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Caro Jesse and Conrad Hicks

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Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse

CARO: As a designer who creates sensory experiences using food, art, scent and sound, I love tools as much as Conrad. We share a lifelong interest in the everyday implements of human industry. Artists’ tools, cooks’ tools, building tools—all tools are the same really. It just depends on the scale. It goes deeper than an appreciation of the utilitarian beauty of tools; it’s the way they shed light on human development—going all the way back to the Stone Age.

CONRAD: We’ve been making tools for two and a half million years. Spoken language only arose about 9,000 years ago, so tools and physical gestures were our means of expression. Unlike other craftsmen, blacksmiths have to make their own tools. They are the original tool-makers: traditionally, black- smiths made not only the swords, armour, hinges and horse- shoes but also the implements necessary to perform those tasks. The same is true today—I keep to traditional black-smithing principles, forging everything by hand.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse

My triple-volume workshop and forge, housed in an old Art Deco cinema in the gritty suburb of Observatory, Cape Town, is an informal museum of sorts dedicated to my collection of antique, salvaged and self-made tools. Hundreds of metal tongs and other implements hang from rails mounted along the walls, a jumble of vintage farming equipment lies on the floor, and heavy-duty power hammers stand waiting to whir into action. Many of the industrial machines in the workshop are so old they can’t be operated, but they hold a historic value that is often overlooked on their way to the junkheap.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse

In the cavernous space of an old movie theatre, I fire up the forge, stoking the coals until the flames crackle and dance upwards. The process begins by taking a lump of copper or steel, and beating it. It’s kind of like clay in this regard—the cutting, pressing, heating and stretching —and the shapes that emerge out of the metal eventually start to communicate what I want to say. But the actual process is very simple—it’s just cutting, hammering and stretching.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
I’ve set up a section my studio as a gallery where the various elements of my process are broken down and on display. Many ideas start as charcoal renderings before they become maquettes and final sculptures.

It’s extremely labour-intensive but the physicality helps me find my flow, which is essential for the type of sculptural work I create. After running a successful work- shop producing gates, screens and architectural commissions for 15 years, over the past decade I’ve focused more on making sculpture and one-off pieces of collectible furniture. I’ve earned several major commissions for Cape Town landmarks such as Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Tokara Winery in nearby Stellenbosch and luxury boutique hotel Ellerman House, as well as for private homes in South Africa, the US and Switzerland.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
Here I am at work on a large-scale outdoor sculpture for a private client in Montana in the United States.

Since 2013, I have exhibited with Southern Guild, Africa’s only gallery dedicated to collectible design from the continent. The gallery has taken my pieces to international design fairs such as Design Miami/ Basel, Design Days Dubai and Collective in New York and held my first solo exhibition at its space in the Silo District at the V&A Waterfront earlier this year. My new collection included a chaise whose beaten copper surface fanned out like wings (appropriately titled Firebird Chaise); the Artefact Chair, combining a ribbed steel seat and copper backrest; and the three-metre-long Serge Server, whose central steel spine acts as a brace to swirling folds of oxidised copper.

Expressive and highly textured pieces echo forms from nature—bones, birds’ wings, lily pads and leaves. This is another point where my creative visions and Caro’s converge. We are keen explorers of our natural environment, spending hours walking in the fynbos around the Western Cape, studying indigenous plants and collecting natural mementos like quartz crystals, lichen and fungi.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
I make knives for my own use, as gifts and sometimes for private clients. Each one has a unique shape and texture, retaining the marks from my hammer.

I work in both steel and copper, the latter being an unusual choice for a blacksmith. But copper is much softer than steel, and I like the expressive forms and textures achieved. I heat the copper up in the forge fire until it glows, then I remove it using a giant pair of tongs, place it on the anvil and beat it into the desired shape.

CARO: He’ll pick something up and give it to me because he knows I’ll like it. By the time we head home, my pockets are filled with stuff.

These artefacts all make their way back to my studio, where they become ingredients, props for the food shoots I style and direct, or inspiration for an artistic installation. My kitchen and photographic studio, situated upstairs from Conrad’s workshop, is a light-filled eyrie that sits in sharp contrast to the gothic drama of his blackened forge. A small hydroponic garden trickles water into a plastic tub and natural treasures are laid out like bounty on tables—furry baobab pods picked up in Botswana, mushrooms that have dried paper-thin, swathes of air plants and black volcanic glass.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
We share a strong interest in the historic tie between food and tools. I like to cook with fresh ingredients we have foraged.

I’m a trained Cordon Bleu chef cutting my teeth at iconic Cape Town restaurants such as Le Quartier Francais and La Colombe. A later spell in the media as a food editor immersed me in the local dining scene. I witnessed the evolution from white plate fine dining to a more creative experience that took all the senses into mind.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
As a Cordon Bleu chef, I love to create dinners and sensory experiences that sometimes involve a bit of dramatic spectacle. Here I’m pouring an herbal essence over quartz crystals and setting it alight.

I was hooked, carving out a career for myself as the go-to person for immersive events with a playful approach to food. I made edible mosaics for the launch of a couture tile range, translated paintings by leading South African artists into food installations for an art gallery opening, and conjured the four seasons for a pop-up dinner using coloured light, fragrances such as burning wood, a six-course meal and sounds from nature mixed with music I made myself.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
A simple meal using fresh local ingredients: ceviche served with foraged Num Num fruit, Gotu kola (or Asiatic pennywort) and Salicornia (sea asparagus); wild mushrooms sautéed with wild rosemary; and lamb shanks. I often incorporate pieces from Conrad’s workshop in my photo shoots and as design elements on tables.

Tools are our means of interacting with the world—to make life easier, more sustaining and more pleasurable. And it all began with food.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse

CARO: As a designer who creates sensory experiences using food, art, scent and sound, I love tools as much as Conrad. We share a lifelong interest in the everyday implements of human industry. Artists’ tools, cooks’ tools, building tools—all tools are the same really. It just depends on the scale. It goes deeper than an appreciation of the utilitarian beauty of tools; it’s the way they shed light on human development—going all the way back to the Stone Age.

CONRAD: We’ve been making tools for two and a half million years. Spoken language only arose about 9,000 years ago, so tools and physical gestures were our means of expression. Unlike other craftsmen, blacksmiths have to make their own tools. They are the original tool-makers: traditionally, black- smiths made not only the swords, armour, hinges and horse- shoes but also the implements necessary to perform those tasks. The same is true today—I keep to traditional black-smithing principles, forging everything by hand.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse

My triple-volume workshop and forge, housed in an old Art Deco cinema in the gritty suburb of Observatory, Cape Town, is an informal museum of sorts dedicated to my collection of antique, salvaged and self-made tools. Hundreds of metal tongs and other implements hang from rails mounted along the walls, a jumble of vintage farming equipment lies on the floor, and heavy-duty power hammers stand waiting to whir into action. Many of the industrial machines in the workshop are so old they can’t be operated, but they hold a historic value that is often overlooked on their way to the junkheap.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse

In the cavernous space of an old movie theatre, I fire up the forge, stoking the coals until the flames crackle and dance upwards. The process begins by taking a lump of copper or steel, and beating it. It’s kind of like clay in this regard—the cutting, pressing, heating and stretching —and the shapes that emerge out of the metal eventually start to communicate what I want to say. But the actual process is very simple—it’s just cutting, hammering and stretching.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
I’ve set up a section my studio as a gallery where the various elements of my process are broken down and on display. Many ideas start as charcoal renderings before they become maquettes and final sculptures.

It’s extremely labour-intensive but the physicality helps me find my flow, which is essential for the type of sculptural work I create. After running a successful work- shop producing gates, screens and architectural commissions for 15 years, over the past decade I’ve focused more on making sculpture and one-off pieces of collectible furniture. I’ve earned several major commissions for Cape Town landmarks such as Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Tokara Winery in nearby Stellenbosch and luxury boutique hotel Ellerman House, as well as for private homes in South Africa, the US and Switzerland.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
Here I am at work on a large-scale outdoor sculpture for a private client in Montana in the United States.

Since 2013, I have exhibited with Southern Guild, Africa’s only gallery dedicated to collectible design from the continent. The gallery has taken my pieces to international design fairs such as Design Miami/ Basel, Design Days Dubai and Collective in New York and held my first solo exhibition at its space in the Silo District at the V&A Waterfront earlier this year. My new collection included a chaise whose beaten copper surface fanned out like wings (appropriately titled Firebird Chaise); the Artefact Chair, combining a ribbed steel seat and copper backrest; and the three-metre-long Serge Server, whose central steel spine acts as a brace to swirling folds of oxidised copper.

Expressive and highly textured pieces echo forms from nature—bones, birds’ wings, lily pads and leaves. This is another point where my creative visions and Caro’s converge. We are keen explorers of our natural environment, spending hours walking in the fynbos around the Western Cape, studying indigenous plants and collecting natural mementos like quartz crystals, lichen and fungi.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
I make knives for my own use, as gifts and sometimes for private clients. Each one has a unique shape and texture, retaining the marks from my hammer.

I work in both steel and copper, the latter being an unusual choice for a blacksmith. But copper is much softer than steel, and I like the expressive forms and textures achieved. I heat the copper up in the forge fire until it glows, then I remove it using a giant pair of tongs, place it on the anvil and beat it into the desired shape.

CARO: He’ll pick something up and give it to me because he knows I’ll like it. By the time we head home, my pockets are filled with stuff.

These artefacts all make their way back to my studio, where they become ingredients, props for the food shoots I style and direct, or inspiration for an artistic installation. My kitchen and photographic studio, situated upstairs from Conrad’s workshop, is a light-filled eyrie that sits in sharp contrast to the gothic drama of his blackened forge. A small hydroponic garden trickles water into a plastic tub and natural treasures are laid out like bounty on tables—furry baobab pods picked up in Botswana, mushrooms that have dried paper-thin, swathes of air plants and black volcanic glass.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
We share a strong interest in the historic tie between food and tools. I like to cook with fresh ingredients we have foraged.

I’m a trained Cordon Bleu chef cutting my teeth at iconic Cape Town restaurants such as Le Quartier Francais and La Colombe. A later spell in the media as a food editor immersed me in the local dining scene. I witnessed the evolution from white plate fine dining to a more creative experience that took all the senses into mind.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
As a Cordon Bleu chef, I love to create dinners and sensory experiences that sometimes involve a bit of dramatic spectacle. Here I’m pouring an herbal essence over quartz crystals and setting it alight.

I was hooked, carving out a career for myself as the go-to person for immersive events with a playful approach to food. I made edible mosaics for the launch of a couture tile range, translated paintings by leading South African artists into food installations for an art gallery opening, and conjured the four seasons for a pop-up dinner using coloured light, fragrances such as burning wood, a six-course meal and sounds from nature mixed with music I made myself.

Conrad Hicks and Caro Jesse
A simple meal using fresh local ingredients: ceviche served with foraged Num Num fruit, Gotu kola (or Asiatic pennywort) and Salicornia (sea asparagus); wild mushrooms sautéed with wild rosemary; and lamb shanks. I often incorporate pieces from Conrad’s workshop in my photo shoots and as design elements on tables.

Tools are our means of interacting with the world—to make life easier, more sustaining and more pleasurable. And it all began with food.

Connect with Caro Jesse and Conrad Hicks