Spattered with paint, artists Guvenc Guven and Nursen Mayli Guven stand on 40 feet of scaffolding and spread color against a backdrop that looks primed for a "Lawrence of Arabia" remake. But the husband-wife team practice an art invented long before lights, camera and action. Using mosaics of color and Koran verses, they create traditional Islamic designs that adorn mosques, tombs and other monuments.
Five months ago they traveled from Turkey to decorate the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, scheduled to open this spring. Funded by the Saudi Arabian royal family, the $8.1-million sanctuary boasts two domes, one of which is the Guvens' 75-foot-wide plaster canvas.
"We were asked to make this dome look like the one we restored in the Selimiye mosque," Guvenc says through a translator, referring to one of Turkey's oldest and largest mosques. The couple have painted more than 50 new domes and restored 16th- and 17th-century architectural gems by removing whitewash left from modernization attempts. As they are rather far from home, in Culver City they have relied on some tricks the old masters lacked: slide projectors, butcher paper and pantyhose that, when packed with handmade charcoal, Guvenc brushes across immense stencils taped to the dome's walls to outline designs.
"This work requires passion," says Guvenc. Nursen adds that passion may come in many forms. "We met at Selimiye," she says, and while they restored Turkey's most famous house of worship, Sultan Ahmet, they married.