by Solmaz Niyazi
"Our experience of art is invariably personal, and undoubtedly subjective. How we process a painting, sculpture or film is dependent on a myriad of factors from our own past and present, and includes elements of prior knowledge and experience of language, images and sound." Hasan Niyazi
Hasan Niyazi had been enamored of the work of Raphael for most of his life. His intense love for this artist was rooted in his own childhood experiences, which conditioned his entire life, including his special relationship with Raphael. Despite grave personal challenges, he was able to find refuge in his love for art and in the intellect of his own mind.
Madonna and Child with Book, c. 1502-03, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA
From an early age, Hasan was able to recognize the transcendent value of Raphael’s art, finding there an unequaled sense of balance, harmony and surface perfection—everything, in fact, that was missing from his own life. For most of Hasan’s adult years, he was abandoned by his family and this estrangement affected him deeply. For him, art and in particular the art of Raphael was therapeutic if not entirely curative. Not only did it provide solace, it empowered him with knowledge and—most valuably—self-knowledge. Raphael’s Madonnas with Child spoke to him most directly and resonated most deeply.
"I never achieved greatness in my chosen profession, because it was not really my chosen profession. It was a choice for stable employment made by a young man who felt helpless to choose anything else. I was intensely interested in Western literature and art when I was young, and it was perpetually discouraged by my father. When I was 15, I made a decent drawn copy of the Madonna and child from Raphael’s "Sistine Madonna" It was placed in the school library and stayed there for a few years. Although the image did not speak to me at a religious level, the love Raphael painted into the mother’s eyes was unmistakingly plain for all to see. When I first showed it to my father, he scowled and said "necin cizdin bunu?….biraz sonra istavroz takacaksin" (why did you draw this?…pretty soon you will be wearing the cross.) It was a moment that haunts me to this day, as I realize my family will just never "get" my passion" Hasan Niyazi
The Garvagh Madonna, 1509-10, The National Gallery, London, UK
For Hasan, the search for knowledge and beauty was intensely personal—as it is, ultimately, for most people. And the Renaissance offered a compelling model for his own search.
"As much as it was of course about money and vanity, the Renaissance was introduced to me as a student in the typical way. For the first time in history, the intellect of the individual became the focus of the world - this was called Humanism - which is of course a very simplistic reduction of the period, but that idea took hold of me in a powerful way and has shaped everything I do.” Hasan Niyazi
School of Athens (fresco) in the Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican Palace, 1509-11
The emergence of humanism in the Renaissance was an intense process of social, cultural and educational reform and self-realization. These values constitute the central theme in Raphael’s School of Athens, offering a glimpse of human capability and achievement at its most exalted. The fresco depicts an assembly of the most eminent philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians of the ancient world—showing them in the very act of striving for truth and fulfilling their human potential. Achievement and self-fulfillment were both crucial for Hasan—two constant goals in his life.
" I was very isolated from art because my parents simply were not tuned into them. I did not get even to go see a movie in a cinema until I was 17. My interest in western art and literature was discouraged, and at one point my father even talked me into selling my entire book collection (I was 21 at the time and did not have the strength or awareness to question him)" Hasan Niyazi
Through determination, perseverance and personal courage, Hasan overcame many obstacles in pursuit of what he loved. Raphael and the Renaissance formed a dual theme throughout his life. Renaissance means “rebirth” and this is exactly what Hasan managed to accomplish in the course of his too short life. On the physical level, he lost over fifty pounds and became a committed marathon runner. And on the spiritual level, he channeled the sorrows and frustrations of his life into his passion for art.
Hasan’s love for classical “high art” ran deep, but he had other more modern passions, ranging from video games to cinema. His favorite director was David Lynch and his favorite film was Blue Velvet. He first saw it on television when he was only 12 and even at that young age, the film seemed to speak to him personally. Hasan often joked…”my entire life seems to have been shaped by David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.”
"David Lynch’s work is perennially obsessed with the dual aspect of human nature - what we show to the world and what stirs within us." Hasan Niyazi
The 1986 film is steeped in symbolism and shaped by Lynch’s distinctively skewed vision and defining sense of polarized worlds. Both of these qualities intrigued Hasan and at the end of Blue Velvet, we see split worlds come together, achieving beauty in the midst of an imperfect reality. All of this—inevitably—resonated strongly with Hasan.
Hasan’s table, left to right: Sedef Piker and Solmaz Niyazi, Solmaz Niyazi, Josie and Hasan Niyazi, Gemma Garcia and Hasan Niyazi, Sharon Bishop and Hasan Niyazi, various miniature portraits of Raphael
Hasan’s greatest passion, however, was reserved for his friends. Human relationships were crucially important to him and he treasured other people, with all of their oddities and imperfections. He was a great connector of people who fostered the coming together of his friends. His caring and generous nature instantly drew others towards him and he had a vast family of friends around the world. Every member of Hasan’s circle had a unique value for him. And his compassion, sincerity and kindness were—and will remain—prized gifts to all who were touched by him.
Florence, left to right: Dr. Edward Goldberg, Jane Fortune, Dr. Alexandra Korey, Sandra Perrone
Madrid, left to right: Gemma Garcia and Hasan Niyazi
New York, left to right: Dr. Ben Harvey, Dr. Frank Destefano, Sedef Piker, Monica Bowen
Florence, from left to right: Jenna Francisco, Hasan Niyazi, Dr. Melissa Pignatelli, Sucheta Rawal and husband
Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, from left to right: Dr. Ed Goldberg, Solmaz Niyazi
New York, Metropolitan Museum, Ancient Cyprus Gallery, left to right, Dr. Ed Goldberg, Sedef Piker
Istanbul, from left to right, Sedef Piker, Solmaz Niyazi
Florence, left to right: Dr. Alexandra Korey, Hasan Niyazi
Hasan eventually succeeded in creating a network of friends and colleagues around the world who shared his passions and above all prized his unique contribution to life and scholarship. He will live in our hearts and minds as long as we do. In his blog, Three Pipe Problem, we will continue to hear his voice. And then there is his visionary project, Open Raphael Online, which we are committed to realizing in the years to come. ORO will figure as the cornerstone of Hasan’s legacy and the ultimate demonstration of his genius.