In Conversation with Usama Alnassar

We first met Alnassar back in 2015, when he came by Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School to introduce himself and propose teaching marble workshops at the Studio. Since then, he has run sold-out intensive marble carving workshops each January and it has become a highlight on the TBSSS calendar. As you likely know, Alnassar couldn’t make it to Australia this January. We very much hope he will be able to come again in 2022!

In the meantime, we thought it would be nice to share Alnassar’s story (in his own words) – his background, sculpture practice and inspirations.

My childhood was in a place that for many has become a symbol of human destruction in the past 10 years but for me it is much more; Syria was home, it was where I learned to observe and memorise an incredible variety of human cultures, conflicts, light and colours…

I like to believe that the cultural and artistic atmosphere in my family had a big effect on me and on how my life later evolved. Growing up in a family of sculptors, painters and actors opened my mind and spirit to human expressions, the gestures of love and security. My uncles and aunts gave me the most beautiful gift without knowing.

I studied painting and sculpture in the Academy in Syria then I moved to Italy to be immersed in the sculptural world of Carrara and its Academy.

White marble is big here, huge white mountains and more than 2000 years of sculpting, but I have never stopped being less interested in other mediums… in fact, a few years later after moving to Italy, I built a bronze foundry at my studio as I always wanted to transfer my feelings through the whole process until the final touches on the sculptures.

My house is in my atelier, sometimes I wonder if it is a good thing! Anyhow, I love waking up and starting my day drawing or walking around my sculptures, I am able to see and touch while I am still a bit in the dreamy unconscious mood.

I pick up marble pieces from my garden or from my neighbour’s marble quarry and often I start sculpting without having any sketch or maquette.

When I first started I was into challenging the material and sculpted difficult shapes but as soon as I was in full technical control then I turned my interest into my usual obsession: human relationships. I like observing how people react to each other and how they react to so many situations and events that happen around them. 

Usually I work on a series of works that focus on one subject at a time, like self-portraits, relationships, a charcoals series, love and gravity, barriers, people living in bubbles, the 70 or more centre of psyche, caravan wall, the theatre and more.

In the last few years I have kept working on a big monumental wall at my studio, I call it The Caravan Wall, it is 40 meters wide built with many marble blocks or rocks and has a total weight that is more than 100 tonnes. In The Caravan Wall, I am sculpting people, human luggage, digital horses… I describe what I see in our world in the last decade or more – a world that is changing. Our way of communicating has taken a different form with the use of the internet and its instruments, just like Facebook and Instagram… The digital horse has become my visual language – a symbol of high-speed transportation systems of our thoughts, anyone can travel around the world while sitting on his sofa.

The studio for an artist is their temple. Mine is my vision of good life. I have created a garden to be connected to nature and food, a sculptural area that I call the music stairs – this is where we play music, meditate, look at the stars, a temple of sculptures and I also have an amphitheatre. It is a place where people sit one in front of the other, share beauty, emotions and expression. These are the values that connect us together away from conflicts and brutality. Sometimes I’m sculpting in the centre of the theatre and I can feel the beautiful energy of good people sitting around, even in these days of isolation.”

We will be sharing more about Alnassar on the Sculpture Club Journal shortly – stay tuned!

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