THE suburb of Chapman is home to one of Canberra’s most unusual artists.
Upali Kariyawasam makes giant sculptures out of concrete.
His garden is littered with dozens of larger-than-life depictions of lions, an elephant, kangaroo, giraffe, a gecko and even a mermaid.
It all started when lockdown left Sri Lankan born Kariyawasam – a retired executive chef – with an abundance of leisure time.
“I had time on my hands, so I thought I’d put it to good use,” he said.
The 75-year-old grandfather has made about 35 sculptures that he’s placed in his backyard.
A giant octopus sits on top of his garden shed and a dolphin overlooks his swimming pool.
There’s a statue of cricket legend Don Bradman, and a bust of Kariyawasam’s late father.
“It’s like a museum here,” he chuckled.
“I do lots of mad things that other people don’t do.”
And some other examples of his concrete creations. Photo: Belinda Strahorn
Kariyawasam, a former master chef at London’s Grosvenor Hotel, uses concrete and hessian to create his artworks.
Each sculpture takes between 10 and 15 hours to make.
Kariyawasam does not use plans or drawings and works only from memory. He hasn’t made a mistake yet.
“I make the sculptures from scratch,” he said.
“I use chicken wire to make the shape, then I mix the concrete and dip the hessian into it and mould it over the shape, and then I paint it.”
The ex-chef, who specialised in European cuisine, draws on his experience in butter and ice carving, a craft which he learnt in London.
“When I worked at the Grosvenor Hotel I used to watch one of the Japanese chefs carve sculptures from ice,” said Kariyawasam.
“I would sit in the cool room and watch him, and I later learnt how to do it myself.
“Ice carving is a specialised craft and you only have a limited time to complete the carving.”
When Kariyawasam moved to Canberra in the 1980s he took up a role as executive chef at the Country Comfort Motel on Northbourne Avenue.
Some years later, he opened his own restaurant in Phillip.
More recently he was a chef at Rydges, following which he took a position with the Australian Defence Force Academy as a chef.
“About 10 years ago I was asked to carve a giant Viking out of butter for the opening of the Tuggeranong Vikings Club,” said Kariyawasam.
“That was good fun.”
Kariyawasam’s garden is a treasure trove of creativity.
His water tank is painted to resemble an aquarium, there are fish ponds everywhere, and a badminton court in the front garden.
“I made the badminton court myself,” Kariyawasam said.
“I have also made about 200 pots for my plants and I have about 50 varieties of flowers and vegetables.
“My backyard is really attractive and my garden is fantastic as well.”
The taekwondo enthusiast doesn’t sell his sculptures and has no plans to stop sculpting.
“My kids love what I do and my grandkids love it, too,” said Kariyawasam.
“Anyone is welcome to visit, and I can give people a demonstration on how to sculpt.”
Anyone wishing to see the sculptures should email firstname.lastname@example.org
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