By Holger Dielenberg
One of Space Tank’s previous studio members, Aimie Whiting uses the pandemic restrictions as an opportunity to knuckle down, skill up and focus on the long game.
Aimie Whiting has been into heavy metal for as long as she can remember. Her life defined by a strong work ethic, independence and creativity now carries her through the toughest COVID 19 lockdowns.
Many artists draw, calculate and write down their creative approach to sculpture. Aimie is one of the few who simply follow’s her inner vision and intuitive process. A direct and visceral connection to form, like witnessing a magician conjuring beauty with a hammer and lightning. Watch Aimie at work here…
How did you start welding?
My dad was a mechanic and he had me fixing cars, cleaning the workshop, doing mechanical work and at around 12 years old he taught me welding to fix rust jobs. That led me to doing up my own cars and selling them. My mum always wanted any presents to be hand made so they got a lot of welding sculptures.
Welding allowed me to be creative and financially support my horse riding when I was growing up in New Zealand. My parents taught me the value of money young – you want it, you work for it. They made me pay for everything and welding was a good way of using all the resources I had around me on the farm.
How did you get into making and selling metal sculptures?
At 14 years old I started making braziers out of old truck rims. I’d divide them into 6 equal windows that customers could personalise with welded or plasma cut metal pictures like crabs, seahorses, trees etc. I made around 50 of them. Then my school teacher commissioned a big sculptural gate full of palm trees after seeing one I’d made for my parents. This led me to welding the Cinderella story from recycled car parts for my year seven project. Directly after high school I just threw myself into metal sculpture and started exhibiting through a local gallery. Interest in my work took off so much that I literally lived in the shed for a year. I sold everything I made and knew this is what I wanted to do.
What was it like when you moved to Australia?
Up to 2009, I was selling in various New Zealand galleries and building my client base. My reputation was growing but I was restless. After University I became a personal trainer to earn more money which took up a lot of time. I also sprouted wings and began travelling so for around seven years I didn’t touch a welder.
When I moved to Australia it was hard at first to re-establish myself. Melbourne is full of artists and there’s a lot of competition so it’s hard to get noticed. In 2016 I started teaching MIG Welding and Plasma Cutting at Space Tank. This was really when I began to rebuild where I left off in New Zealand. I was actually scared that over the seven years not welding, I had lost my skill.
Space Tank is such an encouraging environment for creatives. I felt really supported to rebuild my passion. I also got selected into Space Tank’s Bench to Business course which helped me grow my network and develop my creativity as a business. I’ve always had a lot of discipline, so this made sense to me.
You mentioned that you went to University, what did you study?
Yeah, I studied Industrial Design. I hated it. I really didn’t like the mass manufacturing, punch things out, plastic mentality. I couldn’t get into that vibe. I like unique one-off things too much and I also want to be sustainable in my practice. I prefer to upcycle waste material and take a burden off the world through making something beautiful and unique rather than add to the world’s environmental problems. My work is the exact opposite of mass manufacturing. Eccentric one-off pieces that can’t be reproduced.
What inspired you to get back into creating heavy metal sculptures?
I spent my whole childhood living with a room size paper mache Giraffe that my Grandpa made. One day I went to a scrap yard and saw an old beaten up hot water cylinder and I knew I was going to turn it into my Grandpa’s giraffe. I wanted to see that I could still make and I really wanted to test myself. It was make or break. 40 solid days of welding over 9 months at Space Tank and the 3 metre Giraffe was done! It was installed on Toorak Road in the Trak Village for six months and was really well received by the public. That massive giraffe sculpture made me realise I could dig deep inside myself and pull out gold.
The giraffe was also chosen to go on season 14, episode 23 of Channel 9’s The Block in 2018. They had 5 couples go head to head creating metal sculptures for a terrace house. I had to teach and lead the teams through design and production of their garden sculptures in the space of 7 hours for the show.
What have you been up to since the massive giraffe?
A client came to me and wanted a replica made of their German Short Haired Pointer named Duke. The dog was on its last legs and before it passed away, I spent a lot of time measuring it and taking photos to figure out what kind of stance it was going to take. The final sculpture had a leash that you could hang through its mouth just like the real dog used to do.
Both the giraffe and dog were made at Space Tank and I was hogging their welding bay with my projects, so I jumped at an opportunity to move into a warehouse west side of Melbourne right near my home. Having my own space where I can spread out has allowed me to start making even bigger works.
I did a commission for a couple who were friends with the principal at Alamanda College in Point Cook. It was a life size abstract lady and man torso which went in Melbourne’s Flower and Garden show last year – and sold, so I had to make another one for the client. When the College heard this, they asked me to make a large owl representing their school motto “Dare to be Wise”. After seeing a three dimensional sketch I made to show the owl’s posture, the school was so impressed they wanted to have the baby as well! so I ended up making two sculptures for them, a baby owl for inside the building and the large owl for outside.
Can you describe your approach to sculpture?
Well, measurements and numbers don’t make any sense to me and I can’t draw. I literally get a vision in my head and I research images and digest as much visual stimulation as possible until I’m full with how the thing looks and feels. Once I can see it and feel the scale clearly in my mind, my hands just start mocking up the work. I use bits of steel to size the parametres and then fill in the shapes. I work directly with the metal and just shape it. It’s a completely intuitive process that allows me to channel exactly what I see in my mind into a three dimensional form in space.
My brain and hands become one. I step back sometimes and don’t know if I could repeat doing something because my process is so intuitive. My work has to have character. It has to look alive while being still so the more direct my process is, the more I can achieve that.
How has COVID 19 lock down been for you as a practicing artist?
Like the torsos I did, my giraffe was scheduled for this year’s Melbourne Flower and Garden show so COVID really frustrated my attempts to go public. But I’ve been able to really focus on setting up my new space to be more efficient with new work benches, tool racks, material bins and also to upskill and learn new welding techniques.
I want to take advantage of the different metal properties so I’m teaching myself TIG welding to weld aluminium, brass, copper, stainless all in one sculpture. You need time to practice and digest the new skills and technical information. The learning eats into my training time, so I multitask by watching YouTube videos on TIG welding while rowing on an erg machine. One morning I clocked up 7km watching one video.
Dedication and true grit looks like Aimie juggling work with art…
I juggle cross fit coaching and personal training with my welding which is also really physical so I’m pretty exhausted all the time. Mondays I coach from 5am to 8pm, a mixture of clients and classes, training with people all day. Tuesday I do admin, emails, planning etc. then go climbing at the climbing gym before coaching strength training there. Wednesday, Thursday are full workshop creating days, weld, weld, weld. Friday is packed again with coaching at the climbing gym and cross fit gym. Weekend is climbing, training and admin catch up and if I have a big art sculpture on the go, then I squeeze in more welding.
How do you want to emerge out of COVID lockdown?
Once I’ve learned TIG welding, I’ll be able to move into different styles of sculptures and also use lighter materials. Less weight will give me more creative and structural avenues to explore. It’ll allow me to move even more into large scale works and add more colour and material texture. I want to make new pieces that I can enter into competitions around Australia and get my work in front of a wider audience.
In your mind’s eye, how does your future look like?
I would love my large owl piece to drum up interest from other schools who want large mascots to represent their educational values. I’d also like to continue teaching welding, where the way you learn is by making your own metal sculpture. Ultimately I’d love to make really large public works that could brighten people’s day and impress people to be creative. I feel like it would be such a waste if I wasn’t doing it.