Conrad Hicks is an artist, blacksmith and tool-maker in Cape Town. He specialises in hand-forged metal work, using only traditional blacksmithing jointing methods as he believes these are essential to the symbolic meaning of the finished form.
Born in Cape Town in 1966, Hicks studied sculpture at the Cape Technikon and graduated with a distinction in 1986. He worked in the art and restoration field in London initially, but was drawn to blacksmithing by his interest in the discipline of doing a ‘craft’. In 1991, he opened his forge workshop in Cape Town – today housed in The Bijou, an old Art Deco cinema in Observatory, which he bought and began restoring in 1998.
Hicks sees his artistic practice as an instinctive search for beauty. Working intuitively, he allows his materials and labour-intensive process to determine the final form. In the process of cutting, pressing, heating, hammering and stretching metal, he discovers an archetypal language that calls to mind ancient art forms.
His commissioned work has included gates, screens and sculptural installations for well-known Cape Town landmarks and public venues, such as Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Tokara Winery, Ellerman House and the 2010 World Cup Hero Walk, as well as for private residences in South Africa, the US and Switzerland.
For the past 10 years, Hicks’ work has evolved to focus more on sculpture and one-off collectible pieces. He has exhibited with Southern Guild since 2013, when he was included in the influential Heavy Metal show at the Bronze Age Foundry in Woodstock. Since then he has shown to international audiences with the gallery at design fairs such as Design Miami/ Basel, Design Days Dubai and Collective 1 in New York.
His first solo with the gallery, titled Implement, took place in 2019, and featured a collection of hand-forged metal furniture and sculpture ripple with a primal energy, captured in the hammered marks and archetypal forms that define his oeuvre. His second solo show, Cu, opened in December 2021, comprising a series of curvilinear sculptures mounted to the wall and standing on plinths, all made entirely of copper (whose chemical symbol reflected in the exhibition name). Copper is an unusual choice of material for a blacksmith in that it lacks the structural strength of steel and iron, yet its malleability and lustre imbue it with great expressive potential.
Expressive and highly textured, his pieces have an intimate connection with nature, even as many veer towards abstraction. For example, his Wife? Bench and the No. 2 From Maquette Series side-table retain a charged, animal-like energy, while other pieces – such as Chaise Muse and Copper Chaise – are more ethereal, the copper beaten so thin it appears to float.
All of his work, from the most functional to the most purely sculptural, he sees as tools. He explains: “A blacksmith is a tool-maker: Whether the tool is used to cut or to communicate, they all hold the values of our society and represent our cultural achievement and become sacred objects.”