Tools of the trade
With his show Implement, artist Conrad Hicks explores the role beauty has played in human evolution
Conrad Hicks’ upcoming solo exhibition, Implement, is the culmination of a quest for beauty that the artist traces back to the origins of mankind. A deeply philosophical artist who has long immersed himself in evolution and anthropology, Hicks’ work is extremely labour-intensive, necessitating a physicality through which he channels his themes. Often starting without a clear idea of where the work will end up, Hicks finds that through the process of cutting, pressing, heating, hammering and stretching metal, he discovers a language that calls to mind ancient art forms.
“I see this as a distinctly African 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. The new collection of hand-forged metal furniture and sculpture bears his signature hammered marks and biomorphic forms.
Conrad draws parallels between his process and what drove the earliest tool-makers. “It is the pursuit of beauty, not technology, that has driven our evolution as humans. That beauty that we pursue is actually an engineering choice, intuitively made,” he says. “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,” Hicks says.
Hicks’ sculptural practice has developed alongside his work as a creator of utilitarian tools like knives, pans and blacksmithing equipment, and his studio at The Bijou, an old Art Deco cinema in Observatory, houses a sizable collection.
Implement will run at Southern Guild from 24 May until 17 July. Some of these items will form part of an installation recreating elements 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.