Mehmet Gürsoy practices a one thousand-year-old art form that traces its beginnings to the Iznik tradition, a tradition that produced some of the finest works in the Ottoman Empire. Iznik tiles, with their distinctive colorations and designs, were used in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, contributing to this famous landmark’s name. According to Mehmet, “The ceramics of Iznik were among the finest produced in the Ottoman Empire and remain one of the most sought-after folk arts in today’s Islamic world.” Iznik, a town in western Anatolia, is the modern day successor of the Byzantine city of Nicea. In its early history, it was an important Roman and Byzantine town. Iznik later fell to the Seljuks in 1078 and the Ottomans in 1331. Even under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, traces of these other cultures endured in the tile for which Iznik has become famous. The quality of Mehmet Gürsoy’s work has played an important role in the rebirth of Iznik tile making. In fact, he developed his specialized technique only after studying ancient Iznik scripts. Mehmet carries forth the floral and animal designs by producing them on decorative plates, bowls, tiles, vases, and jugs. In addition, Mehmet, like other artists working in the Iznik tradition, produces his own colors which are specialized to Iznik ceramics. The Iznik tradition involves a process that cannot be rushed. “The correct mixture of clay from nearby quarries is mixed with kaolin, sieved and ground into a fine paste and then left to rest in tanks,” Gürsoy explained. “The clay paste is then pressed through rollers and left to rest again until the right pliable texture is achieved.” But this is only the beginning of working with this special clay. The next step is the making of the forms. These forms are allowed to dry before being smoothed over and dipped in quartz.
“Traditionally, 85 percent quartz is used in these tiles, which is a unique ratio in the ceramic process,” Gürsoy added. Another drying process follows before the patterns are painted by hand and the forms fired in a kiln. This is followed by dipping each piece into a tank of glaze before firing a second time. Mehmet Gürsoy, born in 1950, began his career as a school teacher. But he fell in love with the designs on this ancient pottery, gave up teaching and, by following his heart, came to play an important role in the rebirth of the Iznik tradition. Throughout the years, Mehmet has become a master of this art form. In his first International Ceramic Congress Competition, he won first prize for plates and vases, and second prize in the panel category. A distinguished student of Dr. Muhsin Demironat at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Mehmet has since been practicing and teaching ceramic making and fine arts for twenty seven years.