Syed Ahmad: Capturing Fluid Movement in Glass on Copper
When Syed Ahmad came to the US to study geophysics, he never realized that he would spend his life as a working artist. “I only worked about a year in the oil industry,” he admits. “It didn't stick with me.”
What did consume his creative mind was a sense of water that pervaded his early days living along the Kedah River in Malaysia. Syed Ahmad sought to capture the flow and complexity of color that water presented through his work with art glass.
“When I first started out, like most glass users, I started making jewelry,” Ahmad says. “I learned about the medium from making jewelry. It's smaller. You can afford to make mistakes.”
His work with jewelry refined his technique, learning to combine different types of glass--clear, opaque, and dichroic—layering them for effect. This was something new to the field of art glass, especially the use of dichroic glass. Originally developed by NASA for spacesuit visors, satellite optics, and space shuttle windshields, this specialized clear glass is coated with many micro-layers of metal oxides that filter light differently than either clear or colored glass.
“Dichroic glass does not absorb light. It tunes light,” Ahmad explains. Since the word dichroic means “two colors,” this glass will reflect one color and let in a different color. And because it doesn't absorb light energy, the colors will not degrade but remain rich and true.
Dichroic glass, in combination with other types of glass, makes Ahmad's creations quite unique—and the fact that he works in large scale (some pieces are 20 x 24) and fires the glass before mounting. Though Ahmad knows his medium well, having working with it for fifteen years, he also knows that he can't control this medium totally and therefore plans for serendipity in each creation.
“In the medium I work in, you can't really muscle it. Everything has to be planned out, and you have to anticipate what's going to happen. After a while, you understand how the glass is going to flow,” he says. “When you do a few layers, you can predict better. If you do more layers, it's harder to predict. I try to predict what it's going to do, but sometimes--actually a lot of times--I don't really know. After awhile, you have to put it in the kiln, and let it go.”
This is doubly challenging because dichroic glass is very expensive. “It is the most expensive glass to work with per square inch,” Ahmed admits. Unlike paint or even stained glass or mosaics, the artist can't afford to paint over or scrap a piece and begin again. “I have to maximize each sheet of dichroic glass. That is one of the constraints,” he says. And if something happens unexpectedly (for better or worse), it becomes part of the work.
Because Ahmad feels that each of his art glass creations, like water, needs something to contain it such as a bank or shore or vase, he mounts his work on metal, usually aluminum or copper.
“After a few years, I decided to try another metal, something warmer,” he says. “It would give a different feel altogether.” Copper became his next metal choice. “It turned out to be a really fun metal to work with because it's malleable. With acid, you can etch it and get a lot of patina. And, because it's soft, I can work it; I can hammer it; I can make different textures out of it.” He obtains both metals from industrial suppliers and his glass from a stain glass distributor.
From his studio in Salisbury, North Carolina, Syed Ahmad makes art glass creations for a number of individuals, usually people who found his work at art shows. About half of his income is from this commission work. They grace fine homes, businesses, and dentist offices. And one has been placed in a cancer clinic lobby, offering rich, bright colors and the soothing movement of water. His work has also garnered awards from Art Festivals across the country, including the Award of Excellence (Mixed Media) from the Port Warwick Art & Sculpture Festival in Newport News, Virginia, and Best in Category (Mixed Media 2D) from the Bethesda Row Arts Festival, Bethesda, Maryland.
Also in this Issue:
- An Inside Look at Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry
- Carol B. Saylor: In Her Mind's Eye
- Syed Ahmad: Capturing Fluid Movement in Glass on Copper
- Transcendence Through Copper
- MAD Museum Exhibits Elegant Armor: The Art of Jewelry