Dreaming of a Land of Cockayne
By Michael P. Duggan
We all have dreams and some of us dream even when we are awake, some of us are daydream believers and inhabit another world in our mind, like that world that was described in the Middle Ages in Europe as the “Land of Cockayne”.Instead of all the sorrows, difficulties and problems of everyday life and the worries and fears, the tensions and doubts of this our everyday, this is the land where the delectable chickens fly to you, without feathers and already spiced and roasted, just where and when you want them, all ready to eat on a plate, carrying the knife and fork and the apple sauce; where the pies hang on strings for the picking, the cakes sprinkled with currants dot the firmament, where the bread is already baked, warm and waiting for you, and the inexhaustible rounds of ripe cheese form the walls of buildings, where the fruit is always ripe and always hanging on the tree, most certainly a land of promise.
This is the land where one can eat and drink to ones heart’s content, where there is no hunger, where the meal runs, flies or swims to the dinner plate, no need to spend hours trudging behind the plough and watching the rain arrive in the middle of harvesting, worrying about potato blight or aphids, taxes or warfare, where there is an unfailing ocean of wine on tap and beer floods out of the mouth of the fountain, where true love is to be found, visible around the corner or perhaps only just over the horizon, the universal dream of mankind through the ages, a “what if” world.
These paintings by Coplu are of course not copies of the painting by Pieter Breughel (c. 1525/30-1569) entitled “The land of Cockagyne” that was painted in 1567, and Orhan was quite unaware of this connection with his paintings when I spoke to him about it in his studio. Coplu’s paintings are modern and original paintings and they have this same flavor of a dream shared by people throughout the ages. There is of course no question of any direct influence and the cultural context in which Coplu’s paintings were made and the cultural context within which Pieter Breughel painted in the Spanish Netherlands, in Antwerp and Brussels almost half a millennia ago are quite different, they come from different worlds and they have quite different perspectives upon this dream, but both painters’ works carry this same heady, powerful taste of an intoxicating dream.
The iconography of These Paintings
Certain images, compositions or designs that reoccur in an artist’s work, reflect the cultural and artistic choices that have been made by the painter in a process of selection over the passage of time and these images have then been refined over the course of repetition and variation by the artist to the point where they carry a particular sense or meaning or series of senses and meanings. More than any signature on a canvas or drawing, the use of a particular refined group of images belongs to the artist and distinguishes a particular artist’s work from that of others, even if the work were not signed, as the particular choice of images, their position on the canvas, the technique and colors employed would show that these paintings were the work of this painter Coplu and nobody else. The use of these motifs, those elements that are employed in a painting to express a meaning, form the categories that are described and touched upon below. These pictorial images and devices have been worked upon for many years to refine a language of images-signs in relation to the size of the pictorial space and the horizon line, that belong to and reveal the work of the painter far more than any signature, and these strong images carry the meaning brushed onto the canvas, directed from the heart and mind of the painter into the eye and mind of the viewer. These paintings open out vistas into another world, not too dissimilar but not the same as the world that we inhabit.
The Clouds of Dreams
Clouds at the same time both obscure the clarity of the sky and cast a shadow over the land beneath them, but also float through the sky as dreams floating through the mind, bringing the reviving rain, the tears of love, the raindrops that feed both hopes and plants and dreams, the clouds drift by, feed life, making both living and hope possible. The clouds of dreams suspended on thin strings attached, one to each hand, of the six men sitting in the boat that is about to lift off, elevated by the clouds of dreams and able to transport the travelers on their journey out across that far horizon, where the grass is greener, the sky is brighter and the multitude of problems of living have all fallen away, freeing the viewer to participate in the always and ever-present age of innocence and truth, in the great adventure. The worries and cares, the sacks of fears and mundane everyday threats have been bundled away like old bed linen, dirty socks and shoes have been shed, the future looks brighter and a new day is dawning, the troubles have slipped unconsciously away – the eggshell has broken and following the dream they depart-what a vision of innocence, of simplicity in an increasingly complex world. Life is beautiful.
To chance ones hopes upon a bold stroke, an adventure, flying without wings, a step out into weightlessness, out into the unknown, dream chasing, directed by the quest for love.
Imagine, that there is this windmill, its painted red, but the four wooden white arms of the sail that powers the mill, the mill that grinds the corn into flour, that grinds so fine, are not in this case powered by the wind. These windmill sails of unrobed ribs of wood are instead powered by the clouds that are tied to the ends of each of the four arms of the windmills sails, clouds composed of hopes and dreams, spinning round upon their axis, clouds that can bring the rain, the powerful clouds of tears that water the crops, the hopes and wishes that change the dark threatening clouds and whirling winds into the white clouds of summer bold against an azure sky.
Clearing the clouds away, to reveal a dark blue night sky with the whitest stars, the dream is real.
These figures play some rich music, the tunes of dreams, they play upon their instruments, upon their faculty of imagining summoning up their dreams and dreaming of actualizing their dreams, of making them real, living through the vibrating chords of their dreams, they stand strumming their clouds that are shaped like musical instruments, some perhaps playing a lament for dreams not followed, or is there here fresh hope and joy, are there dreams in the playing that will bring the dream to life, that shatters illusions with the crystal clarity of a new awakening?
The Heart and Love
These paintings speak to the individual but in an international language that is both understandable and yet individual and particular. Not localized to any specific place, to any exact location that would be unknown to many, but instead, these are scenes that are accessible at a deeper level, below the apparent diversity of place, here is the sea, there is the land, the shore, a flower, a heart, a windmill and another world. I have a dream these paintings announce to the viewer, a dream from the heart of love adventuring into another different and cleaner, a peaceful world, where the sorrows and cares have been set to one side to depict what could, what might almost be. There is a recognition that passes from the picture to the eyes.
On the tight-rope stretched between two cliffs, slightly sagging but spanning the abyss between them, upon a thin rope there are two large hearts, together they hang suspended on this thin rope, almost entirely free of all ties. Between two continents, two hearts, exposed and fragile, but these hearts are together, of lovers and these hearts are beating in the open and are free of the disguise of outward form, a common source of much confusion.
This figure stands bent head leaning forwards and so much in love that tears fall, spaying out from the head, as with the drops of water that fall from the rose at the end of a garden watering-can, falling from the eyes to the dry ground and, from those tears of wishes and desire that wash the earth, there springs up, a brightly colored but fragile flower with petals spread wide, a crimson flower of hope, thin stem, small leaves, no rock of ages, yet a frail vibrant living symbol of care, of possibilities and of the innocent unknowingness of love.
There is no dust or grime or dirt, this is no tired old world, there’s no litter on the beach, no others footprints darkening the sandy shore, no broken glass, tower-blocks of anguish and inactive deadened eyes, no hordes of people dragging their accumulated mega-byte stores of vicarious living, of video images accumulating each day inside their heads, no, this is a fresh world that is full of possibilities, where hearts can love and dreams just might be shared and some may even be adventured upon.
Against a blue sky there is a large brown tree that forks into two main branches and, on the lesser branches, there are numbers of hearts of a variety of colors. Below, lying on the ground like fallen leaves there are more hearts. Fallen hearts, perhaps no longer alive. A man is leaving the tree with a heart clutched to his breast. Perhaps he has found a true love, a true treasure, perhaps. Perhaps he’s found his own heart, perhaps. Perhaps he has rescued a fallen heart, a heart fallen from the tree of hearts, perhaps. Another version of this painting has a man asleep under the tree of hearts deep-rooted in nature, perhaps he has been watering the tree of hearts with his tears and exhausted has then fallen asleep or has he fallen asleep content to be resting beneath the tree of hearts, or is he a dreamer dreaming of the tree of hearts, wishing he could find the source of love, of joy and companionship, the tree being the tree of life - the waters of life - the tree of life, the heart of life – the life of the heart.
Upon the very edge of that great blue fathomless unknown, before the orange-lemon yellow half sky beneath the blues created by a setting sun, backs to the viewer, eyes upon the distant line but seeing well beyond that far horizon, there sit upon the shore two figures, male and female and from each right hand a thin string rises to a reddened heart, far bigger than any breast can hold, these two hearts, tethered but floating free.
Within this painted space-there-is where-the inherent possibilities appear-long unrecognized and unrealized but which are written in a code of images-articulated in paint-startlingly clear and perhaps speaking clearly to some deeply buried thought of what might have been and could-just possibly-become-of which one is usually less than half aware of-some images certainly relate both a story and also a wished for dream.
The painter, Studio, Technique, The web etc.
After moving to Canada and physically escaping from “a climate of artistic envy”, Coplu’s palette has become even brighter, more free and lively and his treatment of his subjects has deepened, while his chosen groups of images have become clearer and are placed with a greater assurance within the landscape and of which they are an integral part.
Coplu has a web site that shows a number of his pictures, but the photographs of these paintings on this web site seem very odd indeed, if you have actually seen these paintings, not only do the colors on the web-site seem far less vibrant but of course the loss of scale is almost as important as the loss of color and texture. The size, the scale of the painting is lost on the screen and the size of these painting is important, seeing these paintings in their original size allows you to fill your eyes and mind with a painting.
Coplu has an original manner of dress while working in his studio, I last saw him wearing an orange jumpsuit spattered with bright smears of paint and desert boots, at night there is occasionally a young cat or two peering out from the vee of his zippered jumpsuit or just in the cold night hours, the bulge and the soothing purr of a sleeping feline, and, contrasting starkly with this perhaps somewhat eccentric studio appearance under florescent light in white painted walls, are what are placed around the walls and on the easel, a series paintings of original compositions, compositions that have been repeatedly refined to produce a painting which is seemingly simple, and it is in part, this apparent simplicity that gleams, that both engages the feelings of the viewer and raises the level of these paintings to the unusual, to the clearly memorable and to the oddly iconic.
The quality of the brushwork suffices to indicate this paintwork is not directed from any spray-can but has been applied brush stroke by brush stroke and there is no clutter in this painter’s resolution, no lack of clarity. In this world the sky is bluer, the stars brighter, the sand is unbelievably yellower than would usually seem at all possible, except that entering this world all appears quite possible, this richness of paint, of color has been worked over, refined, clarified and skillfully graduated; the forms and composition are clear and resolved leaving sufficient space draw the viewer in, to permit the viewer to participate and then a silent dialogue between painting and self begins.
In these painting the clear night-time world possesses a diamond clarity and the time of day each picture represents, requires no clock to tick or bell to ring or peal to tell oneself the time, for there within this painted world of space there is no outward noise.
Together with the bright colors of the acrylic paint, combined with the large size of some of these canvasses, a world has been created by Coplu that draws the viewer in, to take part in this dialogue, this world, this Land of Cockayne, of simplicity and depth of feeling, and to wander into what these painting’s depict, a story from the heart and a dream in the world. Here are some of humanities longest lasting dreams, concerning love and travel, of dreams, of the sheer root-ed-ness of trees, both below and above the ground, and these paintings speak of the capacity of some human beings who are able to refine and frame an image that then speaks on many levels, from the painters of the wall paintings on the adobe-mud walls of Catal Hoyuk in Central Turkey, the oldest large inhabited settlement in western Eurasia or the paintings on the cave walls of Lascaux and those painted later, 4000 years ago in the monuments of ancient Egypt to Coplu’s painted images, time has passed but the dreaming and recording of the dream remains.
By Michael P. Duggan
Duggan is an art historian and draughtsman-painter. He graduated in History of Art from Manchester University in 1980, an art and cultural critic for the Turkish Daily News from 1997 to 2003. He has known Coplu for more than 10 years and Coplu’s artwork of memorable images for a still longer period of time.