Conrad Hicks has forged a great career as a sculptor
Striking while the iron is hot would be a fitting strapline to Conrad Hicks' life. As a master blacksmith he has been beating the shape out of metal for close to three decades.
Hicks, 51, graduated with distinction in Art and Design in 1986 from the Cape Technikon. He has created a diverse body of work, from furniture to architectural art, drawings and utensils. His greatest passion is sculpture.
His forge is located in The Bijou, an old cinema and a landmark Art Deco building that he owns in Observatory, Cape Town. The cavernous space smells like lit sparklers and is stacked with the paraphernalia of the trade and piles of steel rods awaiting metamorphosis.
The way a sculpture evolves from its genesis to completion is like metallurgical choreography, a shifting of shapes until the visual outcome complements the brief and what the artist has seen in his or her mind's eye. "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free," was how Michelangelo put it.
Whether marble or metal, there is a thing of beauty hidden in the raw material, and it takes a craftsman with unique skill to bring it forth.
Hicks's sculptures are his tools of communication - "they speak their own language", he says. Whether it's the Stoomtrekker Mutant Vehicle at AfrikaBurn, the spiral staircase at Tokara Wine Estate, an installation on the 2010 Fan Walk or sculpted interiors, his creations transcend function and stimulate conversation.
A traditionalist, Conrad specialises in hand-forging where wrought iron is heated and softened in a forge furnace, then laid on an anvil and hammered into context.
On the day we visited his smithy, Hicks was putting the finishing touches on to a deep champagne bowl with a rim that undulated like an oyster shell, made from copper. The outside was a thermal palette of blues and greens and the inside the most perfect shade of salmon pink, buffed to a high shine.
At the time of writing this, Hicks was in Big Sky, Montana, installing a private commission on a country estate, a spiny copper structure planted harmoniously against a row of pines.
Hicks enjoys the nuances and versatility of copper, as does his son Leo, 19, who has produced his own exceptional range of spoons, bowls and forged frying pans under The Tool Room brand.
Conrad Hicks is a metallurgical shape shifter. "My pieces are tools that communicate my artistic investigation - this is the essence of my art."
• Follow on Hicks Instagram.
• 'Industry' featuring work by Conrad Hicks, Philippe Bousquet, Dokter and Misses, and Xandre Kriel, launches today at Southern Guild in Johannesburg. The exhibition runs until December 15.
• This article was first published in The Times