Rod Wicks, born in Hamilton, Victoria, Australia in 1957. Raised in Yallourn, idyllic community of 4000 in the heart of the Latrobe Valley open cut coal mining and power generating industry. Grew up to view Yallourn as the "Hobbit Shire" surrounded by earth ripping "Orc" activity... even went to school in dreaded Morwell ("Mordor"<G>).
Dad, a gentle, generous power station worker "Orc", built a sandpit on the other side of the garage under a tree. OH - New medium! From age six onwards I built elaborate sand castles and waged massive campaigns with plastic soldiers. These epics lasted several days and usually concluded with firecracker destruction. In early teens, this ongoing sand obsession became something of a social embarrassment to me. Dad shifted the sandpit, and using packing crate wood from a transported steam train, built a huge shed around the sandpit. This loving parental act complete... I immediately gave up playing in the sand and used the shed to pursue the girl next door (kids, hey?). The embankment and sandpit are my emotional foundation in art.....all else was peripheral topping.
Secondary school was a testosterone nightmare... just under a thousand "Orc boys" at Yallourn Technical College - the vast majority destined to be fodder for the mines and power stations. While others went off to study Tech Drawing, Metalwork and Boiler Making I, through courageous parental permission, went off to Art. Not fun...
In my fifth year of Secondary School I transferred to "Mordor" (Morwell) Tech, a sixteen mile each way bus trip to co-educational freedom, an independent art department and, most importantly, the right to grow my hair long! It was 1973, the girls all wore cheesecloth and frankincense, the sweet scent of Gunga was in the air, and the dark room was the place to be. Through my elder brother at Uni I discovered formative creative influences, usually comic... R.Crumb, Ron Cobb and Australia's 'National Living Treasure'- Michael Leunig.
After two years at "Mordor" Tech I gained enrolment at Caulfield Institute of Technology, then the most highly regarded campus for Ceramics, two hundred kilometres from home in 'the big smoke'. The facilities, library and opportunities were great, but living in the City (Melbourne) sucked big time. A three year Diploma turned into a twelve year metropolitan sentence, during which the "Orcs" dug up my home town for the coal beneath.
At the end of first year I was offered a job teaching pottery at the Melbourne Arts and Crafts Centre and learned more in the first three months teaching than in prior study. Over the next decade+ I taught pottery, worked as a ceramic sculptor/studio potter, did landscape gardening and building work, opened two shops - The Clay Referral Clinic and Solid Mud - and drifted into Welfare work. I taught in prisons and youth detention centres, worked with street kids and in residential care of the psychologically disabled. (the photo at right -click for a larger view - is one of a lad from a youth detention centre visiting Solid Mud... his exclamation, his first show of emotion in weeks, stands as reflective of the work I am most proud of).
In the late 80's my wife, daughter and I escaped to rural Victoria, along the South West coast, inland from Warrnambool. Two more children have followed and we have settled on an acre and a half in the middle of lush green dairy country. Cold, wet and windy in winter, I spend a lot of time planting trees.
Currently I work four days a week at a local Primary School with kids having behavioural or social difficulties. We build huge sandcastles and pretend it is a 'Team Building Exercise', or we construct 'Lizard City'- a cement/paper mache mix complex of towers and turrets in which we will one day house lizards. (Contemporary Guru's in education for boys will tell you that such hands-on activities provide the perfect opportunity for listening to and counselling young males....so I'm 'validated' ;-)
Sometime during the Melbourne stint (early eighties) I was introduced to Polymer Clay. Like most people I started making jewellery and sold a range of flower ear rings and necklaces at markets and craft fairs. Among the range was "comic accessories" - pea pod ear rings (each pea had its own little face), apple cores, bananas (with faces - photo,left -click for a larger view), jelly bean ear rings, Carmen Miranda necklaces, and, I hesitate to confess, we made 'turd ear rings' out of scrap recycled polyclay - and yes, during the Punk era they sold!
At one stage I took a display case of Polymer jewellery and travelled up the east coast of Australia, so sick of explaining what this stuff was that I pretended I was mute! A friend made up some pairs of "light emitting diodes" (the tiny flashing red, green or yellow lights on your stereo) hooked up to watch batteries, and Hey Presto- polyclay critters (free standing and broaches) with flashing eyes!(One of my dragon photos - right - has bright red eyes...took ages to get that blurry shot<G>) Unfortunately, fire destroyed the jewellery range catalogue photos, and I ain't going back to make one of each!
In parallel to the jewellery was the development of the sculptural work. Initially, it was little animals, fantasy critters and monsters (like 'Dinko's Critters'... love that dude's work). Eventually the pieces became larger and multi media. In early experiments I tried to make every part in polyclay, then I made a lot of pieces in conventional clay (usually porcelain) and used the polyclay for animal accessories or decorative effect (vines, flowers).
At my second or third exhibition, a New York art gallery director turned up and advised- "This work, beautiful as it is, won't sell at these prices. For this kind of money, people expect the strength and durability of porcelain or bronze".
She was right... polyclay lacks durability and the 'plastic' look is difficult to overcome. But glass domes and display cases and various polyclay mixes, paint washes and finishes can overcome these problems. Currently I am working on housing my works in large, hollow Polyurethane foam 'grottos' mounted on metal tripods so that polyclay pieces can be displayed outdoors. The majority of works in these photos are sold - the rest are stolen or broken in transit...
(Though I do take it as some kind of compliment when someone smashes a plate glass shopfront at 3AM to steal a six inch polyclay 'Picnic on a Dragonskin Rug' - photo right, click for a larger view)
What I would like to see is the polyclay manufactures and/or distributors get behind the support of this material beyond the realms of jewellery and craft production. There are infinite, unexplored opportunities and possibilities in multi media fine art, environmental sculpture, book illustration, animation and art therapy. A few souls have already found a niche, but without support, promotion and exposure of the potential of this material it is a real uphill climb. Nearly twenty years down the track I spend three hundred dollars on polymerclay (in my school program alone) each year, and the staff/parents still ask "What's it made of"!!!
Come on Fimo, Sculpey & Co!.......more promotion! more encouragement!..............I'm up for adoption! ;-)
Hope you all enjoy the pieces!
We want to thank Rod for sharing his fascinating journey through art with PCC, and for his beautifuk work! If you have an article, lesson or tutorial that you would like to see on PCC, please contact or and we will help you prepare your project for the PCC Website.