The Carlington Summit

An artist who has created an oasis of beauty in Carlington is slowly gaining the appreciation he deserves in Ottawa, where he moved for love in 1990 after a high-profile career in Victoria.

People who have strolled past Ali Hossein's sculpture garden on Shillington at the corner of Sheridan are only able to appreciate half his artistic gift. The strong limestone faces scattered among his perennials are the large-scale works he creates in spring and summer. As the weather cools, Mr. Hossein will move indoors.

"The climate generates a rhythm," says Mr. Hossein. "In the wintertime I put together my collages of recycled items and my painting. Even the paintings are actually sculptural."

One recent theme uses cocoa nuts -- Lee Valley's catalog calls them "vegetable ivory" -- carved into faces atop garage-sale household items that share a tall, thin shape: salt shakers, cruets, bud vases. The result (for a non-art critic) is like a whimsical chess set.

Whimsy returns in many other places around the art-filled home Mr. Hossein shares with his wife Anna. There's the "radical shrine" inscribed with names like Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi and Che Guevara. There is a twentieth-century fossils series with keys, hasps, transistors and silicon chips embedded in the kind of sandstone surfaces where you'd expect prehistoric fossils. Coconuts with metal ornaments "are influenced by the piercings the kids are doing these days, yet it's also a tribute to my grandmother and her culture of nose rings."

Originally from Trinidad, Mr. Hossein began carving clay Buddhas under the instruction of a Hindu priest. Moving to Canada as a young man in 1969, he studied drawing, sculpting and art history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

"In B.C. I used the wood because there is so much good stuff available. There were a lot of natural themes, birds and whales. My abstract work then evolved as a different way of depicting nature. To me, it's realism: I get inspired by the shapes I see in nature."

Here in the East, the wide variety of fine stone has led him to creations in limestone, marble, alabaster and granite. If you look closely at some of the limestone, you'll see where it was cut and shaped years ago: it is recycled from an old church in Hull that burned. Most of his marble pieces contain cylindrical holes: that's because he scavenged them from a friend who uses a coring machine to drill out marble beer mugs.

"Part of my concept is that I like to leave some of the original material so that it shows some of the history," says Mr. Hossein. "The old parts are just as valid. It's a matter of respecting what's already there."

It has been hard to make his name all over again in a new city since Mr. Hossein moved here in 1990 (and to Carlington about four years ago). "Moving when you're established is hard. Coming here, I dropped my prices because I'm totally unknown. I hope the people who paid a lot of money for my work in Victoria don't find out!...Fortunately, our new neighbours have really made it comfortable for us here."

He also appreciates the freedom he has to create art in his yard in Carlington. "If I lived in Rockcliffe -- not that I could afford it -- do you think I could create like this? Even my clients in Kanata have to hide my stuff inside their houses. They have to be prim and proper and just like everybody else on the outside."

"I've always wanted my own sculpture garden," says Mr. Hossein. "I'm mainly doing it for myself, but I'm happy to share it with the community." Admirers of his strong faces, with their echoes of Easter Island or perhaps the Haida art of Bill Reid, will look forward to the evolution of the maple tree at Mr. Hossein's gate. A victim of the ice storm, the tall stump will gradually take on a new life as a very public carving.

You can view a wider variety of Mr. Hossein's art each spring at Glebe's Art in the Park event, or drop a note at his door to get invited to his next show. These days, he prefers to meet his clients rather than letting a gallery act as go-between. As a result, he gets many repeat commissions from private collectors all over the world.

Fortunately for residents of Carlington, you don't have to be a collector to enjoy some of Ali Hossein's loveliest work. Just pause as you walk past our very own sculpture garden.

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