Love it Takes Two
By Coline Milliard
What is more important than love? What is more fulfilling and thrilling than meeting one’s other half, the only being in the world that complements one perfectly? In his latest series of acrylics on canvas It Takes Two, Coplu celebrates the miracle of love.Using an extraordinary palette of bright colours, he stages two characters, a man and a woman, going through different stages towards harmony. The artist is no naïf – he is fully aware that daily life is much harsher than the round and vivid universe he depicts in his work. But together these pieces form a manifesto. Coplu purposefully embraces the positive side of existence; his paintings are an ode to happiness, joy, humour and love.
The figure of the heart-butterfly is the leitmotif of this series. The wings of the colourful creature are shaped like that almost-universal symbol of passion, and each wing is totally essential to the other; the heart-butterfly couldn’t come into being with only one of them. Like love, it takes two to be. In Coalescence of Lovely Souls, this motif remerges as the heads of two lovers sitting side by side. Together, they are one blossoming heart.
Cropping up in various forms, canvas after canvas, the heart-butterfly gives a strong pictorial coherence to the series – and yet there is no feeling of repetition, as Coplu gives to his motif different roles and significations that change with each work. The heart-butterfly, embodying the yearning for the other, can become, for example, a vehicle. In Restless Soul, it is a hot air balloon; in Faithfully Voyaging a man uses it as a vessel to navigate with his family the darkness of the night. In some other paintings, the heart-butterflies appear to be little companions to the lovers, a flock of friendly beings accompanying them in their quest for a meaningful life together.
It takes two – to love, to live. In this series, Coplu uses the relationship between two beloveds as a metaphor for something bigger: the essential need that all things in life have for another in order to exist. ‘Everything takes two’, the artist told me. Like a lover needs her lover, fish need the sea; plants need the sun. Coplu clearly attempts to go beyond humankind’s particularities and touch on the intrinsic and intimate functioning of the world. Once again, the butterfly comes as a apt metaphor: by choosing such a short-lived and magnificent creature, Coplu not only captures in paint those relationships’ fleetingness, but he also alludes to the fragility of life – and the need to preserve it.
From Dawn to Dusk is the very first painting Coplu made for this series. A man plays the guitar under a large tree that flutters with multicoloured heart-butterflies and his female counterpart stands nearby, listening. They both contemplate the ultramarine immensity of the sea as the sun sets. There is, in the piece, an inescapable feeling of calm and serenity, but also a sense of melancholy. The two characters don’t communicate at all with each other. They look afar, as if expecting something to come – or perhaps mediating over their past.
In the 1980s Coplu worked as a cartoonist in his native Turkey. For five years, he contributed cartoons to the Turkish Daily News, and his illustrations have been published worldwide. The artist is now fully concentrating on painting, but something of cartoons’ visual efficiency remains in his pictorial language: a simple and accurate line, the directness of his images and their immediate impact. This impact is enhanced by the artist’s technique. Except for the backgrounds, all the subjects in Coplu’s paintings are applied on the canvas with a palette knife, a method which gives them a very distinctive texture. They are almost in relief, more fully present to the viewers with whom they seem to share the same space.
Clearly influenced with Coplu’s past as a cartoonist, the characters themselves contribute to a sense of intimacy between painting and beholder. The artist has made his Adam & Eve very mundane. They are plump, with round bellies and thick fingers – remote from the idealised figures usually chosen to embody the mysteries of love between man and woman. Coplu’s lovers have something of the caricature about them, and their imperfections make them much easier to identify with. Moreover, as any of us would be, Coplu’s beloveds seem bemused by what’s happening to them – overwhelmed, perhaps, by the strength of their own feelings.
Looking at this series, one could get the impression that these characters are always the same ones; that the works unravel as the different adventures of one single couple. A closer look reveals their differences, but together they nonetheless construct a meta-narrative embracing the development of a love affair. Each painting stands as a concise tableau, the embodiment of one of the myriad situations in which one can find oneself when looking for love or living in a relationship. And if there is an overarching feeling of joy in these works, Coplu doesn’t exclude more difficult aspects of love: the wait, the disappointment and the separation.
The Relinquisher has a male figure carrying a butterfly net. The sky is teeming with magnificent heart-butterflies but he ignores them and looks away, as if waiting in vain for the missing one. In Young at Heart, a woman and her child see the father flying away, from flower to flower, deserting his family for more enticing pastures. In Restless Souls, the man in the hot air balloon gondola is reaching out with his butterfly net, as if unsatisfied with the woman standing quietly by his side. Love can be as painful as it can be fulfilling, and Coplu pictures it in all its complexity. In the end, though, happiness prevails. In Celebration of Faith 2, the lover has become a heart-butterfly himself. His wings are spread under his body like a luxurious carpet, more adorned and intricate than the ones of any other heart-butterflies in the series. He has become love and floats in bliss.‘Dream is power’, Coplu told me. The artist may claim not to be interested in real life, but his paintings bring us an irresistible energy. Each one is an encouragement to adopt a positive outlook on existence. They depict an oneiric and symbolic world, which, in its own way, contributes to the transformation of ours.
Coline Milliard is a Critic and Writer based in London