Sheila Hicks: Off Grid
“Textile is a universal language. In all of the cultures of the world, textile is a crucial and essential component.”
AS JOURNALISTS ARRIVE at the Hepworth Wakefield for the press view of her first major public exhibition in the United Kingdom, Sheila Hicks is standing in the formal garden holding hanks of coloured yarn.
Eighty-seven but undeterred by the stiff Yorkshire breeze, she is finalising a new site-specific sculptural installation as part of ‘Off-Grid’, a full survey that spans work from the 1950s through to the present. The coils she holds are made up of thousands of threads, the primary material of Hick’s art.
Vibrant in her bright blue and black clothes, her intimacy and familiarity with the potential of thread and fibre is evident in everything she does, from what she wears, to the tiny diaristic, “minimes”, woven artworks she creates on a hand-held frame, to the way she spins her meaning across whole spaces, filling them with form and colour.
She says, “Textile is a universal language. In all of the cultures of the world, textile is a crucial and essential component.” The expressive potency of the medium is embedded in our language, where both text and textile trace their etymology to the Latin word, “texere”, to weave.
It was as a student at Yale University School of Art and Architecture between 1954 and 1959, that Sheila Hicks was introduced to Pre-Hispanic art and architecture. This culture has remained a primary influence, with its traditions of complex textile structures and distinctive architecture, but wherever she has subsequently travelled – from South America, India and the Middle East, to Morocco, Japan and France – she has sought out local artists and craftspeople to learn from, developing an encyclopaedic familiarity with different ways of working thread, ancient and modern.
This exhibition takes us on a vivid journey through her life and her oeuvre, complementing displays of work on all scales, including free-standing monumental sculpture, with her photography. Besides being an essential tool, these photographs allow us to see through Hicks’s eyes. Her work is embedded in a fascination with the repetitive textures and patterns that structure both the natural and the cultural world.
It is through her textile art that we experience these fundamental structures intimately and forcefully. Finally, besides its aesthetic and intellectual brilliance, Hicks’s art also has a social dimension. In monumental installations, using second-hand fabrics, often working collaboratively with communities, she enables us to reflect upon the experiences of the absent bodies of these garments. At every turn, but in many different ways, we are made thrillingly aware of how thread is interwoven with human life at every level, from the bodily and emotional to the ethereally conceptual.
Sheila Hicks: Off Grid at The Hepworth Wakefield.