COFA graduate Charles Schneider's award-winning crown-of-thorns wallpaper has taken over part of Sydney's iconic coastline at Bondi as part of the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition.

The American artist won one of eight major prizes in the exhibition - the Damon Courtenay Memorial Young Sculptor Prize, worth $5,000.

"This is my first major prize, so it's really thrilling," says Schneider. "My mom passed away in July and I dedicated this to her, so it's particularly emotional in that sense."

The work, which is built onto a staircase at the Bondi end of the exhibition, features a clay slip with the motif of the crown-of-thorns stenciled on top. The material will eventually be washed away as sediment.

The artist flew back to Sydney from the United States to make the sculpture with the help of several volunteers. Schneider undertook studies in sculpture, performance and installation at COFA.

"My work addresses issues of invasive species, as a critical issue of its own accord and as a metaphor for the widespread impact of human settlement and activity on our environment," he says. "By presenting images of invasive species as a wallpaper motif, I allude to the human patterning of the landscape."

The 29-year-old is currently enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and will return in January to produce an installation at the Kiama blowhole. He is collaborating with the Boolarng Nangamai Aboriginal Arts and Culture Studio in Gerringong on the project.

Sculpture by the Sea, which is the world's largest free-to-the-public outdoor sculpture exhibition, runs until 14 November on the Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk.

Media contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW media, 9385 1583 or 0422 934 024.