This Fabulous Shadow Only the Sea Keeps is a writing project by Cigdem Asatekin, initially written in 2017 as a graduate thesis for SVA’s MFA Art Writing program.

The first chapter begins on the wavy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean with a whaling ship and its crew tracking a whale, as set up by the scene in The Whalers, painted by English romantic painter Joseph Mallord William Turner in 1845. The narrative takes the reader to the depths of the ocean, the coastal charm of Kent, Herman Melville’s apartment in New York, an imaginary whale ship, and many other places and non-places more. It delves deep into Turner’s life, the whaling industry, and links between Whalers and Melville’s world-famous novel Moby Dick. The titles of the sections in this chapter follow a chromatic connection between the stories and the painting itself, forming a bond between the impressions galvanized by the painting and its colors.

The second chapter tells the story of Diver, a painting by the American artist Jasper Johns that he executed in 1963. It explores the process of the artist as he created the work, and Johns’ own inspiration for the painting: Hart Crane, the famous American poet who ended his life by diving into the Gulf of Mexico during his voyage to New York in 1932. The story of Crane unifies with his poetry, with Johns’ painting process, and the deep azure of the abyss; finding connections between its storyline with that of The Whalers. The sections take their titles from simple gestures and acts found in painting process like “sweep” and “stretch,” following the footsteps of Diver; which is comprised of, more than all the other painterly elements, gestures.

The third chapter, “The Sleeper,” takes its name and origin from Henri the douanier Rousseau’s 1897 painting The Sleeping Gypsy, in which he depicts a lion next to a sleeping woman with a colorful striped dress and a mandolin, on a full moon night. Rousseau’s life, his relationship with French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, a big banquet in the honor of the painter, reveries and daydreams about the painting’s protagonists: all these elements come together and create the narrative of the chapter. Starting on the streets of Paris and the famous Salon d’Automne, the narrative wanders around in the never-ending dunes of a desert, the dream world of its creator, and along the deep waters of a non-existent ocean. In this chapter, the section titles come from the figures the viewer can find in the painting, paying homage to Rousseau’s style as a figurative and naïve master.


Cigdem Asatekin is an art writer and painter based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds an MFA in Art Writing from School of Visual Arts, New York; along with a BFA in Painting, and an MBA in Arts Management from esteemed universities in Turkey, where she is originally from. She worked within various fields of Istanbul’s contemporary art world for five years, including art galleries, festivals, the Biennial, renowned art magazines, and museums. Asatekin is the co-founder of Artwalk Istanbul: the first guided gallery tour service in the country. She moved to New York City in 2015, and after receiving her degree, she proceeded to become the Managing Editor for the program’s publication Degree Critical until 2019.

Asatekin has been writing and translating for art spaces, collectors, curators, and artists professionally. Her critical writing appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Degree Critical, private collections and catalogues, and more. She publishes in Degree Critical regularly. She is transfixed by the facts of imaginings, and interested in interweaving literary fiction and art writing. Will write a book one day, a real one.