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Turkey’s ‘Microangelo’ turns tiny objects into artworks

For Turkey’s “Microangelo”, any tiny, discarded item could be the canvas for his next mini masterpiece, from a matchstick to a pumpkin seed. 

The delicate, impeccably detailed miniature paintings of Hasan Kale often require a magnifying glass to be able to see the nuances but can take months to complete.

Some of his best-known pieces include a scene from the movie “Pulp Fiction” on the side of a piece of popcorn and the silhouette of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on a grain of rice.

“I started this journey 25 years ago with the goal of establishing a new language in art… by transforming the objects that we put aside or see as trash into little capsules of art,” he told AFP, at his Istanbul studio.

“It is a blend of experience and hand discipline. I can work on a single object for up to six months.”

The 60-year-old artist, who has never had a formal art teacher, began researching miniature art in the 1980s.

He was stunned, he said, by how tiny details and touches can change a form of artistic expression.

But it was not until 1995 that he had the idea of doing it himself on unconventional objects.

He had been looking at an empty cup of coffee and noticed how the remains at the bottom formed what he thought were beautiful patterns in the small space.

“I started working on a bean. I sat down and engraved a picture of Istanbul on it.

“I enjoyed it so much that I started trying other objects,” he said.

Kale has since used some 300 items and revels in the idea that any forgettable item — from a pebblestone in the sea, to a fish bone that gets stuck in your teeth — could become a work of art.

“Imagine the noise of hundreds of seeds as you bite into a fig. Can you dream an Istanbul view on one of them?” he said, enthusiastically.

– ‘Enormously patient’- 

Kale, who works just with the naked eye and “the glasses given by his doctor,” says that his greatest muse is Turkey’s historic hub, Istanbul, which he has depicted on sugar cubes, dice and sunflower seeds.

“Istanbul is a brand on its own. It is a rare city which never sleeps, which straddles two continents and harbours the traces of many cultures,” he said.

He learned his trade by studying Ottoman artists from the past, like Nakkas Osman, nicknamed “Osman the Miniaturist”, who was featured in Orhan Pamuk’s famous novel “My Name is Red”.

As it was for Osman in the 16th century, it remains painstaking work and Kale often paints for around 16 to 18 hours a day and goes without sleep.

“First of all, you must be enormously patient. Second, you must love the work, and third, you should have no economic expectations,” Kale told AFP.

That said, his work has attracted worldwide interest and his pieces have sold for thousands of dollars.

There are advantages to his chosen medium, not least that he needs very little room, and can work anywhere.

He has created artworks on international flights and even in a hot-air balloon.

“While walking in the street, I come up with an idea and I sit down and work. All I need is a drop of water in a bottle cap and I take out my palette and paints.”

Kale, who also designs jewellery, said he especially liked the way people recalled his work during mundane moments of their day.

“They remember me when they eat popcorn at the movies or drink a cup of coffee or swim in the sea,” he said.

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