Since we first met Berke Yazicioglu a couple of years ago, the London-based designer and illustrator has gathered a roster of impressive clients ranging from The New Yorker, Wired and Taschen. He even illustrated an article for us, visually exploring how art holds AI to account. Working on such commissions has allowed Berke to further understand his own work. In the past few years, he’s come to comprehend why he uses certain colours and shapes repeatedly, whereas before they seemed like intuitive choices.
“I’ve become more conscious of my own visual interests,” he says on this change. Editorial commissions have caused Berke to draw out the narrative elements of an image, something he’s grown to love. He likens it to “taking your visual storytelling skills to the gym, and learning about a current subject at the same time.”
While he’s ticked off some of the best-loved titles in publishing to feature his work, in his latest project, Berke delves into a whole new medium altogether to explore another aspect of his illustrative practice.
It started with an exploration of The Rite of Spring, a ballet and orchestral work by Igor Stravinsky composed in Paris in 1919. Featuring original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, with stage design and costume by Nicholas Roerich, the avant-garde production caused a sensation with its debut, provoking a near-riot on its first night due to its progressive content. It’s a subject that fascinated Berke from the beginning: “I became obsessed with researching it,” he recalls, “and ultimately, had to make work about what I learned.”
Berke delved into the conceptual origins of the ballet – a representation of pagan Russia immersed in the mysterious and creative power of spring. As Stravinsky’s score reflects nature’s reemergence from winter, Berke attempts to do the same through tapestries. Reinterpreting the intricate melodies and epic scenes of the ballet into contemporary, flat digital illustrations with a hint of art nouveau about them, Berke’s project The Rite captures the musicality of the rhapsodic score.
“I used geometric shapes and natural motifs like plants and animals to represent the melodies as patterns,” he explains, “then arranged them on a grid that stays consistent throughout the designs.” In scenes where recognisable birds make an appearance, Berke makes direct reference to said bird in the artwork. Additionally, he chooses colours depending on the instruments heard in a section and its timbre. Signifying trumpets with red, strings with blue, The Rite is a complex key of sounds mapped out as visuals.
Compositional frames within frames nod to polyrhythms and when all these aforementioned elements appear intertwined with one another, Berke’s artwork culminates in a dense portrayal of orchestration. In an added layer to the project, Berke has now woven these illustrations into tapestries. “I decided to make tapestries because this medium seemed appropriate for adapting the ritualistic narrative.” Jacquard woven, the design undergoes a textural fusion of threads made on a special loom characteristically built to achieve intricate repeat patterns, ultimately evoking that tapestry effect.
“The design is in the fabric instead of simply printed onto it,” adds Berke. “Varying thread types result in varying surface textures which gives the fabric weight and makes it very touchable.” And with this in mind, the heaviness, in turn, reminds the illustrator of the melodic music.
The tapestries are the result of Berke’s one-year residency at the Sarabande Foundation, an initiative set up by Alexander McQueen to support emerging artists. As the residency comes to an end and Berke is about to enter a new studio, he’ll return to the foundation for a solo show next spring where he’ll be showing the 11 tapestries in the flesh. As for now, Berke is continuing with commissioned illustration work with a focus on web-based publishing.
GalleryBerke Yazicioglu: The Rite (Copyright © Berke Yazicioglu, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.