Our story with Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu deserves a title like this. It was 2013. A scorching hot day in August to be precise. I was on my way to an interview with Ekşioğlu. I was feeling ecstatic.

I step inside his workshop in Moda, in Asian Istanbul. The vibe of a real artist is always so evident. His warm welcome relieves my apprehension and an intimate conversation ensues. First, I want to find out more about his personality. What are the elements he uses most in his illustrations? I ask what stairs/ladders, coffee cups, the sea and birds symbolically mean to him? Having climbed from the bottom to the summit, Ekşioğlu has a thing about drawing stairs/ladders. According to the artist, stairs/ladders are never absent in our lives. The coffee cups are about his relationship with his father. The cups of strong Turkish coffee drunk in each other’s company before telling fortunes from the leftover coffee grounds in the cup. Ekşioğlu thinks that his inherent genetic code, his upbringing, economic conditions and the geography he lives in have all played a crucial role in his life. This is where the sea and birds come into the picture. Originally from Ordu, the artist has several complaints – that children can’t live their childhood, that there are fewer trees, that people are obsessed with artificial values. Ekşioğlu’s work invariably touches on these issues in ingenious ways.

My three-year-old daughter Alize sets her eyes on one of Ekşioğlu’s drawings from the Book Illustrations Exhibition hosted by the Scnheidertemppel Art Centre in December 2019. Stacks of books form stairs in this illustration. A man stands on the top step, stretching up to the sky and grabbing a star to throw down to a woman reaching out from Earth below. SOME WEEKS LATER, I was about to put Alize to sleep as we dreamt about the moon. We were imagining how it would be to go to the moon as a family and dangle our feet down to Earth. Then she popped the question, “But, how do we get up to the moon?” and soon answered herself, “We use books to make stairs.”

Once there was, and once there wasn’t.
In the long-distant days of yore,
When haystacks winnowed sieves,
When camels were town criers and fleas were barbers,
When I softly rocked grandpa to sleep in a creaking cradle…

Not sure about rocking my grandpa, but this whole story gives me an idea as I rock my younger daughter Koza’s cradle. In a few months we’ll be publishing PAPER’s second issue. How amazing it would be if Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu prepared the cover for this special issue marking the 5th year of Sanayi313. I remember the stunning covers he made for the New Yorker. The artist’s poignant imagination would undoubtedly portray Sanayi313 from such an original perspective.

And the big day arrives when we meet Ekşioğlu at Sanayi313. We have elaborate conversations over coffee. We talk about his students at Yeditepe University Fine Arts Department, his wife and musician son, his workshop in Moda, his summer house on Kınalı Island and a little about me. Walking around 313, he notices details few of us would seldom see. To him, the place is like a gallery which deserves a few tours to really get the feel of it. I’m delighted. We observe the artworks at length. Especially, Seçkin Pirim’s “Unusual Moments’ Monument” sculpture which perforates 313’s roof like a bullet, and a rare find from a remote Greek island -Vasilis Poulios’s “My Grandmother” which is a sketch of an elderly face that appears three-dimensional.

When Ekşioğlu comes back a few weeks later with a few sketches, one in particular steals my heart. Smoke rising up from chimney stacks. The chimney in the centre has black and white motifs and bright red roses have flourished where you would expect smoke. What a wonderful thought, a delightful approach.

Years later, I found myself at Ekşioğlu’s workshop again to discuss the cover. I ask what he felt when he came to Sanayi313. He tells me that his illustration was the essence of his impressions. He elaborates on taking uncharted paths and being original. He thinks Sanayi313 is about courage and a vision. According to him, Sanayi313 has integrity like the human body per se, where the extremities, the head and vital organs work in harmony. Ekşioğlu makes us feel extremely proud when he says that the brand adds value to Istanbul in a challenging area. Hearing compliments from a globally-acclaimed artist at the end of five years is so elating.

“A river in a desert, a flower in a swamp, contrast… My starting point was the word Sanayi (Industry). The word evokes chimneys, production and machinery. Roses suggest beauty, romance, sweetness, aesthetics… That’s why roses appear on the chimneys rather than smoke. I wanted to clearly associate one of the chimneys with Sanayi313 by using the diagonal black and white patterns that decorate Sanayi313’s floors. I enjoy narration with feelings. I wouldn’t be making illustrations if I didn’t feel this way. You can’t depict love unless you feel it.”