Haslet Soyöz

Taking up paint and brush after a hiatus of many years, cartoonist Haslet Soyöz painted his ‘Ships of Paradise’. In his new exhibition he adds the planes and trains at his childhood as well.

Cartoonist Haslet Soyöz is a well-known figure in Turkey. His comic strip ‘Little Guy’ appeared for years in one of Turkey’s major dailies. And though he doesn’t draw it any more, three years ago in a series of oil paintings called ‘Ships of Paradise’, he focused on the legendary naval vessels of Ottoman and Republican Turkish history. Now, in forty canvases on which he has worked for the last three years, Soyöz brings to life more vehicles of land, sea and air transport. And he has dedicated his book to Turkey’s airmen, seamen and railroadmen.

I know that you are as curious about planes as you are passionate about flying. You’ve trained as a pilot and you build model airplanes. Why was your first exhibition about ships rather than planes?
When you think of oil painting it’s ships that come to mind first. Why? Because you have the sky and the sea, and the ships themselves are beautiful too. And there are so many stories about endless days spent on a voyage from one place to another. Ships are more interesting to people. That’s why my first exhibition was about ships.

But your new exhibition is about ships, planes and land vehicles. How did you put it together?
I wanted the Rahmi Koç Museum to be the venue for my first exhibition. And Rahmi Koç let me use his museum since he is interested in these things. I’m holding this year’s exhibition there as well, because there is a good overlap between my concept and that of the museum. My colleague Turhan Selçuk had the idea for the planes and trains. It’s a really good idea too. And Cahit Kayra wrote the Ottoman terms for me in both Latin letters and Arabic characters: Vesait-i havaiye, berriye, bahriye (Vessel of air, land, sea...) and so on. The exhibition covers the period from the beginning of the 1900’s up to the ‘60s. I painted the vessels that have their story in that segment of time. I also compiled a book of the exhibition, and Nazım Alpman composed the text.

How did you choose the vessels that you depict?
First I look at the material to see if it lends itself to painting or not. Then I look at how the story is going to affect you... That story is what determines the sky, the sea, the space you depict in the painting. The background, for example, that I painted for the boat, the İnebolu, that carried ammunition during the War of Liberation is not just any old thing. It’s the lighthouse at Zonguldak (on the Black Sea coast). Because the boats were from that area.

Each of the planes has an interesting story too, I think...
The painting is named for Belkıs Şevket Hanım, the first Turkish woman to fly an Ottoman Deperdussin in the skies of Istanbul. A campaign was launched to purchase planes and ships for the army. And Belkıs Şevket was the first member of the Society for the Protection for the Rights of Women. After she got permission on 30 November 1913, she boarded the plane with Fethi Bey and they distributed flyers in an appeal to the populace. I deliberately drew the plane very small in the picture. You can see Belkıs releasing the flyers into the air. The plane is a Deperdussin. A wooden-bodied plane with an engine and wheels and covered with canvas. It took great courage for Belkıs Şevket to board that plane and distribute those flyers. How can you portray that? By depicting Istanbul as vast and the plane as very tiny... Later, in 1914, there was the flight to Egypt in four planes. All the world’s airmen were competing at the time to make that flight. And the Ottomans succeeded, although they lost three men in the process. But we got to Cairo in the end.

Vecihi Hürkuş is one of the most prominent names in the history of aviation in Turkey. And Nafız of Erzurum donated four airplanes to the army during the War of Liberation. When I was making these paintings, I wanted to make reference to their memory, to keep the memory alive of those people who contributed to the history of Turkish aviation.

The planes used first by the State Airline and then by its successor Turkish Airlines are in your paintings as well...
The Dakota is an aircraft that was used both by the Turkish Air Force and in 1938 by the State Airline. It is the airplane of my childhood. They were the newest and most modern planes of their time. I was awed by everything about them from their aesthetics right down the roar of their engines. Since my father worked in the Sugar Factory, there were rail lines near us and plane refueling centers. I used to watch the Dakotas take off and land from the end of the runway. Finally I got to fly a C-47, the military version of the Dakota. I could say that I was in love with the F-27, which is one of Turkish Airlines’ oldest planes. I used to watch them take off and land at Trabzon Airport. One day I saw a photograph of that plane in Life magazine, so I cut it out. Forty years later I used that photograph as the model for my painting. Turkish Airlines was unique in the world in those days for using pyjama-stripe camouflage. And to my mind it was the best camouflage in the world. Of course, they still have one pyjama-striped plane, but I wish they would
re-introduce it on all their planes.

Besides planes there are also trains in your paintings...
Locomotives are among my childhood memories. The water in the boiler is heated by coal. And that coal has an acrid odor that burns your nostrils. I remember even that. A locomotive is a very big, very powerful machine. It’s impossible not to be awed. Besides trains, I also put railroad tunnels and bridges in my paintings.