Portraying a painter on film: SEPTIEN at the IFC

Onur Tukel’s paintings created for Septien, a Michael Tully film that will be at the IFC this week. 

Septien, a darkly comic narrative film, features a self-taught artist who fetishizes sports and Satan. The film premiered in June at the BAMCinemaFest and will be at the IFC this week. I recently received a note from Onur Tukel, who tells me that besides acting in the film, he made all the paintings–which look like a mash-up of Hieronymous Bosch and illustrations from Mad Magazine. Here’s an email exchange we had about the project.

Two Coats: How did you get involved  with the film?
Onur Tukel: I met the director of Septien Michael Tully at a film festival about 10 years ago.  I was showing a feature film that I directed called Ding-a-ling-LESS.  We bonded immediately and kept in touch over the years. Tully is a film journalist for the website hammertonail.com.  He’s friends with the film director David Gordon Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, Your Highness) and together they came up with the idea of making a film about three mad brothers on a farm. Tully decided to cast me after seeing me act in the short film The Wallet, which stars me and 11 adorable children.

I got involved with writing the storyline with Tully and co-star Robert Longstreet.  We each play one of the brothers and we each wrote our own back-story.  I’ve always loved movies about artists (Pollock, Basquait) and relished the opportunity to play one on film. Things started moving along, Tully raised money for the film and i had about six weeks to create the art.  I knocked out about 65 pieces for the movie.   I loved Tully’s previous film Cocaine Angel and knew that a lot of people would potentially see the film, so I was very inspired.

TC: How are the paintings you made for the film related to your own work? 
OT: My work is pretty erratic.  I’ve done everything from political art and comics to children’s art.  My first art show “Pictures for the Baby’s Room,” , was a series of images involving giraffes, bunnies, elephants, frogs, dogs, cats, etc. etc.  All very rated PG!  I was a film director for years and I used to storyboard my films.  It gave me a good sense of visual storytelling.  I got out of films to concentrate on children’s books a few years back though I have had little success until recently.  I am having my first children’s book published in the Spring of 2012. I did a weekly cartoon series called “Trashlands” for a small paper in North Carolina years ago. It was very playful, sometimes sinister and sometimes downright tasteless. I’m drawn to dark funny images and story-lines but I’ve never done anything as abject as the work in Septien ! Still, I’m always wavering between dark material and things that are innocent and sweet.  The tag line for Septien is “Smother the Demons.”  And the movie is very much about facing things you are scared of. You can’t smother the demons if you don’t know what they are. Creating the artwork for Septien was like therapy. I just kept reaching for all the muck inside of me.  It felt like pulling weeds. To look at the art now is so much fun. I created the work so fast that I hardly remember doing it.

TC: Do you have any upcoming projects?
OT: I moved to New York in October of 2010.  I’m having my first New York art show at the Pennington Gallery  in Soho (355 West Broadway, New York, NY) from July 6-8, 2011.  It’s only up for 3-days but I’m excited about it.  I never imagined I’d be starring in a film that’s playing in New York and on top of that, showing my work here as well!

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