Artist Mike Berg

BY: HILARY WALKE

Artist Mike Berg now considers himself an Istanbul local, having left The States for a life in Turkey over a decade ago. His latest artwork, currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, is a painstakingly crafted series of Turkish kilims crafted from centuries old techniques. Recently, Mike started designing jewelry inspired by his metal sculpture and produced locally by artisans in Istanbul. These modern yet sleek designs are high impact additions to fashion's minimal moment. We are pleased to exclusively offer this limited edition wearable art collection on Shoplatitude! Recently, we joined Mike in his renovated Ottoman home in the old city to discuss art, jewelry, and of course shopping. Read what he has to say.

Artist Mike Berg now considers himself an Istanbul local, having left The States for a life in Turkey over a decade ago. His latest artwork, currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, is a painstakingly crafted series of Turkish kilims crafted from centuries old techniques. Recently, Mike started designing jewelry inspired by his metal sculpture and produced locally by artisans in Istanbul. These modern yet sleek designs are high impact additions to fashion's minimal moment. We are pleased to exclusively offer this limited edition wearable art collection on Shoplatitude! Recently, we joined Mike in his renovated Ottoman home in the old city to discuss art,  jewelry, and of course shopping. Read what he has to say.

 

Main image courtesy of Mike Berg and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. By Pablo Mason

 

 

Shop Mike Bergs?s limited edition wearable art collection >>

 

Your show at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego opened last month. Can you tell us a little bit about the work in the show?

The MCA show includes 12 kilims, two of which are cicims (jijim in English) -- which is embroidery on the kilim surface. They are generally large in scale; the largest is over 14 feet long. They are woven using traditional techniques by Anatolian weavers in U?ak, a town in western Turkey famous for kilim making over many centuries. The technique and the materials, natural root dyes, are traditional, but the images are not. They are irregular geometric shapes with color selection derived by chance. Kilim making is relatively new to me, all the works are from the last two years or so.

Courtesy of PGArtGallery.Blogspot.com

 

How did you decide to start making jewelry?

A Turkish friend of mine, who is very familiar with my sculpture, knows a lot about jewelry and knows a lot of jewelers. She felt that my sculpture would translate well into jewelry. She introduced me to her friend, Cihat, who has a shop and store in Bebek, a beautiful village on the Bosporus. Cihat very quickly cut several drawings of mine in silver. We both saw the potential of making jewelry from designs I had already made with very little modification. A lot of design ideas came to me quickly. We would discuss the feasibility of the designs, and Cihat kindly let me know that some things I wanted to do were basically impossible or impractical.


What is the biggest difference between making art and making jewelry? How do you work with local artisans to produce your jewelry?
The art part of making jewelry really isn't very different from sculpture. The materials and the process of production are different, but I'm used to working with highly skilled crafts people to translate my ideas into physical form. The hardest part is finding those people that have the high level of workmanship that I require.
 
 
What do you love most about Istanbul in general? Can you share your top three favorite spots for eating, drinking, and shopping? Please be as a specific as possible.
What I like about Istanbul is its raw energy. It's ancient; the city itself has been inhabited for at least 5000 years. It's surrounded by water, The Sea of Marmara to the south, The Golden Horn between the Old City and Beyo?lu, the Bosphorus and The Black Sea not far from the heart of the city. It's a beautiful city to walk in like New York, Madrid, or Paris, but it's more interesting in Istanbul. Istanbul is a chaotic mess, not a museum city like many Europe cities. It's culturally mixed up and kind of tense, it has a real edge and it seems likely that it will slide into an ugly state at times. But there are many smart and creative people that are working hard to make a good future for the country. I'm committed to the city and Turkey, I like living here. 
 
For restaurants at the pricey end, but with a fabulous view and excellent service, X restaurant on the top of the IKSV building (Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation) in Beyo?lu overlooks the Golden Horn to the west and Old City to the south. At the funky end, but a real Turk hangout, is Ak?n Bal?k, located at the end of the fish market next to the Galata Bridge in Karak?y. The fish is fresh, the mezes are great and it's inexpensive. The tables spill out into a rough garden, it's always crowded and fun to watch the flow of people. In the Sultan Ahmet area is a great fish restaurant, Bal?k?? Sabahattin, everything is nicely prepared and delicious, excellent service and not too expensive. It's located down the hill from Sultan Ahmet Camii or Blue Mosque, close to the old sea walls where the Marmara Sea becomes the Bosporus in the Cankurtaran neighborhood.
Drinking is great at 360, atop the M?s?r Apartman? on Istiklal Street between the Tunel and Taksim neighborhoods. It has an incredible 360 degree view. There's a nice wine bar named Sensus across the square form the Galata Tower, in the basement of a newly renovated hotel, a nice interior, nice ambience and wide selection of Turkish wine. Another newly opened restaurant and bar is Delicatessen Pera, very close to the Para Hotel. Nicely done interior in a really charming neighborhood.
 
For rugs, kilims, and beautiful and rare textiles and weaving, I have some good connections. For a wide selection of high quality pieces from Central Asia and Anatolia is Cocoon, owned by ?eref ?zen. ?eref is smart, knowledgeable and charming and will give you the real price of a piece from the start. For Uzbeki embroidered textiles, or suzanis, T?ristik in ?ebeci Han
 
In ?ebe?i Han, just off the Ya?l?k??lar Soka??, is T?ristik E?ya, the best selection of suzanis in Turkey. It's owned by Abdullah, a wonderful man. Both in the Arasta Bazaar, and in a larger gallery space just outside of the bazaar, is the Mehmet ?etinkaya Gallery. His collection of kilims, rugs and textiles is of high quality and beautifully presented.
What is a typical [if there is such a thing] day like in your adoped city?
My wife and I live in an historic Ottoman wood house in the Old City that we restored. It's very close to The Aya Sofia, just a block away from the tramline on a small street where few tourists come. Often in the morning I work on designs for my sculpture, my embroidered paintings, my kilims, or my jewelry and worry about emails I should have sent, people I should have contacted. Usually I get out of the house around noon to buy art things and maybe have lunch or do shopping while I'm outside. I like walking the streets in the old city and Beyo?lu. I know the back streets well but I'm always looking for places to discover in more distant neighborhoods. I usually try to mix my work with walking some back streets, checking out some art galleries or taking in a museum show. Meeting with my ustas, my super skilled crafts people, I'm often on the tram, the metro or, best of all, the ferryboat going up the Bosphorus, down the Golden Horn or across to the Asian side, heading to Umraniye to meet with my metal fabricators. In the evenings we cook or go out to one of the many great restaurants close by.
What are your favorite places to travel to and why? What is at the top of your bucket list as far as destinations?
One of the great advantages to living in Istanbul is the ease of getting places. We travel a lot to Europe and a thousand places all over Turkey. We've visited all the usual places but among those we've loved the most are southern Spain; Cordoba and Granada. Lisbon was nice and the wine was a big surprise, I don't think it travels well, but locally it was great. Virtually everywhere in Italy we love, but our favorite is Venice in the fall before the hordes arrive. Aleppo and Hama and the ancient cities in Syria were wonderful before the civil war. We loved Marrakesh and Essaouira in Morocco. Petra and Aqaba in Jordan, and the desert. Uzbekistan, and Iran and many places in Central Asia are on our list. We plan to visit India soon. Beirut is another place everyone says is a must see, and I've always wanted to see Havana. And a whole lot of other places, too.
 
In America we love New Orleans for the seafood and music and the laid back ambience, San Francisco is a compact city with good restaurants and neighborhoods with beautiful Victorian architecture. Every year we visit Seattle, in the summer it's wonderful. It's a hilly city surrounded by water very much like Istanbul, also like Istanbul, the seafood is excellent. We also spend a few weeks in New York every year.
 
 
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