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Esra Gülmen

There are times when we are separated from our loved ones, longing for a real hug. This feeling of longing is the starting point of our collaboration with Esra Gülmen.
We wanted to hear the details of our collaboration from Esra Gülmen herself to remind ourselves how warm and wonderful it feels to be together, and how beautiful and valuable it is to hug each other with peace of mind. Enjoy…

There are times when we are separated from our loved ones, longing for a real hug. This feeling of longing is the starting point of our collaboration with Esra Gülmen.

We wanted to hear the details of our collaboration from Esra Gülmen herself to remind ourselves how warm and wonderful it feels to be together, and how beautiful and valuable it is to hug each other with peace of mind. Enjoy…

Photos by Elif Kahveci 


Hi, Esra! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? What is your educational background, and where do you live and work? What do you spend most of your time doing these days?
Hello! 🙂 I’m a visual artist and designer. I studied at Marmara University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Interior Architecture. While studying at school, I realised that graphic design is more suitable for me and I gradually shifted my studies in that direction. I live in Berlin. I have worked in various advertising agencies for about ten years. I resigned from my last job and I’m on a 3-month break. I call it a “break” because I never get a vacation. 🙂 I devote most of my time to my collaborations and art works these days.

How did you transition from interior architecture to graphic design and visual arts? What exactly led you to these areas?
I was a diligent and successful student in my department. But even my professors said, “I wish you had studied graphic design” at times. I would get more excited about designing furniture and making the logo and poster of the design. Also, I was making illustrations, and then showing my works to the professors in the graphics department. During the time when I was working as a lecturer, I wanted to experience working in an interior architecture office. My first job was to paint illustrations on the walls of a cafe. In fact, those works were included in the Lürzers Archive (100 Best Illustrators Worldwide) book. I had an internship opportunity in an architectural office in Vienna, where I found myself designing a catalogue, again! So, life forcefully and clearly said to me, “It’s obvious what you’re going to do, honey!” 🙂

Could you tell us about your production process? What inspires you?
I get inspired by people, situations that make me both sad and angry, human psychology and language itself. I follow the works of the artists and designers I like with great admiration, but I’m not interested in knowing what others have done before I start my work. Instead, I do other things to get inspired like listening to music and focusing on the lyrics of the song – I enjoy playing with words – or reading my notes from times when something upset me. 🙂

What does wearing a shirt mean to you? What is its place in your everyday life?
I love shirts, especially white shirts. I see every white object as a blank canvas. They give me the urge to write and draw on them. A wearable, functional canvas- what more could you ask for? 🙂

Could you share your thoughts on Bil’s and its products?
Due to its approach to art and artists, Bil’s has always been special to me. It was a brand that I always respected and I wished we could do something together someday. I knew we would get along well!

You made a total of 2 designs for Bil’s. First of all, what was your thought process when designing the “Offline Hugs” Collection?
Actually, I once painted “Offline Hugs” on a white shirt and on a sweatshirt using fabric paint. I posted it on Instagram as an artwork, not for sale, and people loved it! They even asked me how to get it. I am extremely pleased that we have produced this quality work with Bil’s. And I think those who asked me how to get it will be just as happy. 🙂

“At this time, we have all realised how important and beautiful it is to hug each other. This collection reminds us of this feeling. Here is to many hugs with no fear!”

What about “Offline Kisses”?
During lockdown, many lovers were quarantined away from each other. Having conversations, cooking, eating, even kissing became virtual… Most of us had to do these at some point.

“Offline Kisses is also a work that reminds us of the beauty of being physically together with the person we truly love, kissing and cuddling as we wish.”

Also, I used the left part of the shirt as a quilt. I wanted to make a design that resembles a couple kissing under the covers, suggesting happiness and tranquillity. It’s that simple sometimes. 🙂

Who is the couple we observe in “Offline Kisses”?
I aimed to leave that couple as relatable as possible. It can be a man and woman or even two men or two women. Let’s say two people who love each other. ❤️

Could you talk a little bit about the exhibition held at Pilevneli x König | Kaplankaya?
This is a group exhibition that Pilevneli Gallery will hold in collaboration with König Gallery in a building in Kaplankaya. Designed as a selection by an imaginary collector, this group exhibition will feature a total of 25-30 artists from both galleries. The exhibit will be on view July through September. I will have a total of seven or eight original works. Also, the shirts I designed for Bil’s are part of the exhibition.

What awaits you next? What are your future plans and projects?
I am preparing for my solo exhibition. In September, I will start my new position as Design Executive Officer in Ogilvy, Germany. Apart from that, I have new upcoming artist collaborations. While I’m working independently on my artwork, I’m working on a book project at the same time. It is a project that I immensely enjoy working on, but I’m also concerned about being alienated from the idea by not sending it to print as soon as possible. I’d better finish it soon. 🙂

What are the 3 things you can’t live without?
Music, fine food and my lover.

What is the sentence you keep repeating to yourself that reflects your philosophy of life?
There is a saying by Sadhguru that I heard and immediately thought, “Yes! This is exactly what I have been thinking for years!” and it goes like this:

“There are no good people and bad people. There are joyful and miserable people.”

While I was wondering if I’m being too optimistic in acknowledging the existence of bad people, learning about this saying put my mind at ease.

Are there any graphic designers or artists whose work you admire that you could recommend to our readers to follow?
Christoph Niemann, Elmgreen & Dragset, Liana Finck, Martina Paukova, Carla Fuentes, Max Siedentopf, Sarah Illenberger, Bruce Nauman…

Esra Gülmen: @esra_gulmen

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