Onay Akbas - A painter in his kingdom
Onay Akbas has been painting in Paris for twenty years. He has completed more than 1,300
works, which are scattered in private and public collections. He is Turkish and French, and is
married with two children. His lively and imaginative painting is categorized as New Expressionism
and Free Figuration.
In his Paris studio, the painter Onay Akbas is reigning in the midst of strange colorful and
geometric characters, produced by his vivid imagination. These creatures, called the akbassians,
play for him scenes of power, revisit myths or theatre plays, and embody the spectacles of the
world, always with a touch of irony, much humor and a healthy dose of clarity.
Onay Akbas defines himself as a "spoiled child of art history". He has even taught art history for
some time at university. His influences are plenty and diverse: from Gauguin to Munch, Goya to
Diego Rivera, and Van Gogh to the Turkish painter Siyah Kalem.
He went through a Baroque period, and then impressionist before asserting his unmistakable
style. His balanced composition remains classical, but what leaps first to the eyes is the
Expressionist influence in its use of stains and colors. "I find in them full freedom to express
myself", he explains.
His vibrant kaleidoscopic canvases transport the viewer into a dreamlike and metaphorical
universe. The representation of space, the clever combination of shapes and colors give depth
to the work in which the viewer is invited to get lost and better feel the idea of the work.
What guides the painter in his artistic approach is primarily a philosophical process. "I need a
reason to paint", he affirms. During periods of 4-5 years, Akbas focuses on a theme and does in-
depth research before giving birth and meaning to its amazing creatures in hundreds of
He makes a freehand sketch, which he then reproduces on canvas. Once the outlines are drawn,
he lets the colors speak through his brush. His thoughtful painting remains indeed intuitive. The
topic is being revealed to the painter canvas after canvas. After travelling on the path of
inspiration, the painter sees his visual discourse taking shape gradually. The work and the artist
communicate, interact and influence each other.
Onay Akbas works every day, alone and without an apron. He says that he needs his art to feel
good and to discover with each painting a new facet of his personality. "Practicing my art has a
therapeutic function, I use it to reach myself", he confides.
In his painting, Akbas tries hard to elaborate links between the joy of his dreams and the grim
reality of the world. Indeed, the young Onay Akbas had experienced a great loss.
He was born in a little-known village near the Black Sea where he lived first a happy childhood.
The family was close-knit and shared meals in the same dish under the light of a kerosene lamp.
At night he watched the stars and ardently dreamt of space travel, which fed his infinite
imagination. He will later fail at the exam to become an astronaut and comfort himself with
painting, "an even larger space to explore”, he adds.
Even if the young Onay is a dreamer, he is forced to keep his feet firmly on the ground. When he
was 10 years old, his father died and the child quickly had to consider himself as an adult. Then
at 16, he learned that his older brother, a schoolteacher, was a victim of an ambush during the
70’s bloody political conflicts in Turkey.
As a symbol, he keeps from this time an indelible mark on the hand with which he paints. While
cleaning his deceased brother’s weapon, the gun had gone off. His palm was covered with blood;
his little finger and his thumb were broken.
Two years later, due to simple pictures taken at the university, he will be snatched and
imprisoned for several months. Once released, he will get seriously ill with tuberculosis.
To this today, his flesh and soul are deeply marked by these events, by the cruelty of politics
In 2010, the painter tackles a new topic, entitled: “the Carnival of existence". After "The
Scarecrow", "The World Theatre," "The False Prophets" and "Games-Toys-Power", it is for him
another opportunity to address some of his favorite subjects, such as the illusion of freedom,
manipulation, the representation of power and the power of representation.
Despite all of these difficulties, Akbas has developed a wild imagination and a joy for living that
can be discerned in his laughing eye and the generosity of his smile. And we bet he will discuss
this new theme with the shimmering hues and playful tones that characterize him As that is the
secret of Akbas painting: the quest for meaning is magnified aesthetically in the joyful