Ömer Atakan and His Parallel Universe

4 April 2024
Ömer Atakan and His Parallel Universe

With his pop-art works, Ömer Atakan creates a Pulp Fiction starring Cüneyt Arkın or a James Bond that starring Ayhan Işık and Kadir İnanır.

The year is 1960. James Bond is a character only famous for in novels since the movie has not been shot yet. The author of the book, Ian Fleming, is a journalist working for the Sunday Times and comes to Turkey to make news. Fleming, who was staying at the Pera Palace Hotel while writing his article “The Great Riot of Istanbul”, one day sees a very handsome man and an attractive woman in the lobby of the hotel. Belgin Doruk and Ayhan Işık, who speaking about their upcoming movie “Küçük Hanımefendi”, become actors that he dreamed of James Bond. Since the chaotic situation of that time, Belgin Doruk and Ayhan Işık couldn’t be stars of James Bond, which released in 1962. This story could have been lost in the history books. Yet, Ömer Atakan carried this never-realized scenario into his pop-art works.

Ömer Atakan, who is currently drawing “Alternative Yeşilçam” posters for his new exhibition, seems to be calling out from a parallel universe. A “Pulp Fiction” starring Cüneyt Arkın and Kadir İnanır is real in this world. And many famous names that you never think of come from world-famous movies… His inspiration seems to come from far back. Welcome to the world beyond dreams of Ömer Atakan, who has the largest James Bond collection on display in the world.

How do you describe your works?

I try to give those who watch my works in a 70×50 cm frame a feeling as if they are watching the trailer of the movie. I create movie posters that were hand-drawn using the illustration technique without a computer before the 90s, using pencil, ink, marker, pastel and acrylic paint, by blending them with elements of the Pop Art art movement, graphic expression and my own style.

How did this adventure begin?

I got into Mimar Sinan painting department, but I preferred interior architecture and continued there. After graduating from university, I completed my Master’s degree in Cinema and TV at UCLA in Los Angeles. After returning, I served in the interior architecture and architecture sector. My passion for drawing always continued.

How did you discover this passion?

I always read comics as a kid. I also watched movies a lot. I would both go to the cinema and rent movies from videotek stores. Anyway, comics and cinema are very similar to each other. The narration by frames in comics is like a story board in cinema. I have passion for this since my childhood.

Then you wrote a book. I think, this is the first steps of your painting adventure?

Exactly! My book Kelebek Camı (Butterfly Glass) was published about two years ago. In the book, I explained the popular culture events of 1980-95 by connecting them with my own memories. For example, I describe Suadiye Atlantic Cinema on Bağdat Street through “Rocky”, which I watched there. Or I describe Kırıntı in Moda with Depeche Mode or Kristal Büfe with Brooke Shields. The book was popular because it touched the memories of many people. It made its second edition. There were drawings in the book. Esin Kalender, my friend from Mimar Sinan and the founder of Goba Art&Design, offered to hold an exhibition after seeing these drawings. (Goba Art&Design is art platform of the designer.) Thus, I held my first personal exhibition Kinematograph in December 2022.

Why “Kinematograph”? Where does this name come from?

“Kinematograph” is the first film machine invented by the French Lumière brothers and later by Thomas Edison at the beginning of the 20th century. I chose this name because the words cinema and graphic describe my works very well. In the exhibition, I painted 15 films of 15 directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese or the Coen Brothers. While we thought only friends would come, there was also intense participation from outside and all the works were sold on the first day. Afterwards, it attracted great attention from the press.

I held my second personal exhibition in September 2023. This time the theme of the exhibition was “Back to the 80’s”, in which I painted the cinema, music and sports events of the 80’s. In the coming months, I will have my third exhibition called “All Time Action”, consisting of the works I prepared for action movies such as “Kill Bill”, “Mission Impossible” and “John Wick”. Now I am working on the exhibition I call Alternative Yeşilçam. I prepare my works thinking that if Tarantino had shot Pulp Fiction in 1976, he would have cast Cüneyt Arkın and Kadir İnanır.

Ömer Atakan And His Parallel Universe
Ömer Atakan

While you were actually working as an architect, it seems like everything suddenly changed. And as I understand, it happened only in two years. How it became so popular?

Indeed, I’ve been drawing since I was 15 years old. But I wasn’t trying so hard anymore. I was busy at my architecture firm. At the age of 50, I suddenly returned to what I always wanted to do.

So, you made young Ömer’s dream true…


Do you use any computers or digital applications involved?

No, it’s all hand drawn. Many people may think it is computer work or collage. I know that if I had made these kinds of works 10 years ago, they would not have been appreciated as much. Because “digital art” was more popular at that time. It may be popular now, but nowadays, since everyone can enter a prompt with artificial intelligence and produce works of art (!), I think hand-made works have become more valuable. Also, of course, every work I make is unique, there are no editions.

How do you view the work done with artificial intelligence?

Before there was artificial intelligence, there were two ways to make art on a computer. You were using the screen instead of paper, the mouse instead of the pen. You just change the tool you use. When you do something, you draw it with your hand again, instead of choosing colors from the palette, you choose from what the application offers you. It was just a tool difference. Even when there was no paper or pencil, people were drawing on the cave walls with stones. Therefore, digital art was actually a very expected stage. But one disadvantage is that you can print as much as you want compared to traditional methods. Nothing original happens, so what you have is. The artist’s hand touches the computer. I don’t think this is bad. This was also popular 10 years ago.

In artificial intelligence, you enter a prompt. Even if you don’t have the talent, something comes up. Art is an idea first. If you have no idea, even if your hand is good, the picture reaches a certain point. For example, there are many street artists in Europe. They draw your exact portrait within 1 hour. But because there are so many people doing it, it sees a certain value. Talent can be something that everyone has. To be art, an idea is required. There is an idea in artificial intelligence, talent is uncertain. This makes it open to abuse. Everyone, whether they know or not, produces something with two prompts.

I think, you stay away from artificial intelligence…

Even Elon Musk. Artificial intelligence is developing and learning very quickly, and this is very dangerous. Even if you watch the first episode of The Matrix, you see what the future will be like. I think humanity will end like this if a meteor doesn’t hit or there is no disaster. But when we turn to art, it has an advantage. Work done with real talent will become more valuable as artificial intelligence increases and computer art increases.

Ömer Atakan And His Parallel Universe
Ömer Atakan

What do you use as material?

Schoeller paper, pencil, ink, marker, crayon, pastel and acrylic paint. I take great care in getting the frames made. I cannot deliver this kind of work without covering it with glass. I make sure to write down what materials I used.

What kind of reactions do you get?

Everyone likes my works very much and they add them to collections, but sometimes there are people who view them as comics because of the materials used. In fact, I think this is a small group of people who think that once there is a painting, it has to be done with oil paint on the canvas. In fact, I think this is a small group of people who look at the art of painting superficially without delving deeper into it. However, there is a type of collection in the world called “original published comics artwork”. For example, Superman’s cover drawn by Tintin’s comic book artist. These are sold for millions of dollars today. Or originals of movie posters. Until the 90s, these posters were hand-drawn by illustrators because there were no computers. And only one. There are collectors around the world who collect these originals. This does not exist much in Turkey.

But as far as we know, there are people who collect your works from famous names like Cem Yılmaz.

Cem Yılmaz, in addition to his identities as an artist, intellectual, cartoonist, director and filmmaker, also has one of the leading contemporary painting collections of our country. Of course, it was a special honor and happiness for me that he included my works in his collection. Last December, the person who bought my work, which I made on a special order, went to a meeting with Elon Musk’s assistant at Tesla’s Cybertruck launch in Texas. The work was delivered to Elon Musk with a special frame and velvet box. In the coming months, a work I made for Donnie Yen, the world star of the Ip-Man and John Wick movies, will reach him.

Let’s talk about your collection… We know that you have a very large James Bond collection, but as far as we can see, there are also figures, watches and different objects.

Yes. I gathered the James Bond collection under five main headings. First of all, the first editions of the novel written by Ian Fleming. But in every language. French, Italian, Icelandic, many first editions available. In addition, there are authentic wet signatures of Bond actors and their daughters. The third category is posters, newsprint and original artwork. Four, so-called “screen used” items used in the movies, props and of course all the media about James Bond. Everything from VHS to laser discs, cassettes, CDs…

You also have watches in your collection, right?

Watches are very important in “James Bond” movies. It starts with Rolex, then the Roger Moore era Seiko, Pulsar etc. Omega has been the watch sponsor since the “Golden Eye” in ’95. I have Swatch’s James Bond series. For example, they made a 6-hour series for “No Time To Die”. I bought them immediately. I even tried hard to get the stand. Normally they don’t give it away, but they gave it away when I bought all six for the collection. There are watches from the series prepared for the 40th and 50th anniversary of Bond.

Considering the entire collection, is there a larger one in this field in Turkey?

There are already 4-5 people in Turkey who collect James Bond. My collection is probably the largest. It is also among the largest in Europe. But more importantly, I am sure that it is the largest collection exhibited in the world. Because no one is interested in it being exhibited that much. He stuffs it in the cupboards or doesn’t open the box at all. I think it should be exhibited. But for this it is necessary to classify. Otherwise there is no end. If I don’t have time to buy something, I don’t buy it. If you say you will buy everything and exhibit it at the same time, you cannot make 3-5 collections. Of course, this is also an investment. These are things that become more valuable as they last. How many old phones do you have in your home that are useless? But as these become rarer, they become more valuable.

When did you begin to collect?

My grandfather once had a stamp collection. Series of unstamped stamps from 1923 to the end of the 60s. Frankly, I didn’t have a job until I was 35-40. When you collect, you dedicate yourself to it, but of course there are other things to do when you’re young. When DVDs came out, I would collect them. Then, with the advent of Ebay and the internet, figure collecting began. Silicone, certified figures with real hair, and then WWII tin soldiers.

In one of your posts on Instagram, you shared second-hand bookstores and wrote, “Those who find are those who are seeking.” As a collector, what exactly are you looking for?

Collection business is a strange thing. For example, we have groups. You become very close friends with people you have never met because you share the same passion. For example, a beautiful girl comes to the neighborhood, everyone likes the girl and everyone watches each other, so is collecting. When a piece arrives, everyone wants it. A passion that attracts so many people. There is a saying: “When you buy something, you think once, if you don’t buy it, you think a thousand times” and it is very true. You may wonder for years how I missed this.

Is there an end?

No. The end can be a museum in all probability.

Ömer Atakan And His Parallel Universe
Ömer Atakan

Ömer Atakan’s works can be seen at the Frank Art Studio stand at Artweek Istanbul, which will be held between 20-28 April.