Mark Ranasinghe recently turned his hand to polystyrene Oscar statues, which is timely given that the 90th Academy Awards are mere days away, but if he had to choose he would prefer to be known as an ice sculptor – an understated description, considering he is so much more than just that.
Ranasinghe has spent decades creating intricate, mind-blowing pieces of art that are achingly temporary: statues and scenes made from ice, styrofoam, salt dough, sugar paste, marzipan, cloth, glitter paint, sand, butter, and even watermelons and pumpkins. If he can mould, chisel or hack away at it with some kind of tool, including an electric saw, then Ranasinghe will use it to make art.
"It's always been a passion to see what I can create and out of what," says the 50-year-old Sri Lankan, who has been living in Dubai for almost 22 years. "I've always loved art, but I didn't want to limit myself to only one type of art or just one medium. And I wanted to make sure I was always learning new things, so I had to find a way to incorporate all that."
His Oscars art
He is often described as a food artist, which is understandable considering ice sculpting is today part of the culinary arts, with many sculptors learning the craft in culinary schools, hand-in-hand with fruit and vegetable carving. Carving styrofoam into pieces of art is a whole new ball game for him, however.
Earlier this month, he delivered four giant Oscar statues to Atlantis, The Palm, for a private event. It took him five days to create the gold statuettes, each of which measured more than two-and-a-half metres tall. Made from extruded polystyrene, the statues started out as huge blocks that Ranasinghe carved and shaped, before coating them in special material to be able to work on them, then polish and finally varnish them.
"It's a long process, there's quite a few steps involved," he says. "Working with styrofoam is so much more time consuming than ice."
His other work
Ranasinghe previously worked in advertising, as a graphic designer. "What I always wanted, though, was to work in hotels," he says.
He pursued his dream and ventured into the hospitality industry, starting off in hotels in his home country before moving to Bahrain, Egypt and eventually, Dubai.
“Hotels have resident artists on hand, sure,” he says. “We’re the ones that create all the culinary art in the elaborate buffets. In the beginning, I just started messing around with ice carvings – I’d get a block of ice and spend hours on it. I’d practice. Just to see what I can make.”
From flowers carved from watermelons to ice sculptures to fit an event or theme, Ranasinghe has done it all, training himself and learning through trial and error to become something of an artistic genius in culinary circles. He has won a total of eight gold medals at the Culinary Olympics held in Germany every four years, and has participated in a number of international culinary arts competitions.
Five years ago, he left the hospitality industry to launch Impulse Creations, an ice-sculpting and event-decorating company. If you are in the market for a lounge made from ice, an ice luge, an ice sculpture of any size, a table centrepiece made from an unexpected material, a live ice carving, a live painting performance using sand or glitter paint, or perhaps even a 3-D sculpture made from styrofoam, Ranasinghe is your man.
In 2015, he created an edible Dubai skyline using only breakfast waffles. To celebrate the Hilton Garden Inn entering the UAE, his company was hired to create the sculpture, made from 1,500 waffles and measuring three by four metres. It took Ranasinghe almost 40 hours to make and comprised eight landmarks in the city, including the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and Emirates Towers.
"Oh yeah, I remember that one," he says. "That one was fun. It wasn't too hard. I still think my favourite is to work with ice."
He uses chainsaws, handsaws, hair dryers, irons and chisels to carve his ice sculptures, usually working with his team of four to five trainee artists in ultra-cold environments, such as a large walk-in freezer, to guard against melting. Some of the bigger ice sculptures he works on can take up to four days to create, and after all that work, melt into a puddle in a matter of hours. Doesn't it bother him that they are so temporary?
"That's OK. I am still satisfied with what I created, and it still brings joy," he says. "If it made just one person stop to stare at the details and show awe at what I've created, then the mission is complete."
Transforming something mundane into something beautiful and elegant is what drives him. "It's no different than an artist who paints a piece then sells it. He will never see it again anyway," he says. "We do not make art to hold on to it. We make it to create beauty for others, even if temporary, and we move on to the next piece."
For more information on Impulse Creations, visit www.impulsecreationdxb.com