Some very diverse elements go into the creative mix at Yasemen Hussein’s studio. There’s a mountain of electrical cable, a shelf full of 1970s copper vases retrieved from the windows of local charity shops, some heavy duty welding equipment and… a concrete mixer. “I’m inspired by mythology, the Italian renaissance and poetry,” she says. “Basically – beauty. And that could be Dolly Parton or Aubrey Beardsley.” Her work is as exuberant and fantastical as it is organic.
Hussein studied glass work in Illinois, learned “the tricks of the trade of concrete” in California and now sculpts the most intricate copper pieces imaginable in her converted stable house in south London. Her metal feathers (first picture, £1,000 per 30cm) juxtapose elegance and lightness with the heft of their source material and are commissioned to act as light fittings, or interior centrepieces of varying sizes. She has collaborated on headwear with Philip Treacy, created stagewear for Katy Perry and Will.i.am and fashioned fluid, windswept-looking metal “hairpieces” for Toni & Guy. A set of copper antlers (from £3,000), while serving more as fine art than practical fashion accessories, are conceived to be wearable, as is a painstakingly crafted metal Marie Antoinette wig (£8,500). “With these sorts of pieces, I have to have a few fittings,” she says. “The fit is very bespoke.” Her work can be finished in anything from synthetic woven hair to gold, or left raw. Often she treats the copper after it’s been sculpted so it achieves a vivid blue patina.
“Everything I do is commission-based,” says Hussein. “I can work at any scale – sometimes it’s making thousands of tiny things to make one large thing, like a gold chain piece I did with Swarovski. But I’ve also cast solid metal goats legs to act as table legs. My obsession with mythology began when I first saw a picture of Nijinsky dancing as Pan. I fell in love with the image.”
Her concrete work is particularly striking – she creates metal console tables (second picture, from £3,000) with concrete tops, which have been moulded to put a delicate lace-like relief texture into parts of their surface. In some cases, she insets petrified wood, or brightly coloured elements to resemble the swirls of traditional Japanese woodblock. “I create triptych panels of concrete (from £900),” she says. “After I’ve popped them out of the mould, I wax the surface and the colour really pops. But nothing is ever the same twice. There’s something really special about cracking each mould out, and because of the way I work, each mould can only be used once, so every piece is a total original.”