Jinns Among Us - Paintings by Levent Tuncer

Oil on Canvas / 77” x 84 1/2” / 2017

Levent Tuncer is a Turkish-American artist. The paintings on display here are from his “Jinndom” series. Initially inspired by an anonymous fifteenth-century Iranian drawing, the series explores the mythical jinns featured in eastern lore from China and Japan to India, the Middle East, and Turkey. Trickster spirits capable of appearing in human and animal form and of influencing society for good or ill, the jinns of eastern art are typically found in miniatures and manuscript illuminations. Here,  however, they are painted in a contemporary way, with scale, depth, and perspective radically and playfully altered from their original renderings.  

Cross-cultural alignment/misalignment also plays a major role in Tuncer’s work, for these are essentially hybrid paintings that mine the fertile intersection of eastern and western art historical traditions to yield a rich perspective.  Often the imagery itself signifies different things for different peoples.  For example, the owl is a symbol of wisdom in some societies and a harbinger of death in others. Tuncer fruitfully probes the ambiguities and contradictions of such disjunctures.  And like the artists before him, East and West, who worked within highly stylized genres, he embeds hidden images and visual puns in his work that serve as memory triggers and guideposts—people, plants, animals, and other talismans.  

Sometimes delicate and ethereal, other times bold and ominous, Tuncer’s figurations invite his viewers to discover their own creaturely presences within the animated reality of the canvas. This interaction between painting and viewer makes for an unusually exciting and dynamic visual experience.  

Several years into his Jinndom series Tuncer learned that this phenomenon— the perception of familiar shapes and objects in random or abstract patterns—has a name.  It is called pareidolia. Seeing faces in 
clouds is a commonplace occurrence of it. Many classical artists — Leonardo, Giotto, Holbein and Arcimboldo among them—noted and took advantage of this phenomenon, often planting malleable images in their work to the delight and fascination of their viewers.    

Instances of pareidolia abound in Tuncer’s work. In the center of  number 53 (click image above to enlarge) shown above) for example, the loose brushwork that resembles doodling resolves for some viewers into the profile of a reclining head.  Behind the  nearby tree, a frog peeks out for other viewers.  Thus, the paintings create a flexible narrative that is individuated for each spectator depending upon the imagery he or she identifies. Naturally, memory plays a vital part in this process, since it supplies the trans formative mindset with which one recaptures the past and colors the future. Hence, a shape resembling a toy from one viewer’s childhood may not appear at all for another viewer. This Rorschach-like mutability ensures that Tuncer’s paintings provide a unique aesthetic and emotional encounter for every person. Each of us will experience our own version of this ineffable world in which the jinns of myth and of memory are everywhere among us if we seek them out.

~ Enid Shomer