Iksel Decorative Arts, which embroiders unique works of art from Ottoman miniatures to Japanese nature paintings on wallpapers, fabrics and decorative objects, explains how they make homes unique.
There are spaces that surround you when you enter, rooms that you want to get lost in, rooms that tell a story… A short stroll in the Bagatelle gardens, the breeze of the Japanese mountains or a night in the Ottoman palace tent: If a room is decorated with Iksel, it is inevitable that you will hear these stories. Founded by Mehmet and Dimonah İksel in 1988, İksel Decorative Arts allows you to tear down walls and rebuild them with designs blended with art and history.
In Paris, in a house with high ceilings and Versailles parquets, reused from an old library dating back to the 17th century, in front of the window overlooking the Seine River, I talked to Mehmet İksel about the world of decorative patterns, the meeting of craft and technology, art and production, İksel’s We talk about your past, present and future.
Mehmet İksel’s life is surrounded by fine arts. This curiosity, which started with his father’s collections when he was little, turns into a passion with his desire to learn. Antique dealers with pieces where he listened to stories without getting bored, French libraries where he spent time among the smell of books and pages, and the different cities he lived in all feed this man who grew up surrounded by art and is curious.
Journey to India and Paintings Made with Brush Bristles
Mehmet İksel, who started his career as a theater actor, wanted to perform classical works and his paths did not coincide with state theaters, leading him to change his route. Mehmet İksel, who went to India to search for paintings for a few years, met his wife there and the real adventure decorated with brush strokes began at that moment. When they met, Mehmet İksel was living in Paris and Dimonah İksel was living in New York. The couple, who met in April and settled in India together, established their workshop in June and July, and this painting workshop forms the core of İksel. Antique works, from paintings to wallpapers, from fabrics to decorative objects, are adapted to the new world with the vision of this duo. The pieces are first repaired, and then fairytale-like panels emerge with the compositions created. There is a virtuoso team behind this work, which has many details. The workshop consisting of approximately 20 painters in India has been a part of İksel for 35 years. These people, who have been painters from father to son for 350 years, can paint with even a single bristle of a brush and imitate any style. This 35-year relationship makes it easier for creativity to be reflected on the canvas.
In addition, the creative office, which Mehmet İksel calls the laboratory, and the application office consisting of interior architects in Istanbul handle the other steps of the process, and the printing is done in London. İksel’s work chronology blends craft with the modern world. Founded in 1988, the workshop continued its existence with hand painting for the first 12 years. They practice their works inspired by Japan, Europe and the Ottoman Empire, keeping a copy for themselves. The digital transformation they underwent in 2001 turns all these works into a large meta collection, and hand-painted canvases are reproduced perfectly with new generation digital technologies. Mehmet İksel explains the digital transformation as follows: “We did our hand painting works until 2000-2001, but they were almost forgotten. Nowadays, the digital world dominates the subject so much that when you look at it, you don’t even realize that things are under pressure. Taking printing this far changes the foundation of the entire decoration world. “The prints are so fine that they are indistinguishable from real painting.”
For Mehmet İksel, every project begins with curiosity; research is followed by repair, craftsmanship, creativity and technology: “I am a very curious man. I am interested in music, painting and all arts. I listen to classical music for several hours a day without doing anything else. I read books, write, work, create new things. I do a lot of research to find topics. French libraries, such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France, are the richest libraries in the world for such things. These days I am interested in animal and plant subjects. There are such painters; They painted animals, flowers, mushrooms and anything related to nature with superior taste and superior technique. These are all pieces painted on some old leather, such as parchment, in old archives. “I know the sources of all of them because I have spent my life searching for them.”
The pieces approved by Mehmet İksel are repaired by the team in accordance with the original, because any work that is not repaired is not worthy of printing. Then the excitement of the work increases and Dimonah’s compositions are included in the story. “There is no point in imitating something old, because we do not live like that anymore,” says Mehmet İksel. Nuance revives the old by understanding today’s decoration: “Composition means putting all the elements in place and creating the picture when you paint. We are creating something completely new. We do not imitate the old, we are inspired by the old and create a new piece. For example, D-Dream, one of our best-selling decors, includes trees, monkeys and birds. We took all his drawings from great naturalist painters and placed them very carefully. “My wife creates this composition, where we put things and how they fit together.”
After the compositions are created, the documentation part of the process begins. According to Mehmet İksel, this part is as important as creativity and handcraft: “Preparing documents is also an art. We prepare the documents, adjust the colors; It is a work, because everything must be sparkling clean before going to the painting studio. A new assembly is made, then the samples go. How and in what style will the work be painted? There are examples of styles. When all this work comes together, it takes time. There are projects that 20 painters worked on and took 1 year to complete. However, once made, these files are immortal; It doesn’t get stale. Since it is digital, it can be printed with the chance of getting the same or better result even after 200 years.”
According to Mehmet İksel, their work is like a theater play. Scenario, layouts, editing, decor, trial, error, finding perfection and finally showcasing the play. He is the director and his wife is the leading actor. So how is this play performed? Once the canvases are scanned and photographed in high resolution, they are ready to be applied to the wall. After the project measurements are taken, the Istanbul office processes these visuals like a tailor and fits them into the space. Large works such as restaurants, ballrooms, stores or small pieces such as a staircase or a table are also included in İksel’s portfolio. When decorative art and the digital world come together, Iksel takes the horizon one step further.
The meeting of hand painting with technology does not overshadow the uniqueness of the work, because according to Mehmet İksel, every project is unique: “Of course, it is not possible to be ‘unique’ when going digital. However, since each location is unique, there are many differences in applications. We see all of those applications as original works. Because they all need to be reworked and we think about every detail. The work has such a quality that it is in no way comparable to hand painted. The digital world and using it is a major art. I can say that this is a second art, like painting. We can change everything, we can make it obsolete. The prints are made layer by layer and we create tremendous transparency. First the paintings are made, then they are scanned, and then a new art is created. This is a technology that can change the whole world. But in arts you have to start manually. There are people who work directly digitally, but the result is an artificial image made on a computer. “We don’t want that, we want the opposite and we are doing the opposite.”
As a result of this 35-year experience and project, a unique archive emerged. In addition to canvases, fabrics and objects, the digital archive should not be overlooked. Part of the decorative collection of İksel Decorative Arts consists of Ottoman works. In this collection, traditional textures are seamlessly blended with European aesthetics: “We are an advanced nation in decorative arts and architecture. Not only mosques or madrassas, but also our house architectures are very beautiful. Fabrics, tiles, small pieces, even spoons are beautiful. The handicrafts made during the Ottoman period seem very beautiful to us today and are very appreciated in Europe, and they fit very well with their style. We have used Iznik works on walls a lot, we use them a lot and they are very appreciated. Also, our painters work with more fine workmanship than those who paint Iznik tiles. Since we paint all the works in the same style, we create very beautiful rooms with them.”
There are no limits in İksel’s vision. The brand, which started to produce fabrics as well as wallpapers, adapts antique fabrics to the present day. Fabric printing, perfected with new technologies, is made in Como, Italy, and wallpapers are also designed using these fabrics. Exciting projects are not only about fabrics, new decors and exhibitions will also be presented soon. The brand has two showrooms in London and Paris, and its decors and fabrics change twice a year: “My wife created a new decor inspired by Iranian miniatures. We sent it to India and two-thirds of it was finished. We received the first photos, they did it exactly as we wanted, and it will be something wonderful. We will exhibit 20-30 pieces of old Persian fabrics in London and Paris. We also have Ottoman fabrics. We will also have an Ottoman exhibition soon. We started with India first, now it is in our Paris showroom. “In the spring, we will bring out Iranian fabrics and frescoes.”
Another project of Mehmet İksel, who says that panel prints are seen as works of art, is meter-length designs. Stating that they have hundreds of new works, İksel plans to release a large collection in the near future. This brand, which emerged as a result of knowledge acquired since childhood, artistic curiosity, creativity, courage and hard work, builds a bridge between the new and the old, craft and technology: “The whole business is about knowledge. Nothing happens without information. Once you have been in charge of a business, you will know it very well, otherwise it will go bankrupt. We were raised from scratch, we had no knowledge, but we learned. People are born penniless and ignorant. If they make good use of their lives, they will be knowledgeable and wealthy. Wealthy people are all very hardworking people. All kinds of success are like this. You need to embrace your work; “Those who do not stick to their work will not get very good results.”
“Ars longa, vita brevis”: This Ancient Greek saying dictated by Mehmet İksel while telling about İksel and his stories says, “Life is short, art is long,” and İksel’s 35-year-old canvas decorated with patterns gives you the opportunity to explore this world that cannot fit into one life. He gives an invitation.