Implement, a solo show by artist-blacksmith Conrad Hicks, will be on view at Southern Guild from 24 May until 17 July 2019. The exhibition is the culmination of Conrad’s intuitive quest for beauty that he traces back to the origins of humankind. The new collection of hand-forged metal furniture and sculpture ripples with a primal energy, captured in the hammered marks and archetypal forms that define the his oeuvre.
Conrad is a deeply philosophical artist who has long immersed himself in the history of human evolution and anthropology. His work is extremely labour-intensive, necessitating a physicality through which he channels his subconscious. He often doesn’t know what his forms will be until he starts working with the material and using his hands. In the process of cutting, pressing, heating, hammering and stretching metal, he discovers an archetypal language that calls to mind ancient art forms.
“I see this as a distinctly African and non-European, element of my work. African-made pieces often live in two worlds; one of ritual, meaning and tradition, and another of decoration and function, and I feel that my pieces are a lot like that as well. I see them as symbolic ceremonial objects, with a meaning that is perhaps more dominant than the function, or ultimately becomes that way,” he says.
Conrad draws a correlation between his process and what drove the earliest tool-makers throughout our ancestors’ history. “It is the pursuit of beauty through technology that has driven our evolution as humans. That beauty that we pursue is actually an engineering choice, intuitively made,” he says.
For the artist, beauty and relevance go hand in hand. “Relevance is that embodied beauty – it is the only reservoir of permanent value. Today’s society has lost the ability to perceive value,” he says.
Tools hold deep resonance in the study of evolution because they are evidence of Homo sapiens’ ability to think symbolically, which became our main evolutionary advantage.
“As soon as we started making them, we began changing existentially. We attributed value to the tools we made; we embellished and refined them. We made all these intuitive decisions around function, and this knowledge passed from one generation to the next. The result, over time, is that our desire to make beautiful things has become innate,” Conrad says.
His sculptural practice has developed in parallel with his work as a maker of utilitarian implements such as knives, pans and blacksmithing tools. His massive studio at The Bijou, an old Art Deco cinema in Observatory, houses a vast collection of tools and machines, many of them historic, such as a 400-year-old anvil salvaged from a scrap yard.
Some of these implements will form part of an installation recreating aspects of the artist’s studio inside the gallery. In addition, running alongside Implement at Southern Guild will be an off-site programme of studio tours and VIP events at the artist’s forge.
Conrad studied sculpture in the 1980s and worked in the art and restoration field in London. Drawn to blacksmithing by his interest in the discipline of doing a ‘craft’, he opened his forge workshop in Cape Town in 1991. He established himself as an accomplished blacksmith, which facilitated his return to, and rediscovery of, the expressive potential that comes from forging materials of steel and copper into sculpture. He has exhibited his collectible work with Southern Guild since 2013, when he was included in the influential Heavy Metal exhibition at the Bronze Age Foundry in Woodstock.
Conrad has shown to international audiences at design fairs such as Design Miami/ Basel, Design Days Dubai and Collective 1 in New York. He is responsible for many major public and private commissions, with his work appearing at Ellerman House, the Fan Walk and the Cape Quarter, all in Cape Town; at Tokara Wine Farm in Stellenbosch; and in private residences in the US and Switzerland.Artists Page