Philip Mitchell Graham: WIRE TAMER, research artist and sculptor.
Founding member of NEA performance art group ‘EXTENDED VISION’.
What is a WIRE TAMER? An artist who bends wire to his will. I don’t twirl it or twist it – I TAME it. Wire is just like a wild animal – its dangerous! Especially the wire I use: rusty antique eight gauge fencing wire that is up to 130 years old. It can whiplash up to three meters if you are not careful, and it will rip your skin open in a flash. But not after I’ve finished with it… when I’m done its safe enough for young children to handle. I illustrate with wire. I make it take the form I see in my imagination. I work it to within a fraction of a millimetre tolerance. I do not ever let the wire force my hand.
I started making WIND DANCERS around 1999 and started selling them at local farmer’s markets throughout Central Victoria in late 2001. I began with a ‘simple’ scroll and then branched out slowly, first with small abstract variations on scroll form. I taught myself the craft and art of bending wire.
I opened my imagination to the discipline of WIRE LORE and discovered many profound truths about drawing and geometry. Truths such as: all circumscribed shapes are modified circles – to describe any shape you must eventually come around and at least acknowledge its beginning. Drawing with wire has significant advantages over pen and ink. For a start the illusion of the two dimensional line is broken and you are constantly reminded that a line exists in three dimensional space. This is true on a microscopic level for drawing on paper of course, but it is easy to forget this detail. Indeed this is one of the most potent conceptual and sensual characteristics of drawing on paper. Wire has mass (weight). On a practical level this cannot be ignored when drawing, like it can so easily on paper. The wire is very real in this respect, whereas a line on paper has more in common with a virtual object on a computer screen. On the other hand a line once described in wire remains plastic… I can adjust its shape without modifying its localised appearance, unlike a line on paper. A corrected line in wire shows no evidence of the correction after the fact. Correcting an ink line on paper demands extensive modifications such as overdrawing, which are impossible to ignore. In this respect the wire line has some of the characteristics of the virtual object and the line on paper betrays its concrete nature.
For its mass, steal and iron plain wire are two of the most durable products of the industrial age. Most of the wire I use is around one hundred and thirty years old. When not exposed to salt or direct contact with soil; heavy gauge un-galvanised ‘black’ wire, rusts evenly and forms a protective skin against further oxidation. Much of the heavy gauge galvanised wire from the 1930’s and 40’s looks almost new today. Reusing old wire in works of art is a potent symbol of conservation values. I have a personal saying: ‘Recycling is for wimps, the real deal is reusing materials’. Recycling has the same carbon footprint as conventional manufacturing, when you add the energy consumed in transport, sorting, cleaning and reprocessing second hand materials. Metals are a perfect example of this, because of the high energy required to smelt scrap. Wire is difficult to recycle because it is dangerous to handle, low density by volume and has very high surface area contamination. Adding low density crushed ferrous wire scrap to a blast furnace is of limited value because much of it gets vaporised.
Contrary to popular belief metal wire does not get brittle with age. So called brittle wire was either high in carbon to begin with, has been work hardened in spots by bending, stretching or twisting, or surface corrosion has caused weak spots along the wire. The wire I use goes through an extensive process of sorting and testing to ensure all WIND DANCERS leave my studio in excellent condition.
My other hats:
I’ve experience in notation system design, performance art, interactive painting, graphic design, photocopy based art, font design, sign writing, archival work, manuscript transcription, photographic documentation, digital image processing, photographic restoration, linear translation of photographic images, off line video editing, music composition, sound engineering and creative writing.
Curriculum Vitae: Philip Mitchell Graham
Born Melbourne 10 August 1966
1979-80 Private tuition in Violin Making from grandfather, Benjamin Graham
1984-87 Private tuition in New Epoch Art from my father, Peter Graham. As his apprentice I acted as a sounding board, participated in many experiments, jointly wrote theoretical essays, organized, documented and cataloged his work. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Benjamin_Graham
1987 Founding member of performance art group ‘EXTENDED VISION’.
1987 to 1993 Designed and built special costumes and equipment including a series of unique rotating multi-canvas ‘TriEasels’ for the public performance of New Epoch Art.
1987 to 1995 Developed teaching methods and gave private tuition in New Epoch Art to a succession of students ranging in age from 7 to 70.
1992 Appointed Assessor for the Warrandyte Youth Arts Award, Warrandyte Arts and Education Trust
1997 to 2000 Bachelor of Arts (Multimedia) Victoria University
1997 to Present. Produced a large series of biomechanical drawings in pen and ink.
2001 to Present. Demonstrated the making of Wind Dancer wire sculptures at markets and festivals throughout Eastern Australia
2007 to Present. Settled in Newstead Central Victoria and continued to demonstrate wire sculpture at Wesley Hill Market and Castlemaine Artists’ Market.
2008 Founding member of a Castlemaine Artists’ Co-operative.
1990 ‘New Epoch Art’ INTERACTA: Journal of the Art Teachers Association of Victoria, No 4
GROUP EXHIBITIONS and PERFORMANCE EVENTS with EXTENDED VISION
1989 MONDO SHOWROOMS, Surrey Hills
1990 Peoples Improvisational Theatre Richmond
1991 Lyttleton Gallery
1991 NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA – gallery society workshops
1991 HEIDE PARK AND GALLERY – 10th Anniversary celebrations
1992 NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA – Hidden Imagination Festival
1992 No Vacancy Installation, Collins St
1992 NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA Next Wave Festival
1992 NEA Experience One: Canterbury Studios
1992 Melbourne Fringe Festival
1993 NEA Experience Two: Canterbury Studios
1993 A.R.T. (artroundtown) Performance and Installation, Collins St.
1999 Group Exhibition at Victoria University Student Village
2001 to 2003 Regular WireTaming demonstrations throughout central Victorian markets and festivals.
2004 to 2006 Study tour of northern NSW and southern Queensland. Continued demonstrating Wind Dancer wire sculptures at markets and festivals on the road.
2006 Exhibition of sculpture and drawings Tenterfield NSW
2008 Artanica Mt Macedon Horticultural Society
2009 Castlemaine Artists’ Co-operative exhibition Castlemaine Fringe Festival
2009 ‘TECTONICS’ (Jewelery) Castlemaine Market Building
2009 Artanica Mt Macedon Horticultural Society
2009 Whitehorse Cottage Studio & Garden