Philip Mitchell Graham - The Wire Tamer

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. 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 millimeter tolerance. I do not ever let the wire force my hand.

I make WIND DANCERS from a single length of 8 gauge (4mm) mild steel wire. The wire I use is antique rusted fencing wire that is up to 130 years old.

I started making WIND DANCERS some time 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 open 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… it can be adjusted after the fact without modifying its localized appearance, unlike the 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.

Reusing old wire in works of art is a potent symbol of green 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 vaporized.

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 twenty years old. When not exposed to salt or direct contact with soil; heavy gauge ungalvanized ‘black’ wire, rusts evenly and forms a protective skin against further oxidation. Much of the heavy gauge galvanized wire from the 1930’s and 40’s looks almost new today.

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.


Wirilda Farmstead
69 Pound Lane
Newstead 3462

Contact Details

Phone 03 5476 2040



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