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Being a cornerstone upon two continents, Turkey mixed populations, cultures and crafts from Asia, Africa and Europe through travels or conquests. Its tumultuous history goes through more than 600 years under the flag of the Ottoman Empire, enriched by exquisite skills in architecture, miniature painting, stone carving, calligraphy or tile-making.

The Ottoman Empire comes to an end in 1923, after 4 years of National War of Independence, giving birth to the Turkish Republic. This new country then progressively shifts to a liberal system and towards modernity, economically and morally speaking. Advertising and graphic design gradually take part in this new society, led by a few remarkable figures.

Today, the lack of support from the government and the influence of Europe have made it difficult to define Turkish design, as it is still building its own identity and fighting against advertisement’s reign.

If nobody knows about history of Turkish graphic design, it’s because it hasn’t been written yet“. | Christopher COLAK, local designer and typographer



From the series of interviews and from our own researches, the most famous and first designer who contributed to give a visual identity to Turkey is Ihap Hulusi GOREY (1898 – 1986). Born in Egypt, he studied in Germany, came back to Istanbul in 1925 and participated in the liberalisation of his new country. He developed a series of posters, bank notes and packaging for daily products and devoted 45 years of his life to illustrate and advertise the Turkish State Lottery tickets.

Its Germanic graphic style nonetheless owed him the title of father of Turkish graphic arts and advertising as he contributed to launch and develop the disciplines, and design the country’s new face.

In 1928 the government intended to “purify” the vocabulary and changed characters from Arabic to Latin, shaking up the Turkish society, during what was called the sign revolution (Dil Devrimi). No need to precise that forbidding the arabic letters was quite a shock. In 1934, in an attempt to smooth things down and promote the new alphabet, Mr. GOREY‘s illustrative talents were called upon to develop posters.

Supported and followed by other graphic designers such asMengu ERTEL, Yurdaer ALTINTAS or Bulent ERKMEN… Mr. GOREY mostly played a part in teaching the discipline and enhancing graphic design’s crucial role, nationally. Today, Ihap Hulusi GOREY is known as the “man who illustrated the republic“.



Following Ihap Hulusi GOREY‘s lead, others contributed to develop graphic design and arts in the country (Turkey)…

Mengu ERTEL was born on 16 March 1931 in Uskudar, Istanbul, Turkey. The family of the artist witnesses the last Ottoman period. He is a child who has no living relatives and who lost his father at a young age. He went to the bookbinding course in Kadikoy Halkevi, Istanbul, Turkey. He also studied his lessons with his friends in this course. By the direction and insisting of painting artist Balikci Saim, Mr. ERTEL entered to the Department of Decorative Arts in Fine Arts Academy.


In the following years in the 1950s for poster design in Turkey he sais “It was a miracle to make clean, spotless backgrounds, draw straight lines with trilinees, copy and write texts. It was not the brain, but the controlled wrist needed to be a good poster designer.”


He established close friendships with Kuzgun ACAR and Ali Teoman GERMANER in the early days of the Academy. Mr. ERTEL expressed that the Academy contributes much to the art and life of the intellectual community in Beyoglu. He got an opportunity to work in the Small Stage created by Muhsin ERTUGRUL. He was first given to the Carpenter Yakup then decorator Kurt Hellenger to work with.

In 1953 Mr. ERTEL founded the agency named San Organization. In 1959, this agency was transformed into a graphic design workshop and changed to San Graphic. In 1969 the first theater poster exhibition was opened in Istanbul at the Turkish-German Cultural Center.

Mr. ERTEL received the “Jury Special Award” at the Cannes Film Festival poster competition in 1974. He won the Grand Prize in 1975 at the Chaillot Palace with a poster for Carl Dreyer’s “Jeanne d’Arc’s Films” film at the 1st International Film Festival film poster competition, in which more than 30 countries participated.

Bulent ERKMEN graduated from Graphic Design Department in 1972. Between 1968 and 1973, he was the Secretary-General of the State Film Archive. In 1976 UESTO, which is affiliated to IDGSA, started as associate professor and in 1980, he became head of this department. In 1981 he established his own advertising agency, ‘Reklam Evi’. In 1982 he was elected as a GMK board member.

He designed emblems, logotypes, banners, book covers, brochures, stamp design, packaging, illustration, three-dimensional design, environmental graphics, magazine-book encyclopedia and newspaper design, press ads and commercials.

In 1985-1986-1987, he was selected as the most successful graphic artist of the year. His works were featured in foreign publications. In Graphis (p.256) various examples of his work were included. Mr. ERKMEN was chosen to the exhibition where the best fifty poster of the world, published in 1986. This exhibition has been repeated in various European countries. He participated in the ‘Color Communication’ exhibition in USA as an invited person and in 1989, he opened personal poster exhibition in Germany.

Mr. ERKMEN was among the first pioneers in winning contemporary identity of the graphic arts in Turkey. He has also been influential in the popularization of graphic arts and the direct connection of the market with this field.Eli ACIMAN was the first one who found first advertising agency in Turkey. In 1944, Mr. ACIMAN established ‘Faal Advertising Agency’ together with Vitali Hakko and Mario Beghin. Mr. ACIMAN was a 25-year-old youth who has gone to England by leaving his education in the background and has been educated in journalism. Vitali HAKKO works in ‘Mahmutpasa’ while Mario BEGHIAN works in ‘Koc Companies’. However, as things did not go as expected, HAKKO and BEGAN left this partnership soon.



After ending the partnership, Mr. ACIMAN met with Vehbi KOC in 1946 and got a wide job opportunity by taking advertisement works of ‘Koc Companies’. Thus, the company started to develop and in 1957, it became a company, named Faal Agency, with the partnership of Eli ACIMAN, Arif ERDEMIR and Nesim MATAN on equal terms. Then he went to the US for three years. After returning in 1960, the work of the agency grows like an avalanche, and with the influence of the expanding business volume in 1965, the partners were finishes partnership friendly. Eli ACIMAN continued with agency named “Manajans” and with Arif ERDEMIR, they continued on their way with the name “Yeni Agency”. During this separation, the partners splited the clients in half. After separation, both companies added new names into their customer portfolios and today they became the two major advertising agencies in Turkey.Hamid AYTAC is the first one who bring the technique of zincography, painting on steel, engraving, embossing and luxury printing to Turkish printing. There are thousands of beautiful and unique writings of Mr. AYTAC in Egypt, Iraq, and even all around the world in many places, houses, lounges and in ‘Sisli’ Mosque which is one of the newest mosques in Istanbul, Turkey.

Emin BARIN (1913-1987) is famous for his calligraphic compositions, mixing Arabic and Latin characters. Trained in Germany as Ihap Hulusi GOREY, he designed Turkish coins for the government. His work contributed to maintain the legacy of kufic characters as a Turkish influence.

Mithat OZAR made very big size movie banners for cinema entrances in Beyoglu atelier between the years 1924-27. When graphic designs were intertwined with painting, he went to Paris to study painting and returned back to Turkey. The important thing in terms of graphic design history of Mr. OZAR is that he was brought to the Academy of Fine Arts Poster Workshop in 1932. In 1937, Mithat OZAR‘s ‘Fine Arts Academy exhibition’ posters and ‘Florya’ posters, which was organized by the Fine Arts Academy, was the first artistic and professional association created in the academic environment.Kenan TEMIZAN, who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin in the 1920s worked in the School of Decorating Arts in the same year, made posters in major film companies (Ufa and Tobis) in Germany. He returned to Turkey in 1943 and began working in the field of textile decoration and the Academy. Mr. TEMIZAN produced posters with photo-graphic techniques and figurative approaches. Swiftly developing printing technology has brought new possibilities to the designer.Mr. TEMIZAN succeeded in projecting contemporary language in his works with his strong pattern, colorist approach, outstanding composition understanding, rhythmic, fluent typography. He received the third prize in NATO’s international poster competition in 1951. He also won first prize in the European Union Poster Competition, which was attended by 1200 people. Kenan TEMIZAN has overcome the typography problems in Turkey with the expertise gained by his practices in Germany.


Yurdaer ALTINTAS (1935-) spread Turkish graphic design abroad, and led to the creation of the Association of Graphic Artist. In the 70s’, he contributed to create a graphic art department in Industrial Arts school. The teaching method was inspired by European schools, in France or Germany. This didn’t particularly help to develop a typical Turkish graphic design.

The 70s’ also saw the rise of advertisement and marketing, transforming graphic design into a recognised occupation. Bulent ERKMEN and Sadik KARAMUSTAFA helped to understand and develop this new activity. Along with adopting ideas from Occident, they created visual identities for private companies. Known as the first graphic designers of the country, they became communication consultants for public institutions such as museums, theatres or city councils. In this cultural domain, Savaş CEKIC (1960-) is also famous for the role he played in cultural Turkish design, as a consultant for national Theatres:

In 2014, for Graphisme en France event, we could see Mr. ERKMEN‘s posters in the streets of Paris (illustration “Paris / Istanbul” below). He is nowadays considered as the godfather of Turkish design, still influent and independent. Keeping such a position is not an easy thing to do in Turkey where independent designers mainly have to work for advertising companies to survive, and tend to loose their creativity in favour of sales mechanisms.

Illustrations: Yurdaer Altıntaş and below, Bülent Erkmen.

Atif TUNA who works as a painter and decorator in the General Directorate of ‘Tekel’ for many years is one of the names to be mentioned in the history of graphic arts. The artist who made the emblem and all packaging designs for ‘Samsun’ cigarette in 1938 is not only known by these works but also by the first prize and the honorable prizes he earned in postal stamp and emblem subjects.


Mr. TUNA who is in the same period as Munif FEHIM and Ihap Hulusi GOREY, has much better analysis than the 1960s in the black and white technique for ‘Rize Cay’ posters that he did for ‘Tekel’. Mr. TUNA‘s liquor for ‘Tekel’ is also a successful poster. In addition, in the poster he made for ‘Akbank’, has achieved an effective result in black and white by using light shade for banners.LOSS & RESISTANCE

In the early 80s’ a bunch of designers created the Turkish Graphic Designer Association (GMK) in order to bring together graphic designer, connect them with companies, and organise events and exhibitions to promote their creations. A few specialized zines were published back in the 80s and reborn in the 2000’s but progressively lost their editorial coherence, becoming more and more influenced by advertising and less by cultural and graphic production.

In 2006, BAK magazine published its first issue. It was one of the first magazines to promote graphic design in Turkey. Bilingual, “its main objective was to build a bridge among young artists, artist candidates, and masters from all around the world.” Free and available online, its founder Ozan Karakoc had the opportunity to interview and promote artists from all around the globe, during 6,5 years.TURKISH DESIGN TODAY

Unlike product design or architecture which are quite successful and renowned in Turkey, graphic design is still building its own identity, stuck between European heritage and a forgotten Ottoman past. A few Turkish actors are confident in the rising of a local style and put efforts into building a community. Nowadays, the effort is mainly held on trying to emphasise both a connection amongst local designers and a Turkish graphic identity. Mostly because it remains difficult for young designers to express their creativity in a country where advertising massively influences and steers the graphic culture.

Mehmet Ali TURKMEN (below) and Esen KAROL have made an impression on many young designers in Turkey, and are always named as references by students and local graphic designers, including Ozan and Volcan that we interviewed. Mr. TURKMEN and Mr. KAROL still play a role in the graphic scene worldwide.


For instance, Esen Karol managed to create, on her own, a platform to connect designers together, through conferences and collaborations. Another influent actor is Christopher COLAK, who is, on his side, developing a special font “for the city, inspired by the city” (of Istanbul) : Istambulin. “All the letters in the posters are taken from the vernacular signs of various locations in Istanbul…” He also organises typography workshops which brings graphic designers together to collaborate and exchange.

In 2014, Slanted Magazine released issue #24 on Istanbul, along with a series of video interviews. A great issue which managed to gather the latest trends and works of contemporary Turkish graphic design.


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Credits: Grapheine, étapes n°178, Slanted – n° 24, Strabic.fr, as8.it, Anonymous


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