Ankara-born Felekşan Onar has always had a love for glass, collecting pieces from childhood. She studied economics and music at Cornell University, but after a stint working in finance, returned to Turkey to work for her family’s textile firm. Her heart eventually longed for a more creative outlet, so with the security of success behind her, she leapt into the unknown to study the art of glass in Istanbul. In 2003, she opened her own atelier in the city, a few steps from Soho House, for which she has created lamps, sconces and exquisite cocktail shakers. A serene escape, the workshop doubles as a place for her to sketch and showcase her creations.

What distinguishes Feleksan’s work is its duality – despite the fragile form of glass, the pieces show strength. She uses the form to tell stories that are at once human and other-worldly. Her work is very personal and yet reflects the seasons so is ever-changing. Feleksan sat down with Chris Glass, Soho House’s European Membership Director, for a quick glimpse into her world and her work…

 

 

What does it mean to be a glass artist?
As a glass artist, I express myself in the way a chef or a poet does. One has to distinguish between studio glass and industrial production – the material is the same but the means are very different. I liken it to the difference between a factory kitchen and home cooking.

Where did you learn the craft?
Primarily working with local craftsmen and later with artists like Chantal Royant in France for kiln-casting, Vladimir Klein in the Czech Republic for cold-work, Jin Hongo in Japan and collaborating with many artists who visit the Glass Furnace in Istanbul.

You worked in textiles before. Is the creative process similar?
There is a limit to the ‘creative’ aspect of textile design. Unless you’re working with fashion textiles, much of the work is industrial and repetitive and there’s not much room for creative input. Glass art is intrinsically creative because you have limited control over the outcome. Sometimes I come to my kiln in the morning after a piece has been firing overnight and I am totally surprised by the colors. I also work very collaboratively, with artisans who are highly skilled in very specific aspects of glasswork, as well as with metal workers and electricians.

Do you consider your work decorative?
I studied architecture in Vienna and I loved seeing how the architect owned every aspect of the project – from the structure of the building through to the pillows. I knew that eventually I wanted to touch both worlds, so I made a conscious effort to establish myself initially as an artist and then to explore more decorative work. Credibility and storytelling are important factors to me and in order to have the freedom to work as I wanted, I needed to have that artistic background first.

Any insider places for finding specialty glass pieces?
I almost always find special pieces in the antique shops in Cukurcuma, here in Istanbul. It’s one of my regular inspiration walks.

Anything special you’re working on at the moment?
Two stories: one stemming from the work I did for Soho House, a lighting collection that I call ‘insideout’ that I will present mid April in my Pera atelier. The main piece is a pendant where the inside protrudes out, forming a larger outer sphere which is also colored, among other pieces. Another story is based on my yoga practice. I explore the idea of my hand as it caresses my body, my heart, my liver. These pieces will be part of a group exhibition in May.

Design Director Vicky Charles adds “I think in bars there’s nothing better than having vintage glass everywhere, they’re great shelf-fillers, they’re so beautiful and you can use them everywhere. When collecting, try and keep it simple, don’t over complicate it, don’t colour-match, don’t get too crazy about colour groupings, I think it’s about approaching it slowly and simply. Just do what you like! Not because you think it’s going to look good.”

 

Soho House Istanbul

A members' club in a 19th Century palazzo with bedrooms in an adjacent glass building and annex