Safe, Secure and Seductive
The Head. Think about it. Think of the multitudinous activities it undertakes every second of our lives. It breathes, it eats, it hears, it sees, it activates the entire neural system. Some theorise that it is the vessel for the soul. It acts to attract or repel. It is also ridiculously fragile.
In the long history of human warfare it is the helmet that is a constant. In contemporary times that has been extended to bicycling and many other sports (Americans are often dumfounded that Australian Rules – unlike Gridiron – does not require solid headgear). But fear for the head extends beyond the potential of a blow from a battle-axe or an errant bullet. It extends into the internal; for it is a container of fears, nightmares and emotional minefields. That’s where Jud Wimhurst comes in. He has both the external and the internal covered (literally). If it is the simple fear of slipping on the dance floor and cracking your skull you need fear no more. If it is the fear of someone looking into your eyes and discovering your lies, that also is taken care of. Even if it the simple fear of not looking attractive, Wimhurst has it covered.
There is something simultaneously medieval and futuristic about Wimhurst’s work. He is a craftsman par excellence, something that is almost old fashioned. But he is a visionary who seems to waver between the 15th Century and the year 2914. The hands that enwrap safe/secure (I’ll protect you) could be there to ward off evil spirits or to be used as weapons, unwieldy antlers for ‘hand’ to ‘hand’ combat, as it were. The diamond-encrusted coating of safe/secure (forever), with its talismanic ‘third-eye’ and tiara-like aura could either be designed to ward off evil spirits or simply be the motorcycle accouterment designed all too late for Princess Di.
“Of course there are no guarantees that a helmet will indeed be of any use to you at all,” says the artist. “But the fact we can wear one gives us the confidence to take great risks with a sense of safety and security, even if the helmet is really little more than a Tupperware container for your cranium filled with a sense of false hope or assurance.”
It is often tempting to think of Jud Wimhurst’s work as science-fictional conceits, the aesthetic bordering on the best of Star Trek or the X-Men. But there are far deeper concerns brewing here. These sculptures use the helmet as a metaphor for safety and security and are inspired by and pay homage to the various survival techniques humanity has developed in order to feel confident and optimistic. That safety will ultimately prevail and that a future is certain. “From the security of a diamond ring on your finger to the distraction of television to the warmth of comfort food,” says Wimhurst.
“Helmets save lives,” he says. “They make us feel protected and give us a sense of safety and hope that we will prevail; we will survive the possible danger that may be heading our way. They make us more than what we are – superhuman. Speed, collision, impact, become forces that we can survive, endure and even enjoy but what about the other risks we all face? What about the day you are told you are unwell, the day you undergo numerous tests to determine your situation in life, perhaps even the same tests for the same illness that may be genetically predisposed to you and may have even claimed the life of your family members. What sort of safety helmet is available for a situation like this?”
But there is also a strangely timeless elegance to these works, a sexiness that would not be out of place in Paris Vogue, one almost desires to see the face behind the mask, knowing instinctively that Wimhurst’s solid veils hide a ravishing beauty.
But it is also the objects themselves that are beautiful despite their strangeness. A part of this lies in the knowledge that Wimhurst hand-crafts every aspect. His studio is like an alchemists cave where any technology to mold his vision is mastered.
In order to make the helmet sculptures two original helmet designs, inspired by vintage/retro motorcycle helmets from the sixties and seventies, were produced. Molds were then made of silicone rubber, fibreglass and resin of those designs. All of the helmets are then made from scratch by taking casts from these mother molds by building up layers of polyurethane resin, fibreglass and epoxy resin to form the strong hollow shell forms of the helmets. This process is faithful to how motorcycle helmets were originally made in the past (they are now made from plastics) and at this stage they could actually function successfully as a protective helmet.
However these fibreglass helmet shells are only the starting point for the helmet sculptures. A variety of sculpting techniques and materials are then used to create the one-of-a-kind helmet pieces. The helmets may be dissected or added to depending on the chosen design of the piece using everything from wood carving and traditional wood turning techniques on a lathe, traditional life casting techniques using dental alginate to take casts of body parts, to sculpting elements out of clay and then utilising mold-making and resin casting techniques to produce the finished components in resin. These components are then attached to the fibreglass helmet shells and spray painted and airbrushed by hand in nitrocellulose and acrylic lacquers to produce the finished helmet sculptures. The helmets are then finished off with a urethane foam inner lining and a PETG plastic or polycarbonate visor as these are both integral parts that add to the characteristics of a good helmet.
Such a labour of love is rare in the day and age of mass production (even in the art world). But Wimhurst’s efforts are beginning to be rewarded. He has been a featured artist at both the Tarrawarra Museum of Art and McClelland Sculpture Park and it is clear that Wimhurst is moving well into the lime-light.
Wimhurst’s safe/secure series is both comforting and challenging. But try on one of Wimhurst’s helmets and see if what ails you doesn’t simply disappear. Behind those diamonds, those signaling and warning hands, adorned thusly you are both safe and secure, and of course, envied – who wouldn’t want to get around with one of these?
– Ashley Crawford