Born in Ireland in 1903, Kavanagh was in an accident which resulted in him being bedridden for three years. During this time he took up modelling in clay, which prompted his education in art. He studied Art and then received a scholarship to the Royal College of Art and trained there until 1930, where he received a prize to study abroad in Rome. He studied and exhibited in Rome and Venice for several years before returning to his College at Leeds and gaining the position of Head of Department of Sculpture and Modelling. He came to Auckland years later in 1951 where he was appointed Senior Lecturer in Sculpture at Elam School of Fine Arts, where he continued to teach until he retired.