Metin Bereketli: Colorful messages through art
- Metin Bereketli: Colorful messages through art
'I'm proud to be an American citizen... I've been through a lot,
but the USA has given me the opportunities -- equal opportunities. If
you are honest and hard working you can become successful in America'
'Here in Istanbul, the roots of many races flow and intermingle --
maybe we should all take a minute to meditate on peace'
Istanbul - There is an important message in his work, and, nowadays,
Turkish-American painter Metin Bereketli travels to spread the word.
No, he's not on a religious pilgrimage, but rather is an artist who
wishes to fight racism, sexism, and work towards world peace through
No small task, but this man has an enthusiasm and optimism that many
would envy and a determination to reach his goal. Born in Izmir from a
"not very well off family," he graduated from technical college in 1981
and went to the States in '85. Today, however, he calls himself "a
"I happen to be an American citizen now," he says, "but tomorrow I
might give an exhibition in South Africa and my philosophy would be the
same. No country out there is perfect; there are good apples and bad
apples everywhere, but I have to do something with my art to create
hope. I saw an emptiness in this country so I created these latest
pieces. You cannot change the world in one day, but I will continue to
pass on my messages."
Bereketli recently exhibited his paintings at the Harbiye Military
Museum in cooperation with the Child Leukaemia Foundation (CLF). The
main theme of these 60 works was love and friendship, an endeavor to
stretch people's imaginations to the limit.
Bereketli cooperates with nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles and
elsewhere around the world. Here his paintings are giving hope to
children in Turkey suffering from leukaemia.
His charity work began when, while exhibiting in Istanbul in 1996, he
visited the CLF hospital and was moved by this experience. "I met some
of the children suffering from leukaemia and saw mothers crying and
fathers trying to comfort their families. It was a tragedy. Often these
families don't even have enough money to get their children the medical
treatment they need."
Bereketli then organized a painting workshop for a handful of Turkish
kids suffering from leukaemia, and they ended up with a creative mess
that included painting themselves. "I told them to be free, no
pressure, and they just painted. We all had a great time." That event
generated a lot of publicity for the foundation and produced photos
that have since been used to make calendars and other products for
Back in America, Bereketli showed the photos to the American Leukaemia
Foundation and they were so impressed they used the piece for the
invitation cover for the foundation's 1997 Triumphs Awards hosted by
Cindy Crawford. "I'm not interested in the money, I can always make
money, but if you give out love and hope, you will always receive back
something far more rewarding than money."
The American dream
Bereketli's story is proof that everybody can realize their goals
through hard work and a bit of luck -- "the American Way." When he
arrived in the United States on the shores of Texas in 1985, he could
speak 10 words of English (including "I love you") and had limited
funds. But he studied English 12 hours a day, (using the paper towels
from the bathroom in the hostel where he was staying as practice
paper), worked odd jobs, even had his own shoeshine stand at one stage,
"the ideal way to practice English," he explains. Now his paintings
sell from between $2,000 to $30,000, he has had a piece selected for
auction at Sotheby's in London and the National Museum of American Art
library has selected his work for cataloguing.
But talking to this man, you can see he has worked hard and also that
he has the `gift of the gab' and has taken every opportunity. "I'm
proud to be an American citizen," he says. "I've been through a lot but
the USA has given me the opportunities -- equal opportunities. If you
are honest and hard working you can become successful in America," he
Bereketli began to paint seriously in 1989. He showed his pieces in a
local restaurant where he was also doing stand up comedy. He says he
seemed to get more response towards his art than his jokes, so he
decided to stick to painting.
In 1992 he headed to Los Angeles. "I was like a lost child. This city
was huge, there were people, traffic everywhere but the whole time I
was thinking, 'I must do something to relate to these people.'" He
settled on courier work specifically for the film, television and art
industries. "So while I was delivering scripts for Warner Bros I could
also drop off one of my postcards or calendars," he says.
His pieces titled "LA LA LA" and "NY NY NY" came from this period of
studying road maps and dealing with traffic and road rage. Each piece
includes positive energy symbols to show that if you think positively
you can overcome the negative thoughts brought on by a congested city.
His ingenuity paid off, for after one year he had been "discovered"; a
Santa Monica gallery selected seven of Bereketli's paintings and
effectively launched his career.
Determined self-promotion has been the other key to Bereketli's
success. "Everyone has to do a little shmoozing," he says. "I may be
the best shmoozer in the USA! Bill Clinton has my art (a print of his
piece titled 'Forever Free' featuring Abraham Lincoln) and so do the
senators of all 50 states," he enthuses. "I always have my portfolio
with me, I never miss an opportunity. I don't give out business cards,
I give people my postcards instead."
He has worked as an extra and stunt double on many Hollywood films (his
hobby), including "Eraser," with Arnold Schwarzenegger (who has one of
Bereketli's paintings printed on a t-shirt), "Billy Bathgate," "Batman
Forever" and "Heat," to name only a few. Working on set gives Bereketli
an opportunity to present his work to these people and talk about his
philosophy. "These people are extremely generous and do a lot of good
work for charitable organizations," he says. "I wish Turkish
celebrities were the same. If they stopped thinking about money for a
short while and used their influence for good causes they would feel
better within themselves and would also help achieve world peace
Arriving in Istanbul this time, he has raised more awareness on behalf
of CLF. Bereketli sold five pieces on his opening night, the proceeds
of which will go to the CLF. They also collect donations from the
exhibition and benefit from the publicity generated by the show. "I
was told that this time of year was the dead season for art exhibitions
in Istanbul because the people in the art business are away on holiday.
But I'm not giving exhibitions for just these people, I want everyone
to see my work. Other countries have no such rule and I think we need
to break these bad habits."
Perusing his paintings there are many issues raised, and Bereketli
hopes those who visited the exhibition went away with many colorful
questions in mind. "Peace at home, peace in the world," a noted saying
of Ataturk's, has been used as the title for a piece using Ataturk's
silhouette. Tree branches come from the bottom of the work up through
the head symbolizing the tree of life. The central shape is surrounded
by 19 white doves, the international symbol of peace. Bereketli says
he was very excited after painting the doves to discover they numbered
19, as this was a lucky number for Ataturk himself. "I really admire
this person. He created a good base for this country and gave everybody
the right to live and vote in Turkey."
A similar piece, "Forever Free," shows the 16th president of the United
States, Abraham Lincoln, also in silhouette. Bereketli says America and
Turkey are similar in that they are both built on a mosaic of peoples
and beliefs. Lincoln, with his humanist philosophy, broke the chains of
slavery and said every person was equal, quotes Bereketli. "Freely and
peacefully the people started to fly like the doves in this work," he
Bereketli's colorful map of Istanbul, with ships and dots of various
colors, mosques, churches, synagogues and other holy places, is simply
titled "Istanbul." Bereketli says the different colored ships and dots
represent the different religions and beliefs in Turkey. The impetus
behind the painting is the much-discussed subject of secularism. "Some
people are trying to destroy the democracy in this country and I'm
totally against this," he says.
"Sperm Bank II" was a reaction to a sperm bank in America that only
accepted Caucasian sperm. "In my painting, sperm of all different
colors and ethnicities are swimming harmoniously together. At first
people laugh at this image but actually it sends quite a serious
message against racism."
"Bridging the Gap," a piece that has been purchased for display by the
Los Angeles Children's Hospital, shows that the roots of all people are
Here in Istanbul, the roots of many races flow and intermingle -- maybe
we should all take a minute to meditate on peace.
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