Friday 5 January 2018

An Aviary of the Heart: The Outsider Art of Nihat Taş

In December 2017, I was walking down a street in Istanbul's Tophane district when I passed by a small store with eye-catching paintings of birds on its door. This area was a semi-gentrified neighbourhood of artsy (and inconsequential) design stores, art studios and so on, so I almost gave it a pass. But something in the paintings forced me to turn back, and knock on the door.

The store, it turned out, wasn't just another overpriced hipsters' den; but the decades-old abode of Nihat Taş, eccentric master carpenter and unacknowledged outsider artist. There he sat, making furniture and repairing others for the residents of the area for more than twenty years.

Mr. Taş's beautiful and talented niece Remziye also dropped by occasionally to help him in his daily tasks. Freshly liberated from the drudgery of corporate life, she also used his workshop as a studio space to work on her own furniture projects.

In the last few years, impelled by a personal tribulation, Mr. Taş had started painting flocks of birds on pieces of wood and leftover furniture material in his workshop. He even used his carpenter's skills to make the hanging fixtures for individual works, crafting them out of bits of discarded metal, parts of broken locks and keys, nails, whatever that was at hand. He called his creations, 'birds of my heart'.

Even with the limited references he used from a couple of old birdwatchers' guides he had found in a second-hand bookseller, Mr. Taş's creations were unique and spellbinding masterpieces of outsider art - comparable to the globally-known savant geniuses such as Gregory Blackstock, Miroco MachikoBill Traylor and Lee Goldie.

I was transfixed. The situation was almost too good to be true, and I wondered how on Earth had no-one discovered this oasis of creation before I'd stumbled into it. Oh wait - perhaps it was because the modern Turkish concept of high-art was a grey, soulless cargo cult of 'conceptual' pap?

Mr. Taş and I sat and spoke for a few hours that day. We instantly clicked over our common hatred of snobbish contemporary art, and other similar opinions about life, love and labour.

I had to document these paintings, and introduce them to the world somehow. The very next day I borrowed a tripod, two white cardboard sheets and two mobile lights and visited Mr. Taş's workshop to photograph each and every one of his avian creations. Remziye was also there. The three of us had lunch; beans, meat and rice, and then I busied myself with digitising the entire body of Mr. Taş's work while him and Remziye worked on their own tasks.

It was an extremely pleasant day, and you can see the entirety of Nihat Taş's oeuvre below. (But I'm sure he'll make more in the future).

UPDATE: You can now download a .pdf version of Nihat Taş's works through this link.
You can contact me for a print-resolution version of the file.


The ten pieces below are his earliest works, slightly more primal in form and complexity.

After these comes the main body of Mr Taş's work, a spectacular parade of iridescent peasants, crows, sparrows, woodpeckers and countless other birds... Enjoy!

Finally, and crucially, Mr. Taş had a stash of "spirit paintings" about his pivotal life experiences. These precious few works are keys to the enigma of his birds - and a clue to how his creative explosion came about...


This, then was the work of Nihat Taş, Istanbul's extraordinary outsider artist. These paintings certainly need more recognition in the wider world - let alone the cultural dead-end-steet that is Turkey. If you are interested in these artworks, please get in touch with me through, and I can connect you with Mr. Taş, or his niece Remziye, who acts as his assistant.

UPDATE: You can now download a .pdf version of Nihat Taş's works through this link.
You can contact me for a print-resolution version of the file.