Monday, January 5, 2009

Art of EBRU and Ahmet SARAL

Art of Ebru and Ahmet Saral

The art of ebru, or marbling as it is known in English, is a mysterious art whose history and technique hold many secrets. By whom, when or how ebru was discovered is unknown. However, researchers agree that it originated in the city of Bukhara in Turkistan, and from here spread via the Silk Road to Persia, India and Anatolia.

One of the greatest masters of ebru, Ethem Efendi (1829-1940), was the son of Sadyk Efendi of Bukhara (?-1846), Seyh of the Özbekler dervish lodge or tekke in Istanbul. Ethem Efendi used to say that "Ebru is like magic, sometimes it works and sometimes not". The difficulties entailed by ebru lend it an uncertainty which is certainly part of its fascination. One of the best contemporary ebru artists, Mustafa Düzgünman, explains, "Ebru has a perpetually changing harmony, and requires great dedication and patience."
The word ebru is defined in modern dictionaries as "coloured wavy patterns on paper". This patterned paper was traditionally used to line book bindings, but today ebru works are often framed as pictures. In outline the traditional method is as follows: First a solution of gum tragacanth is placed in deep tray. The sap obtained from the stems of Astragalus Tragacantha, gum tragacanth, lends viscosity to the water. Who originally had this idea? No one knows.

The origin of the method of preparing the pigments is another mystery. Having been ground to a fine powder the pigments are mixed with some kind of solutions. Then one or two small spoonfuls of fresh cattle gall are added to aid surface fluidity. The paints are now ready to use.
Beginning with the darkest colour, the paints are dripped or sprinkled onto the surface of the solution with a brush. Dipping a stiff hair or stick into the water, the paint is gently swirled into the desired pattern. The sheet of paper is now gently placed on surface of the solution, and after waiting few seconds carefully lifted.

Ebru enjoyed its golden age between 1500 and 1700, when ebru compositions made by artists centred around Beyazyt in Istanbul fetched high prices in Europe and America under the name of "Turkish paper" or "Turkish marble paper". Examples of these fine pieces are to be seen in museums and libraries all over the world today. No traveller to Istanbul left without purchasing some of this colourfully patterned paper with designs resembling clouds or marble.

In many cases these were bound as albums, and ebru became increasingly well known in Europe as result. Although knowledge of the technique spread to Europe, preparing the solution of gum tragacanth correctly proved a serious problem, and artists failed to match the quality of Turkish ebru. Eventually, in 1884, they abandoned gum tragacanth altogether in favour of badderlocks, the discovery of Joseph Halfer, a marbler from Budapest.

Although ebru was originally used to produce purely abstract designs, as the skills of its practitioners increased bringing increased control over the end result, experiments were made with figurative designs. However, success did not come until Necmeddin Okyay (1883-1976) finally succeeded in creating flower designs. His ebru carnations, poppies, tulips, violets, hyacinths and other flowers are extremely lovely, and attracted a fresh wave of interest in Turkish ebru around the world. Mustafa Düzgünman added daisies to the floral repertoire.

The last phase in the development of the ebru as an art rather than pure decoration was the work of Ahmet Saral.

Ahmet Saral is convinced that mineral pigments are a key to the aesthetic value of ebru. By creating grainy or wavy effects with these pigments, the finished result is not only more attractive but reflects natural textures. He asserts that the western ebru technique using badderlocks and soluble pigments does not achieve the same aesthetic quality and diversity of the traditional method.

Saral specialises in superb compositions of miniature flowers, and says that anyone who has tried their hand at ebru will realise that creating flower designs is far harder than it might seem at first sight. So hard, indeed, that only a handful of artists can do it properly at all. Ahmet Saral explains that miniature flowers are harder still, and only after long experiment did he succeed in producing these designs.

Another challenge which Saral has set himself is exploring the possibilities of figurative ebru
compositions. Having decided upon a subject he produces a series of ebru pictures along that theme. His fish series, for example, is a truly remarkable demonstration of ebru's versatility.

Source : by Cüneyt Taylaner (Researcher and author) in Skylife Magazine November '95