Q&A with Town Park Sculpture Artist David Graham

6 March 2020

David Graham is a blacksmith and artist with over 20 years of experience practising the craft. He creates custom pieces for those looking for a unique addition to their home or business through his practice Simply Forged.

David recently completed the kelp sculpture currently on display at the new community park at The Point; a stunning vertical artwork wrapped in an intricate, metal form.

After meeting with the local council to discuss their requirements, Moremac Property Group prepared an expression of interest brief which was distributed to three local artists in April last year. The intent of the brief was to provide a vertical sculptural form, which would provide a distinct entrance point for people entering the Town Park at The Point. The sculpture would have a relationship to the proposed series of tidal marker poles in the nearby waterway. Additionally, the work would include symbolism of local flora & fauna such as sea grass or the aquatic birdlife native to the area. Each artist submitted a response detailing their vision for the work, in addition to a budget and illustration. Ultimately, David was chosen to pursue the project

Read on to learn more about the process involved in creating this piece, the inspiration behind it and the value of sustainability in art.

Where is your workshop based?

My workshop is located in an artist’s hub called Ashmore Arts in Torquay. There are 20 studios and workshops available to rent and we’ve got a whole bunch of different artists and craftspeople working here.

What drew you to becoming a blacksmith and how long have you been practising the craft?

My dad introduced me to arcwelding when I was about 10 and I went on to do metalwork classes throughout high school. When I graduated in the 1990s, it was difficult to get an apprenticeship in blacksmithing, as demand for cheaper products imported from China increased and resulted in a decline across Australian manufacturing. I ended up pursuing a career in carpentry and building construction for 20 years – until I ultimately decided to return to blacksmithing.

My favourite thing about this trade is that there’s such a small window of opportunity to work the material once it’s been heated. You have to be incredibly focused to swiftly manipulate the steel to match what you’ve envisioned in your head.

How did your sculpture at The Point come about?

I received a brief to create a unique, artistic addition to the new park at The Point. I was intrigued by the premise of the brief, which referred to tidal flow, vertical form and incorporating a strong link to the coast. I sent in my idea for the kelp sculpture and ultimately was commissioned to begin constructing the artwork.

What was your inspiration behind the design?

I’ve been a surfer all my life, so I wanted to draw on elements of the natural vegetation and marine environment. The inspiration behind this sculpture is primarily the tidal movement of the ocean. This comes through in the formation of the kelp leaves wrapped around the pylons, as though it had been caught there at high tide and sways with the flow of the water.

What was the production process like?

From start to finish, it took roughly two months to complete the project. I started with a few preliminary sketches based on my submissions to the initial brief and once the client was happy, I began sourcing the materials.

I managed to get my hands on recycled pier pylons from the old Princes Pier in Port Melbourne. They were still in pretty good condition and I liked how you could still see the old tideline markings, which draws back into the theme of the work. The kelp sculpture was made of mild steel, welded together in the workshop with my apprentice Maria.

The scale of the work meant we had to get creative when it came to assembling the sculpture on site. We had to make our own tools, figure out the engineering side of things when it came to installation and we even had to use a boom lift just to get high enough to attach the steel sculpture to the pylons – that task alone took almost an entire day to complete.

How do you incorporate sustainability into your work?

There are many ways as a blacksmith that I can make what I do more sustainable and lessen my impact on the planet. Firstly, I always try to use recycled material where I can and secondly, this year my business will be going fully carbon neutral. We’ve just removed the old coal burner and are currently constructing a new furnace powered by used vegetable oil.

I think being a blacksmith in general is a more sustainable practice compared to mass manufacturing. I think a lot of people now are finding themselves drawn to crafts that take a little bit longer to finish but are ultimately more rewarding.