“Most of the things that we have created have been made by the substances extracted and excerpted from nature, following the shapes and forms of nature. Therefore, I see ‘nature’ in everything. As an assemblage artist or a sculptor, I assemble various parts of those objects to re-create nature, let it be a tree, an animal or an insect. Simply, it is like I reverse the first phenomenon” Bhashith Ranaweera shared with CeylonToday, in answering the question, what, actually, does he do.

Bhashith, now bringing forth astounding metallic sculptors, is an assemblage artist. Having gotten his degree from the University of Visual and Performing Arts, Sri Lanka, Bhashith has chosen sculpting as his way of life and, of course, he has mastered the art of assemblage sculpture. Thus, we reached out to him, with the aim of sharing his views and thoughts.

Starting randomly

Born in the Polgahawela area, Bhashith attended the Poramadala Primary School before getting admission to the Mayurapada Central College, Narammala, through the grade 5 scholarship examination and passing with flying colours. “Since I did art for A/Ls, I applied and got selected for the University of Visual and Performing Arts. That’s where I learnt to do what I do” Bhashith briefed us about his journey to university.

“True, I had done some art works, basically sculptures, even before I entered the university. Once I got in however, I was exposed to many forms of art as well as sculptures. I was fascinated by an assemblage sculpture which had been done by a senior student at the faculty. It inspired me to look further into the subject, do research and try to create my own pieces of art” he shared. “I don’t know where I actually got this passion for art, especially sculptures. I haven’t had a family background of art. Neither my father nor mother was engaged in professions that had anything to do with art. Perhaps, sometimes I wonder, it could be a practice from my previous birth.”

Assemblage art

Speaking to us, Bhashith shared in detail, the form of art that he is practicing. “As we know, sculptures are fundamentally made by following two methods; carving and modelling. Most of the famous sculptures in the world fall under those two methods. What I do is quite different from them, because I make sculptures using various parts of other readily made objects, and it is called Assemblage.” 

Assemblage is an artistic form or medium usually created on a defined substrate that consists of three-dimensional elements projecting out of or from the substrate. It is similar to collage, a two-dimensional medium. It is part of the visual arts and it typically uses found objects, but is not limited to these materials.

“The origin of this art form, as I recall, runs back to the times of Pablo Picasso. He, who was a Spanish artist, has constructed a bull’s head by using a bicycle seat and the handle kept upon it. It developed as a distinguished form of art since then, and at present, assemblage art has received much recognition from the world. There are great assemblage artists,” he said.

Seeking happiness

“Many ask me why I don’t go for a better profession than being a sculptor, because I am a graduate. Perhaps, their definitions of ‘better’ are different from mine. For me, a better job is a job which gives you happiness and self-contentment at the end of the day, and this is the very job that gives that to me. So I don’t look any further than this job,” Bhashith shared his philosophy of life.

Mending the metals

As Bhashith mentions, he is dealing not with soft artistic materials but with heavy, tough metals, be it iron, copper or aluminium or whatever. It demands a special talent to give birth to art from these rough metallic parts. “Metals have played and are still paying a significant part in human civilisation since it was first found. Extracting metals from the earth is like extracting some fraction of nature. It contains the energies of the universe. Therefore, there’s always a flow in metal. You need the ability to see that flow and how parts of metals fit with others,” he shared.

“I don’t know how it happens but when I see various parts of metals, I mentally picture how they would fit with each other, to form the design or the image that I want to make. There’s a beautiful rhythm in each iron rod, copper plate and bolt and nut. Once you start to sense that rhythm there’s nothing very hard or difficult in this.”

From small to bigger

Bhashith creates assemblage sculptures of varying sizes by using different and various metal parts. “I basically use waste metals and parts removed from old vehicles and so. Nonetheless, there are instances when I have to purchase new metal parts in doing certain sculptures that have different and unique shapes.”

“My first large project was the sculpture of the eagle that I made with spark plugs. It is installed in Panchikawaththa. I did that as an inexperienced sculptor, while I was studying in my third year in the university. It brought me much recognition and fame. True, that I now, as a professional sculptor, find several areas that could have been done better, but still I am proud to say that I made it” he added. “Indeed, I would like to make this an opportunity to thank all the seniors, and lecturers and everyone else who had my back during that time.”

Starting from there, Bhashith has made sculptures for so many government as well as private institutions. His works hold out a high market value. He especially noted that didn’t he charge even a rupee for the sculptures he did for the Forces.

Battling through challenges    

According to Bhashith, Sri Lanka is not still very receptive towards assemblage art. There are only about 10 artists who practice assemblage art, and they also face various issues. One major challenge is the copyright issue. “As visual artists, we don’t get the same recognition like performing artists, because it is the sculpture that the people see, not us. Therefore, in many cases people don’t even know who the sculptor is. For instance, just see what a small number of people know the sculptor of the great Avukana Statue; only a few. Nevertheless, almost the whole country knows the statue itself. This is the same experience that we also face. The issue is, some parties, taking advantage of this situation, copy our creations and claim ownership to the concepts. I myself have faced such several circumstances. It is really frustrating.”

The economic crisis has given artists another common challenge to confront. “I have gathered a crowd, who appreciate art and see the beauty in my sculptures. Thus, my works do have a good market and I am grateful for that. Unfortunately, with the ongoing economic crisis, things have taken a rough turn. All the raw materials have soaring prices due to this inflation rate. Now, they are like three times more expensive than they used to be. That means, the price of a sculpture also goes up by three times automatically. But we can’t demand that rate from our customers. So, both parties are helpless in this situation” Bhashith pointed out.

“Also, there are instances where some clients do not pay the total amount they agreed for the sculpture, once the product is delivered. Many artists face difficulties due to that issue,” he noted. “We, as an association of assemblage artists, are trying to find solutions for these issues, but we would appreciate if the relevant authorities also step in to resolve them,” he requested.

A word of wisdom for the aspiring sculptors

Bhashith shared a piece of advice to anyone who is willing to take on assemblage art. “My advice to anyone who is trying to practice assemblage art, or any type of art, is to never lose your thirst for knowledge. Always search for new trends and styles of art in the world. Every day, I search and learn the art of famous artists in the world. In fact, the whole world has come to your finger tip now, with the advancement of modern technology” he shared.

“Also, take the maximum advantage of social media. It is a great market place for your works. I have personally noticed that there is a crowd with sense of art and aesthetics, who could afford expensive art, on social media. Above all, be true to yourself” he furthered.

Moreover, Bhashith mentioned that he is happy to assist and share knowledge with any aspiring assemblage artist and welcomes anyone who wants to connect with him if they need help with regards to art.

By Induwara Athapattu