An artist's extraordinary journey from building his own toys in rural Syria to conceiving a new spire for one of Cambridge's biggest churches will be recounted in a talk this week.

Issam Kourbaj will be recounting his journey as an artist in a lecture this week at Christ's College, where he is artist in residence. His talk will cover his long journey from Syria to Cambridge and the influences that the various stops have had on his work.

Kourbaj grew up in Southern Syria, eventually moving to Damascus, and displaying his work at the Soviet Cultural Centre there. His pictures were spotted by the Russian Ambassador, who offered him a chance to study in Moscow. His artistic career has since taken him across the world, from Azerbaijan to Mexico, and his work is in the British Museum's collection.

He will also discuss the journey that his studio has made around Cambridge and his various works, which have included his cannibalisation and reinterpretation of X-ray plates, bentwood chairs and all 10,000 pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Such reuse has seen him transform zinc printing plates into sculptures using scoring and acid baths, then embossing paper with them to create novel surfaces for his sketches. The work, / -, was in tribute to his teacher, Fateh Moudarres, one of the most influential Syrian painters of the 20th Century and a co-exhibitor with Picasso.

Much of his work has been concerned with the use of optics and light in creating works of art. He first became interested in this area when, in his studio attic, he discovered a knothole in a boarded-up window, which projected a live image of the street outside onto the ceiling.

This led him to look at the Camera Obscura, a device for projecting images through a small opening, usually a pinhole or a lens, and this formed an Open Studio exhibit in 2004, relying solely on light-sources, lenses and mirrors.

He also revived plans, first developed 400 years ago by the then Vice-Chancellor of the University, to place a spire atop Great St Mary's Church and hoped to mount a Camera Obscura there, projecting a continuously moving image into the chamber.

Amongst other projects, he held a joint exhibition in November 2000 with his three year old son Mourad. Inspired by the unrestricted creativity of his son's first efforts at painting, he was encouraged to revisit his own childhood.

Their exhibition, is / am, featured abstract works, painted on old book covers instead of canvasses, alongside representations of memories from Kourbaj's youth, including snarling cats, impossible machinery and upside-down trees.

He has run many workshops and events for the University, including workshops combining astronomy and art at the Institute of Astronomy, and combining art and other sciences at Kettle's Yard, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Botanic Garden, a frequent place of inspiration for him.

The talk, entitled My Journey as an Artist, is free and open to all. It will take place on Wednesday 13 February at 5.30 pm in the Lloyd Room at Christ's College. Slides of his work will be shown to illustrate the talk.

Members of Trinity Hall will also have the chance to hear the talk as one of the McMenemy seminars. Issam Kourbaj will be speaking there on Wednesday 20 February at 6.15pm in the Leslie Stephen Room.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.