Old Masters Academy

New! Paintings That Tell A Story




“When I think about making a painting, I’m also thinking about telling a story,” says Chicago artist  Onur Sksal. Young, dedicated, and prolific, Onur is proficient in landscape and still-life imagery, yet a large number of his creations are figurative. “I get a much greater emotional response from paintings that include people than from those that don’t,” he says simply. However, he feels that a painting does not have to be an obvious narrative in order to tell a story. * “Even a portrait can tell a story,” Onur explains. “In certain portraits–those by Nicolai Fechin, for instance–you can see a whole world in the person’s expression. The way the sitter is smiling or looks sad, the clothes the model is wearing, and even the way he or she is painted–loose or tight, colorful or plain–say volumes about the individual. I love the way information in the painting allows the viewer to invent or discover facts about the sitter.” He goes on to say, “A truly good artist responds to the personality of the model and therefore might paint different people in different styles.”Onur credits his parents with allowing him the freedom to pursue his dreams. “Whatever crazy endeavors were up my sleeve,” he says, “my parents were behind me one hundred percent, encouraging me without pushing. Both of my parents were excited about my talent, but neither pressured me.” Onur’s father worked in an advertising agency, and since some of the artists he worked with had attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago, he suggested his son apply for classes there. “I still remember how nervous I was when I went for my school interview,” Onur recalls. “Irving Shapiro, who was then the president of the academy, interviewed me, and he seemed so professional and intimidating–he was, and still is, a world-renowned master of watercolor and a noted teacher. I laugh about my nervousness now because Irving and his wife are such warm and wonderful people, and they’ve become good friends of mine. At any rate, I was accepted into the school.”Bill Parks, Onur’s life-drawing teacher at the academy, was instrumental in his education: He encouraged Onur to enter a scholarship contest, which the young artist promptly entered and won. This first-prize award enabled him to attend the academy free of charge for a full year. Perhaps more importantly, Parks taught Onur the basics of drawing, color, and technique–along with the philosophy that you should enjoy what you do and that without this love, all the knowledge and talent in the world will not make you a true artist. “I wanted to stay in Parks’s class for four years, but lack of money forced me out in two,” says Onur wistfully, “so I feel I never reached the level of expertise I desired. It amazes me that most art schools require only one year of life drawing. To me, drawing is the most important part of being an artist, and once you master it, everything else becomes easy.”At the start of Onur’s second year at the American Academy, he began a new association that was instrumental in his development. “Nancy Guzik–another student at the Academy–and I began to paint at The Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Arts after school and on weekends,” he explains. “We learned so much there just by listening to our teacher, Richard Schmid, and watching him paint.” Located in a large, old mansion in downtown Chicago, the Palette and Chisel Academy was started nearly one hundred years ago by former students of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In its heyday, it was a well-known art center, and famous artists from around the world traveled there to paint with their contemporaries. By the time Onur and Guzik entered the picture, however, the place had declined somewhat, with only a few devotees still painting in the upstairs studio.After Richard Schmid joined, though, membership grew rapidly. Onur’s admiration for Schmid and his work is obvious. He also acknowledges getting inspiration from other young artists at The Palette and Chisel Academy with whom he often paints the model and mounts shows in the school’s gallery–he calls them ‘the masters of the future”–including Guzik, Rose Frantzen, Dan Gerhartz, Romel DelaTorre, Clayton Beck, Stephen Giannini, and Susan Lyon.Currently, Onur shares an apartment with Lyon, and their two bedrooms have been converted to small but comfortable studios. Decorated with reproductions of some of his favorite paintings, Onur’s work space is bathed in wonderful north light in which he works from a combination of life, photographs, and sketches. Whenever possible, he prefers to paint his subjects from life, but he finds that works depicting crowds, parades, and action are not feasible without photographs or sketches. His piece Girls in the Grass, for instance’ is a compilation of photographs taken at a festival, and the work In the Garden contains a model painted from life and an invented background taken from sketches and photographs.Working in a number of mediums, including oil, watercolor, Conte crayon, charcoal, and pastel, Onur varies his style greatly–from extremely loose and thick to very soft and detailed. Often accomplished with large sable brushes loaded with Winsor & Newton, Rembrandt, and Utrecht oil paints, the majority of his pictures happen quickly and spontaneously, taking anywhere from one hour to a few days to complete. At times, he works in his studio for twelve hours straight, engrossed in a particular painting, but, he says, “there are other days when I take time off to read, play chess, or go to a movie. These breaks are just as important to my painting as actual work time since they give me a chance to build up my excitement and energy.”Above all Onur strives to achieve an emotional response from the viewer, but he stresses that he is not painting a message”–his language is purely visual. Reflecting on his art career, Onur says his advice to other artists, or to anyone else, for that matter, comes from the teachers who have inspired him: ‘Enjoy what you’ve chosen to do and follow your heart. Taking advice from others on what you should or shouldn’t do with your life isn’t wise, since others can’t see into your soul. If your reason for wanting to become an artist is money, forget it–you probably won’t become rich.”He continues, “Once you’ve made up your mind that being an artist is your choice, paint, paint, paint! My philosophy has always been to work toward my dreams, no matter what anyone says, and to have fun doing it. If you don’t enjoy working toward your goals, not only will you find yourself unable to work hard enough to reach those goals, but, if you fall short of your ultimate expectations, you’ll be left with nothing.”Art is my full-time job,” Onur concludes, “and it has been for four years. I’m interested in other things, but I know I will always be a working artist. My love of art is too great for me to ever leave it permanently.”

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