Nejat Kavvas Sculpture

© Copyright Nejat Kavvas 2008 - 2020


In speaking of glass, alchemy best describes that wondrous process where uninspiring, and apparently dull materials are transformed into a sparkling liquid and blown or cast into objects of glowing intensity, transparent brilliance, or kaleidoscopic chroma. From the searing heat of the furnace or kiln, emerge objects of crystalline beauty, utter fragility and ice-like hardness. Glass is born.

Nejat Kavvas is relatively new to glass sculpture and cast glass, but his love of glass and his ability to orchestrate colour have been with him all his life. He remembers the joy of painting on glass as a child, and the depth of colouration and transparency that glass gave him. He recalls visiting Cologne Cathedral in his early years, being overawed by the stained glass windows, but even more profoundly discovering Roman glass artefacts in the crypt, remnants of occupation long preceding the building of the grand Gothic cathedral on the same site. As a teenager, growing up in South Eastern Turkey, or old Mesopotamia, he examples of the earliest glass making known, and purchased for himself small Ionian (5thC AD) glass bottles and a 7thC BC Lydian black glass bracelet, artefacts that he retains today. These delicate, tiny objects of great fragility and sultry beauty, fascinated him then, and fascinate him now.

At one stage in his multifarious career he imported glass into New Zealand, developed new techniques for surface metallizing of glass for mirror manufacturing, and patented a unique glass sandblasting technique or commercial use. Glass has been a lifelong passion. Nejat Kavvas trained as a pharmacist. He graduated from Marmara University in Istanbul with a Bachelors degree in pharmacy in 1974. His interest in art and antiquity was not abandoned however, and he wove into his study archaeology, history, classical studies and art history. He acquired a quiver full of knowledge and skills that would serve him well in a career which finally took him away from pharmacy, to the business of selling, designing and commissioning rugs, and, ultimately, to glass casting. For many years Nejat was best known for his business, Eastern Rug Gallery, where he imported and sold fine rugs from Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. The gallery was a kaleidoscope of colour and pattern, town rugs and tribal rugs, antique rugs and modern. He possessed an unfailing knowledge of the rugs, their patterns, and the villages where they were woven. With Islam’s prohibition on depiction of the natural world, her artists developed an imagery based on geometric patterns, interlacing and tracery, often floral or vegetative in origin but refined to a complex system of shapes and colours. And working with a limited palette of natural dyes, weavers created chromatic universes and galaxies of scintillating subtle colour.

Arguably, rug making is one of the highest art forms of the Islamic world, and the rug, perhaps, the most universal and accessible of its art works. But oriental rugs are not for everybody. Some prefer a more modern rug, less detailed and patterned than traditional eastern rugs, and accessing a wider palette of colours than the natural, traditional dyes of the eastern weaver. In response to that demand, Kavvas launched a design and rug making business, TechLoom Rug and Carpet Creations. At Techloom he developed a computer analytical system for calculating variations in colour and tone, and plotting weaving patterns of enormous complexity. Using the finest New Zealand wools, he developed a colour palette of more than a thousand colours to meet the needs of individual commissions. He produced hundreds of designs of his own, ranging from strictly formal, geometric, modernist patterns to subtle colour fields, boldly abstract compositions, even figurative, narrative subjects. He also worked from paintings by artists, interpreting their paintings with the utmost sensitivity and subtlety with a multitude of colour hues. The rugs captured every nuance and shift of colour or chroma in the original. In his home, he has a stunning rug that he developed in collaboration with the artist Ralph Hotere and architect Ron Sang. It is not just an object of immense beauty, but it is also a thing of bewildering subtlety. He knows colour.

In turning to glass making in recent years, this lifelong exposure to colour and form, and the demands of interpreting modern designs and art works in woven carpet, was coupled with his background as a chemist. Alchemy was born. Kavvas knows the chemistry and physics of glass. He has attended workshops in various aspects of glass making in The Netherlands, the United States, Turkey and at home in New Zealand. But he has also experimented in his studio, varying known techniques of glass casting, and developing methods of his own, fusing colour, building fragile lattices of glass crystal, shaping and forming glass, and casting robust pieces of considerable gravity. He works with glass of little or no light, or of the deepest transparency and greatest brilliance.

In conversation he repeatedly talks of the fourth dimension of glass. His fourth dimension is the transparency of the medium, the transport of the eye beyond the surface, beyond dimensions of height, depth and so on, into the interior of the object. It is this attribute of glass, more perhaps than anything else, that excites him. The fourth dimension may be very shallow, no more than the luster of paint, or the glaze of pottery – glass of course – or it may admit the eye to penetrate a little way before being absorbed in its blanket of colour. It may allow the eye to plunge deeply into a colour or the meetings and transitions of colour, or it may permit the eye to travel right through a great thickness of glass to emerge out the other side and pass on. He sees, in this fourth dimension, the depth and colour of the interior of his pieces, the place where his personal       

dimensions of scientist, artist and man coalesce.

In his studio, just another workshop amongst many others manufacturing and repairing all manner of ordinary things, Kavvas moves among his kilns, his polishing bay, a simple desk, a table, shelves of materials and boxes on the floor containing yet more materials, drawing together the threads of his chemist self, his designer self, and his expertise in classical, traditional and modern textiles. He reflects upon his Turkishness and his New Zealandness. Half crescent forms suggest his continuing love of Turkey and Istanbul, his passion for Anatolia where east and west dovetail, and a landscape which has occupied successions of culture and belief. A cast glass vase in sullen translucent greens, on the other hand, is formed from the leaves of the New Zealand native pukanui. And a small group of sculptural discs integrate a hint of the New Zealand koru, with its potent symbolism of new life, and the eastern phoenix, rising in reborn life from fire. 

His work, no more than any other aspect of his being, self-consciously seeks to hybridise his Turkish and New Zealand lives and experiences. It simply is; a fusion of lifelong interests and passions, and an eclectic, rich life and background.

Dr T.L.Rodney Wilson CNZM

The late Dr. Rodney Wilson is doctor of Art History. He is better known for his major contributions as director 

of Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Auckland Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria, 

Auckland War Memorial Museum and founding director of theNew Zealand National Maritime Museum.