This essay written by George Hirst, curator at the Perc Tucker Regional Art Gallery, Townsville for the first exhibition of my suite of works titled "Proposals" in 1990 and published in booklet "Arthur Wicks, Works 1989-92."

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PROPOSALS   townsville  1990


Returning to Townsville on his second visit, the first being in 1988, Arthur Wicks has brought his Proposals, a series of small-scale artworks that straddle the disciplines of painting and sculpture.

The Proposals mostly share a common structural element, a canvas plane that cantilevers out at right-angles from beneath its vertical counterpart.  The "stages" that are created provide a series of miniature venues for dramatic and comic productions where the props, it seems, have overwhelmed and banished the actors, successfullly claiming the stage themselves.

As a scientist knows, and Arthur Wicks was once one; elements, when combined do not simply form a mixture, but totally new and different substances called compounds.  Arthur Wicks combines physical materials and visual imagery as if they were chemical elements; so that scenic vistas, driftwood, children's toys, primitive mechanics, electrical circuitry and paint are brought together to form an intriguing new compound.

Could the new compound equal "X", the recurring symbol in Proposals?  What is "X"?  Is it algebra?  A cross?  The signature of an illiterate?  Does "X" mark the spot?  Is it a kiss or a helipad?  In Flying Sculpture Landing, three rough wooden legs affixed with aircraft wheels assemble at "X", while the 'copter blades whirl in the paint behind and a model helicopter perches remotely above.  The model is intact, complete but distant, while the legs in the foreground appear preposterous.  Moreover, they are missing their fuselage; it has been sheared right off and is nowhere to be found - a definite cause for concern!  Metaphorically, we might see the model as just that; a "model"; an ideal dreamed of, but unattainable, while the legs expose an unpalatable truth.  Whether of wood, or flesh and bone, these legs are of organic, not mechanical origin.  This might also describe a world where technology alienates and anonymously destroys its "organic" users.  Should we be surprised that these legs have been broken?  They were never really intended for such use.  Nonentheless they remain upright.  Why?  That is anyone's guess.  All we can be sure of is that they remain at "X".

Arthur Wicks brings with him a long history in conceptually based performance and installation art.  This extension of visual art, like chemistry or theatre, assimilates materials, skills and imagery into a single work or event.  The individual constructions for these events are often visually strong enough to stand alone as sculptures.  An implicit love of materials and the making process governs all his work.  In the performance "The Escape of the Solstice Voyeur",  a see-through pedal powered wooden helicopter is as much a kinetic sculpture as a prop.

In 1985, Arthur Wicks rowed his Survival Boat along the tram tracks of Swanston Street in Melbourne.  As Tony Bond observed, "the way the event looks is profoundly memorable.  Wicks is a conjurer of psychologically significant images".  His work also provides an elegant vehicle for a black but playful sense of humour.  In Littoral Zone Between High and Low Tide boats appear to be attached to ludicrously viscious, chisel-like pinnacles that rise out of what is probably a pre-cyclonic ebb tide.  In Witness for the Solstice Voyeur the ultimate in weather- beaten faces (actually a clump of painted driftwood) is equipped with a mechanical voice.  We turn a handle and it speaks from rural Australia, a clanking clunking wooden language that needs no translation.

The Proposals were made with North Queensland in mind.  Wicks admits he is "deluded by the notion of the North".  Indeed for many southern Australians, North Queensland takes on near mythic qualities especially as a southern winter sets in.  Arthur Wicks, "deluded" as he is, implicitly recognizes a tourist brochure appeal.  His palette is never far from the warm, bright and primary.  His content is however, another matter.  The darker, danker and macabre underside to the intense beauty of North Queensland draws his attention.  The poisonous fruits of some rainforest plants, the strangler figs, the seductive but deadly Boulders near Babinda.  It is this sense of covert nastiness that tempers the Proposals and gives them such a biting flavour.

As a title, Proposals suggests a set a plans or even scaled-down prototypes.  Clearly the manipulation of scale is the most noticeable artistic device in operation here.  In Landing Strip, tiny aeroplanes cling to a gnarled branch that becomes huge; arching across a space of potentially geographic proportions.  One of the simplest tricks to be played with scale is the shadows.  In many of his performances Arthur Wicks incorporates a powerful footlight to cast huge and emphatic shadows.  In Intersection a wooden cross casts a "shadow intersection".  The "intersection" becomes so real that it remains even after a low-slung light is switched on.  So real in fact that lorries rush along it to collide.  But at what point do they collide?  At point  "X" of course!

It  may be surprising to some but Arthur Wicks identifies a common source for much of what constitutes these Proposals; the theatre, the science, the organic and mechanical, the humour and most noticeably the astonishing juxtaposition of images in a relationship of scale.  The common source is a box approximately the same size as each of the Proposal pieces and found in almost every home too.  It is a TV and the only difference is that Proposals are tuned to a channel no ordinary TV  receives; that is Channel  "X".

With Wagga Wagga N.S.W. his home base, Arthur Wicks finds a rural setting ideal for his preoccupation with materials that honestly display their physical shortcomings.  There is more than a little of the bush carpenter here at work.  The use of objects that obviously have had a past, interests him.  In Antipodean Landscape and Shadows (Inhabited) Wicks releases "X" from its sculptural mooring with the aid of two lethal, nail-ridden, secondhand timber beams.  They form the "landscape" with their chrome-painted, "city slick" tawdriness; meretriciously drawing our attention to the true and honest "rural" timber beneath.  The ink drawing indicates a series of "shadows" that could be streets, but streets in danger of fading away; the cruel nails of  "X"  becoming their almost endearing inhabitants.  What then has happened?  By reaching the floor Antipodean Landscape and Shadows (Inhabited), finds  "X" the "shadow caster" revived and in a dangerous mood.  The shadows have lost power, and are becoming faint, perhaps due to their missing cantilever.  Their paper support hangs precariously and painfully from the puncturing nails of "X".  What we are witnessing can no longer be a Proposal, where mere shadows assert a life of their own.  This must be something else;  could it be the real thing?!

George Hirst 1990
Perc Tucker Regional Art Gallery, Townsville




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