The sculptor carving Queen Elizabeth out of ice in the desert

Award-winning artist Mark Ranasinghe never stops challenging himself

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Mark Ranasinghe has been making ice sculptures for a decade, and each year his creations get more elaborate.

Once he carved a four-metre-tall Burj Khalifa outside in the UAE heat for a corporate event; then there was the time he recreated the Jeep logo, which he then hauled out across the dunes to a spot in the middle of the desert.

"With the humidity and weather, it was really challenging," Ranasinghe tells The National.

The award-winning sculptor's most recent challenge was carving a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, who he felt compelled to pay homage to after her death. Anyone can see the work at Chill Out Ice Lounge in Times Square Centre, Dubai.

Ice sculptor Mark Ranasinghe creating his image of Queen Elizabeth II. Chris Whiteoak / The National

"The queen has been such an icon in the world," he says. "I thought of doing a sculpture for her, as a show of gratitude. She was such an inspirational person."

Putting the final touches to his new creation. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The Sri Lankan citizen, who has lived in Dubai, Bahrain and Egypt for the past 20-plus years, owns a company called Impulse Creations and employs three other artists who help make the sculptures, as well as decorations, props and artworks for events.

Ranasinghe employs a team of three artists in his company, Impulse Creations. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Ranasinghe got into ice sculpting after spending years working in hospitality. He's worked in hotels by Rotana, Hilton and Habtoor in Dubai, Bahrain and Egypt.

His creations, however, have been seen across Asia, from Vietnam to Kuwait, and he's won global awards from Germany, Singapore, Dubai and Bahrain. These medals were awarded to him not only for his sculptures made of ice, but also his work in trickier mediums such as sugar and flour.

Mark Ranasinghe created ice sculptures in ice lounges in Dubai, Vietnam and Kuwait. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Ice is his favourite material, however, and he's even taught classes on how to work with it.

"Ice sculpting is similar to any other art medium, but you need a bit of patience and develop in a cold condition," he says.

Mark Ranasinghe created an under-the-sea theme for the Chill Out Ice Lounge in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

"You need to be quick as well. You can make mistakes when you’re doing it, sometimes you can adjust it, but unlike other mediums and sculptures where you can correct the mistake, sometimes in ice sculpting it is difficult. Your sculpture could collapse, like glass, it can be difficult to manage."

For anyone looking to follow in his footsteps, Ranasinghe suggests looking at ice-sculpting classes abroad, in Japan, Thailand or Europe, because there is a lack of opportunities in the Middle East.

Ice sculpting is intricate work and you can't afford to make mistakes, Ranasinghe says. Chris Whiteoak / The National

It's clearly a growing market, however, and he's planning to expand across the region, with his sights set on having a permanent presence in Saudi Arabia and Qatar next.

"I'm looking forward to expanding my sculpting to other countries."

Updated: September 16, 2022, 6:01 PM