15 May 2024

The work of iconic Wagga artist Arthur Wicks celebrated at venues across the region

| Chris Roe
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Arthur Wicks with Vickie Birkinshaw at the opening of his exhibition at Gallery 43.

Arthur Wicks with Vickie Birkinshaw at the opening of his exhibition at Gallery 43. Photo: Supplied.

It’s not often that a single artist takes over half a dozen gallery spaces and a couple of storefronts for one exhibition, but in the case of legendary Wagga creative Arthur Wicks, it seems one venue can’t possibly contain him.

Wicks is arguably the Riverina’s most accomplished artist, with an international career that spans six decades and encompasses a broad range of techniques and disciplines.

The new exhibition Mining the Archive is showing across eight locations and provides a glimpse into his prolific output, including photography, printmaking, sculpture, painting, video and performance.

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Mining the Archive is a sort of a phrase that comes up every so often that artists use when they go digging into the past,” he says, reflecting on how the exhibition came about.

“I had booked in at the Curious Rabbit to do something with prints and I thought I’d just show work from the 60s and a few from the early 70s too.

“Vickie Birkinshaw [from the Curious Rabbit] was organising it and she said, ‘How much work do you have?’ and I said, ‘A fair bit,’ and she said, ‘Then let’s get it out and visible’ – and all of a sudden, she’s organised for it to go here, there and everywhere!”

Arthur reflects that now that many of his larger works are out of storage in his Wagga studio, he can “get in and give it a vacuum”.

Arthur Wicks' work is on exhibition at numerous venues in Wagga and Temora.

Arthur Wicks’ work is on exhibition at numerous venues in Wagga and Temora. Photo: Arthur Wicks.

Venues showing his work include The Curious Rabbit, Gallery 43 at Wagga TAFE, the Wagga Art Gallery, The Station Gallery, CSU Library and Temora Arts Centre.

Vickie Birkinshaw says that it is well past time that Wagga recognised a “living legend in our midst”.

“Arthur is celebrated all across the world; there’s a substantial collection in the National Gallery and I think that a lot of younger artists don’t recognise him,” she explains.

“We applied for some funding and one of the ideas was to do a retrospective of his works.

“We didn’t get funding for it, but because all of the stakeholders were already invested, we decided to go ahead and do it anyway!”

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Vickie says the remarkable body of work has engaged members of the community with a connection to the artist and former teacher.

“It’s really struck a beautiful community chord and everyone’s got a story about it, or remembers Arthur as their teacher, which is really terrific,” she said.

“It’s great to meet people who just really want to honour his work and I think he’s really chuffed to get that recognition in his hometown because that doesn’t always happen.”

Arthur has lived in Wagga since 1972, but his work has taken him all over the world, including Europe, where he created politically charged works and performances.

“My time in Germany was pretty riveting because Berlin was divided and it was a city in dysfunction,” he reflected.

“Berlin was probably one of the main things that I look back on and think I was very lucky in having the opportunity to spend 15 months there.”

man and sculpture

Artist Arthur Wicks with his curious creation Armoured Car. Photo: Chris Roe.

One of Arthur’s notable works, Armoured Car, is comprised of a skeletal cage on a wooden pedal-powered contraption that the artist rode across Amsterdam and Berlin as part of a performance called Peace Car Through Europe.

Before taking up a place in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Armoured Car was on display in Michael Agzarian’s Fitzmaurice Street shopfront in 2022. The same window now contains a rolling exhibition of Arthur’s Transformers that he describes as the “military ordinance that accompanies that piece”.

“There are two-dimensional ones that are sort of like the plan sketches or something that could take place, while the three-dimensional ones are like rockets or propulsion objects and there’s a whole set of them you can see there.

“And I’m sneaking in every few days or so and changing them around and adding new ones.”

When asked what he hopes people will take away from this diverse exhibition, Arthur borrows from art writers of the past, chuckling at their descriptions of him as “a sunstruck anchorite” or “slipshod, slapstick shaman” tinkering with his curious machines.

“I’ve always had the notion of failure and fragility in my work and people will ask, ‘Is that going to work?’ and I say, ‘I don’t know; let’s try it,” he laughs.

“Sometimes even the attempt of trying to make it work is the object.”

Mining the Archive is on now and you can learn more on Arthur Wicks’ website.

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