds a year for the rest of his life for designing the Cypriot flag. This also did not happen.
In 1967, Guney received a scholarship to study at the prestigious Queen's University Stranmillis College in Belfast. Whilst in Ireland, he was able to visit many galleries and museums, which obviously helped to broaden his already impressive knowledge of art and art history.
Guney had other creative talents beyond design, drawing and painting. He created caricatures for the local newspapers and wrote poems and short stories. He developed a keen interest in photography and built himself a small darkroom at the back of his family home. He taught himself screen printing (serigraphy) and also worked in advertising for a while. Later in life, he would work for an offset printing house doing colour separations. In most instances Guney taught himself many skills and excelled in all of them.
Ismet Guney died of cancer on the twenty-third of June in 2009. He was eighty-five years old.

I'd like to offer my special thanks and gratitude to Nilgun Guney for her help and support in writing this short tribute to her father.
If anyone knows anything else about Ismet Guney or was in fact one of his pupils, please, please add your comments to this post. You may also if you wish, send me an email:
Many thanks,
Constantinos (Costas) Emmanuelle


Photo: The poster created by Costas Emmanuelle in memory of Ismet Guney...

(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 27th of August 2017, Sunday.

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