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Giuseppe Bulzis uses his skills in hair to create abstract clay sculptures, which are as much an escape from hair as a tribute to it. The London hairdresser and artist has shown his pieces at galleries including the Royal Academy of Arts. While his artworks firmly inhabit the realm of fine art, the theme of hair is always present in some form.

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Giuseppe Bulzis next to one of his pieces

Bulzis, who is based at Windle & Moodie, had been working in the world of hair for 25 years when he first started making sculptures, during a period of feeling uninspired in his work. “Basically, I wasn’t doing that much session work, I don’t think my heart was completely in it any more,” Bulzis explains. “Instead I would find myself going into my kitchen and making pieces, trying them on dolly heads and mannequins and finding myself much more involved. Because there was no client, no shoot, no stylist or photographer…”

Together with a friend, Bulzis took on a studio in East London in which to experiment. “It was cheap as chips at the time,” he says, “I loved it; opening the door, putting some music on and just getting stuck in”. He started working with air drying clay, using it to craft unique headpieces. “A lot of the properties of hair and clay are the same,”  he explains, “you manipulate hair when it’s wet, then when it dries it’s got limited use. It’s the same with clay. The real beauty is that you can let it dry and then scrape it off and start again. If you tried that with a client’s fringe there would to be some tears! “

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“After doing hair for 25 years, it was initially hard to shift my perspective, because I love the job so much. But at the same time it felt natural to look at another medium, which had the same kind of language as hair”
Giuseppe Bulzis
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How did you first start working with clay? At first my studio was full of dolly heads and other bits and pieces, but then slowly they were getting pushed aside and I found myself looking for something new to work on. I bought some clay, got some old hairdressing scissors and literally started trying to do haircuts into the clay. After doing hair for 25 years, it was initially hard to shift my perspective, because I love the job so much. But at the same time it felt natural to look at another medium, which had the same kind of language as hair.

Then I started using a kitchen knife to literally sculpt and carve shapes out. It was almost like a breakthrough, it felt self-indulgent; I did whatever I wanted, no one was going to shoot it, it was just for me. It felt like discovering hairdressing again – but using a completely different medium. Next thing you know your social life starts to evaporate and everything starts revolving around this new thing!

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Your head sculptures have very elaborate and distinctive hairstyles. Can you tell us a bit about the inspirations behind them? The first pieces were a series that I called ‘Past and Present’ (below). They had these structured lines to it, which is your foundation when you learn to cut hair. In a way I went right back to the beginning, carving out these strong, geometric shapes which are quite Sassoon-like. They weren’t exact replicas of the Sassoon shapes, but they were strongly influenced by them, and by the training which is still used in hairdressing today – you learn your 7 or 8 cuts and they form the basis for the other 50 or so that you do, which are really just interpretations.

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‘Past and Present’
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Detail, ‘Past and Present’
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‘Past and Present’
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Detail, ‘Past and Present’

A theme I explored was hair under a microscope – the medulla, the cortex and the cuticle – all the detail that we don’t get to see as hairdressers, but all know about. My idea was to go a little deeper into the hair itself and use that as inspiration. I started mixing inks and acrylic paints into the clay, trying to get it as close as I could to resembling hair, while at the same time leaving it quite mysterious for the viewer. When you look closely there’s this marbling effect which, once you sand and varnish it, really brings out the colours. It’s almost like veins of colour running through it.

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“A theme I explored was hair under a microscope - the medulla, the cortex and the cuticle - all the detail that we don’t get to see as hairdressers. My idea was to go a little deeper into the hair itself and use that as inspiration”
Giuseppe Bulzis
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Are the pieces fired? For now, no, they’re unfired. I work with air drying clay but make it really thick. I like to work quite organically with the clay, using thick pieces, allow it to dry, and then use a sanding machine, before applying six, or even seven, coats of varnish. I really try to build up that protection because the material itself is very fragile.

The heads of your pieces are very abstract. On one hand they resemble something recognisable – a human face – but they can also be interpreted as inanimate shapes. Is that relevant? Yeah I think that’s important to pick up on. As hairdressers we all have techniques, but fundamentally it’s the outcome that’s important. Some clients like to understand why you’re cutting a certain way, and have things explained in depth, but mostly the client really doesn’t care if you’re putting hair up at 34 or 37 degrees. What’s important is – does it look good? Is that shape done well, is it suitable? But those things were thrown out the window when I started this project, removing the human aspect to my work with limitless possibilities. The heads I had made for me are featureless, a way to recreate my own narrative piece by piece. That’s why I specifically chose very contemporary, elongated head supports. There was no limit, no nose or ear that I needed to cut around. I can put any shape I want onto the head, and the pieces become lifelike within their own space. Whereas with a client, it’s very much them that makes their haircut, because of their look, their bone structure… it’s an extension of them.

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Credits

Interview Emma de Clercq
Images Panos Damaskinidis
Special Thanks Giuseppe Bulzis

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