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Issue Date: 2017 APRIL, Posted On: 4/8/2017


04102017 From Canvas to Carpet: Wool and Silk's Erbil Tezcan Takes Art to the Floor
By Stephen Landrigan / Special to RugNews.com
FROM CANVAS TO CARPET: WOOL AND SILK'S ERBIL TEZCAN TAKES ART TO THE FLOOR


On display last week at the 2017 Rug Show Los Angeles, the Beautiful People rug by Wool and Silk (right) and the painting by Bryan Dubreuiel that inspired it.

CEDAR GROVE, N.J. -- With his haunting designs for Wool & Silk carpets, Erbil Tezcan has shot to prominence over the past half-dozen years as one of the world's leading carpet designers.  His dreamy landscapes, moody abstracts and riffs of traditional patterns have been steadily pushing back boundaries and reshaping expectations of what a carpet can look like.  

Since he made his debut at Domotex in 2012, he has captured a coveted Carpet Design Award each year for six years, and one year he won two -- a record few can match. 

 
Erbil Tezcan of Wool and Silk with his Domotex 2017 Carpet Design Award at the Hannover, Germany-based show in January.

At the recent Domotex 2017, one of his most striking creations hung at the entrance to his exhibition area.  It was surrounded by lights like a theatre marquee that promised even greater things inside.  But the carpet, which Tezcan calls "The Beautiful People," was a showstopper on its own -- not just at the Hannover fair but more recently at its U.S. debut at The Rug Show Los Angeles, held April 6-8 at the L.A. Convention Center.

INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM

Tezcan credits his appearances at Domotex for making Wool & Silk an internationally-recognized company since his first time there in 2012.  Another show, The Rug Show at Javits, was added to his trade fair roster later in 2012, and has also contributed to the company's growth, he says. The Rug Show at Javits "has the potential to be best high-end rug show in the world," he explains.

"I believe strongly in that show and promote it because no place can be better than New York, and no time can be better than September, and no location is better than Javits," he insists.  He's also been showing at the Los Angeles edition of The Rug Show for the past two years. "There are many customers on the West Coast who do not go to Domotex or the New York show, and we now have connected with them."

ART RUG BEGINNINGS

 
A showstopper at Domotex 2017, Wool and Silk's striking "Beautiful People" rug hung at the entrance to its exhibition space, surrounded by lights like a theatre marquee.

The story behind creation of the "Beautiful People" rug begins in 2010 soon after Wool and Silk's first collections started arriving from Nepal to his base in Cedar Grove.  It provides interesting insights into Tezcan's unusual creative process. 

"It was recession time," he recalls.  "I rented a box truck which I filled with 9'-x-12' samples.  For six weeks, I drove across the country, 12,000 miles by myself," to meet carpet retailers and encourage them to buy rugs and place orders. "I have a lot of memories of that box truck and myself together," he chuckles.  "I made the trip for three years in a row."

His business partner, Andrea Moomjy, had called ahead and made some appointments for him. One was at a store in Houston, Texas, called Pride of Persia Rug Company owned by Mehdi Abedi and Lisa Slappey.

Lisa recalls, "We get a lot of calls from people wanting to sell us stuff.  I could have just as easily said we were too busy.  Thank goodness I did not."  She was immediately entranced both by Erbil's work and by the warmth of his personality.  

By the time he had finished unrolling his carpets on the floor of the shop, she and Mehdi knew they were in the company of a great new talent.  They bought some of Tezcan's rugs, which, not surprisingly, found homes very quickly. And over the course of the year that followed they became increasingly impressed by his creativity. 

The next summer when Tezcan showed up again, they took him for a steak dinner at Houston's famous Taste of Texas.  Lisa who holds a Ph.D. in English literature and Mehdi who has a Ph.D in cultural anthropology found they had lots to talk about with Tezcan, who trained as a classical guitarist.  But the conversation kept circling back to his remarkable carpets. 

ART AS MUSE

While they were eating, Lisa shared with him a cell-phone photo of a painting done by a childhood friend of hers, Bryan Dubreuiel. She had bought the painting one year before and instinctively felt that it spoke in the same language as Tezcan's carpets.  Erbil agreed and asked Bryan's permission to use it as the basis of a carpet design.

Although Tezcan made several samples,  none captured in knots what he felt Bryan had created on his canvas.  After several tries, he dropped the project and moved on to other things.  

Slappey was disappointed, but she is the first to acknowledge, "Not every great painting makes a great rug."

Over the next couple of years, Houston became a regular stop on Tezcan's U.S. tours.  Meanwhile, Lisa and Mehdi opened a sister shop, Postmodern Traditions, specifically to showcase contemporary designs like Tezcan's that complemented the traditional carpets they sold in Pride of Persia. In 2015, by which time both shops moved to the Houston Design Center, they invited Tezcan to be the keynote speaker at a special luncheon for designers that was part of their grand opening.  

 
Part of a diptych by Allan Rodewald, "Tree of Dreams" (right) inspired the popular Wool and Silk rug called "Allan's Fever."

Afterward, there was a party where Lisa introduced Tezcan to Houston artist Allan Rodewald. It was a kind of set-up, Lisa admits.  Some weeks earlier, she had seen one of Allan's paintings, "Tree of Dreams," and instinctively knew, "That's a rug!"  She felt that Tezcan should make it and was determined to have him to see it.   

From his first glimpse of it from a cell-phone photo that Allan had with him, Tezcan was hooked.  

"After the party, we went to Allan's studio and I saw the actual painting.  Immediately, I visualized it as a rug." However, instead of the abstract images of trees that Allan had painted in reverse on glass, Tezcan saw an expanding universe.  And when he transformed the painting into a carpet, he renamed it "Allan's Fever."  

 
Wool and Silk's abstract rug, Allan's Fever debuted in September 2016 at the Rug Show in New York.

"The painting had more than forty colors in it, all the colors you don't usually see next to each other.  They make a beautiful harmony.  None of the colors are standing out; there is a balance.  None of the colors are loud."

Tezcan introduced it at the 2016 New York Rug Show, and it immediately became a strong seller. 

Earlier this year, "Allan's Fever" appeared as the cover of ALIVE, the annual magazine of Anatolian rugs and carpets published by the Istanbul Carpet Exporters Association. 

ADAPTING ART FOR THE FLOOR

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Slappey, Tezcan was keeping track of the paintings that her friend Bryan Dubreuiel was posting on his FaceBook page.  From the earlier failed attempt to make a carpet from the artist's painting, Tezcan recognized something in Dubreuiel's work that spoke to him, much as Slappey had sensed years before.

Lisa and Bryan had known each other since first grade in an Atlanta suburb and had gone through high school together, but had lost touch over the years.  After graduation, Bryan commenced a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy, while Lisa became an academic.  He eventually moved to Round Rock near Austin, she to Houston. They found each other via FaceBook in 2009 and have been e-mailing ever since, though they have not actually met up since 1987.

About a year ago when Bryan posted a painting he called "The Beautiful People" on FaceBook, Tezcan immediately contacted him to ask if he could use it for a carpet.  

 
Wool and Silk displays its rug, the "Beautiful People," at Domotex in January and The Rug Show Los Angeles for its U.S. debut.
 
It shows a group of a half-dozen abstract figures. Bryan says that he had thought about the image for a long time before he started working on it.  It did not conform to the kind of work he had been doing.  

"I could see it in my head, but had to figure out how to put it on canvas," he says.  "I wanted to represent the way I saw all of the people of the world, no matter your heritage, your race, your wealth your upbringing -- we are all one and we are beautiful people, no matter the scars, the history, the trials and tribulations.  We are all special."

He worked on the painting for about six months, layering on acrylic paint in what he calls the "sfumato" method, blurring the rich, bold, flowing colors, building them up into a highly textured finish.

"Once the last brush stroke hit, I knew it was done," Bryan says, "and I knew than that it deserved the title that I had chosen so long ago.  All of my work has had meaning for me, but this one is special.  I want to provide spirit, or lift someone."

 
The Beautiful People, an acrylic on canvas work by Round Rock, Texas-based contemporary abstract painter Bryan Dubreuiel, inspired a Wool and Silk rug by the same name.
 
Tezcan liked it because "it is colorful, abstract. You can see the people in it. Very playful.  But I was not sure about the black.  It was too much contrast with the other colors. So I did some adjustments and replaced it with some different colors.  The people do not now stand out so much; they became like the characters hidden in it.  I worked on it for about three weeks.  It still looks like the painting.  It has the same name as the painting, but it is a rug with the sharp transitions now softened."

Its appearance at DOMOTEX was its introduction to the world.  It had arrived in Germany from Nepal where it was made just a few days before the show. Tezcan did not even have chance to photograph it or put it on his website. As soon as he saw the finished carpet, however, he knew that "The Beautiful People" deserved pride of place at the entry to his exhibition area.

LEARNING THE RUG BUSINESS

Tezcan's journey to carpets was indirect.  Born and raised in Ankara, he had never been involved in carpets in Turkey.  Rather, he studied music, majoring in classical guitar.  "I played everything from flamenco to Bach," he says.  "I came to the U.S. to further my musical education, and took a job at Woven Legends in Philadelphia to help pay my bills."

"I started as the shipping and receiving person, opening and closing the rugs," he says with a laugh.

After a year, he was offered a sales job at the Einstein-Moomjy carpet company.  Though he had had no sales experience, he became, after two and half years, the company's top oriental rug seller from a sales force of 35 spread across five locations.  That led to his being promoted to rug manager, and soon after to becoming a buyer.  That required him to manage production overseas and gave him his first opportunities to be a designer.

"In a job like that, you have lots of responsibilities," he says.  "You design, but you have to do it very quickly."

After 14 years with Einstein-Moomjy, he left in 2009 to dedicate himself full time to start his own firm, Wool & Silk. He had also come to accept that his dream of becoming a professional musician was not going to happen.

"I love music," he reminisces. "I still play when I can, but there is a certain level of talent you need to be a world-class performer.  Everybody is gifted in some way, and I found my gift in designing.  And now I am one of the luckiest people in the world because I love what I do."

That said, he does not consider himself a designer.  "No, because I am not really designing or creating.  I don't make anything from nothing. I see myself as a translator.  I see an image, and immediately I translate it in my head to be a finished looking rug.  Sometimes it takes me three or four days, or three or four weeks.  Maybe I see what other people don't see, but my brain works differently.  

"It's a gift, and sometimes it's a curse.  Wherever I go, it never stops.  I can be watching a movie and in the background I see a wallpaper for two seconds, and I know that is a new rug.  If I go to dinner with my wife, Danielle, we have been married for 25 years and I am so happy to be with her, but I can't help myself if I see a painting on the wall or a pattern in the tablecloth; I am already thinking about it as a rug."

 
A photograph by Art Wolfe entitled, "Stacked boats, Lake Baikal, Russia" with upended boats stored for the winter. Its abstract pattern of pastel colors triggered the idea for Erbil Tezcan's "Summit" rug..
 
Things come out of his brain sometimes looking entirely differently from how they went in.  A photo by noted Seattle nature photographer Art Wolfe of boats upside-down for winter beside a frozen lake in Siberia emerged as a rug looking like the Himalaya Mountains covered with snow.  Tezcan titled it "Summit."  And it won a DOMOTEX Carpet Design Award for 2017 (Read full story.)
 
 
Posing with the Summit rug, Lisa Slappey of Houston's Pride of Persia and Postmodern Traditions carpet stores has been instrumental in connecting Wool and Silk with Texas artists.

He and his 24-year-old son Anka are now making their own photos.  "We are taking images on the weekends," Erbil says, "and translating them to rugs.  We don't sleep. We have to be working all the time.  The market changes all the time.  If you close your eyes, you are out of business."

Many of his rugs have been big sellers, especially across the U.S.

"Not everything we make is successful, however," he states.  "We have some rugs that are beautiful, but they do not translate to everyday use."

Designer Erbil Tezcan beat out the competition with Summit, which won the Best Modern Design Deluxe category at the 2017 Carpet Design Awards. 

STARRING AT THE SMITHSONIAN

The History Rug, Wool and Silk's contemporary take on the rugs of Afghanistan, combines motifs from 20 different Afghani carpets.  

Recently, he learned that five carpets of his that have been on display at the Smithsonian Institution for the past 18 months have had their time there extended until September 2017.  The exhibition of Afghan-made handicraft in which they are the centerpiece was set to close in late January, but has proven very popular (Read full story). 
 
One of the rugs, a 16'-x-20' that interweaves elements from traditional Afghan carpets took him six weeks to design, working non-stop eight-hour days.  He and his former Woven Legends colleague, Bulent Ozoznan, selected the motifs from 20 Afghan carpets, then, as Tezcan says, "I put my touch on it. It had to have history.  It had to be interesting.  And it had to be beautiful."  It is, he says, "a masterpiece."

"Many people have asked me to make copies of that.  I will not.  There will be only one.  In one hundred years, it will be priceless.  It is impossible to copy.  It is very complicated with the colors shifting back and forth.  If they want to go crazy, they can try," he laughs. 
 
By contrast, "The Beautiful People" is in full production and promises to be one of his next big successes. -- Stephen Landrigan/special to RugNews.com
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