Saturday 23 April 2022

Sheila Hicks at The Hepworth, Wakefield

Sheila Hicks - Grandes Boules

Whether you like the small or the monumental, colour or neutrals, Sheila Hicks has it covered.  Her exhibition - "Off Grid" - at The Hepworth, Wakefield is extraordinary in its range.  

On the way up to Off Grid you are greated by some wall mounted Grandes Boules on the stairs...

Sheila Hicks - Wall-mounted Grandes Boules

and her Kotani fan...

Éventail Kotani (Linen) - Sheila Hicks

Éventail Kotani (detail) - Sheila Hicks

Hicks was born in Hastings, Nebraska in 1934 and studied painting at Yale under Josef Albers where he instilled the Bauhaus cross-disciplinary approach integrating art, design, craft and architecture.  This was very influential for Hicks.  She learned colour theory and composition from Albers, a love of the built environment from architect, Louis Kahn, and Latin American textile traditions from art historian George Kubler.

In 1960 Hicks moved to Mexico and learned Kilim weaving.  These are flatweave pile free rugs where the horizontal weft threads are more densely packed than the vertical warp threads. This one shows slitweaves which typically exist where there are colour changes but can be anywhere where the weft threads return at a particular vertical warp rather than carrying across the whole width.

Sheila Hicks - Amarillo

Beginning in the 1950s on trips to Latin America Hicks made many minimes - small sample weavings acting almost like a sketch book of ideas and inspiration.  She continued this practice on her travels throughout her career. Hicks felt these helped her to build connections between art, design  architecture, decorative arts and craft.  I loved these.  They are like mini masterpieces.  This series spans the mid 1970s to 2011...

Sheila Hicks - Minimes (weavings)

Here is a photo of Hicks weaving on a portable loom - the warp threads are attached to a bar which is held round the weaver's waist.  The other ends are attached to a fixed object e.g. a tree.

Sheila Hicks - Weaving

This oil on canvas abstract landscape of Mexico illustrates her approach to colour and composition...

Sheila Hicks - Taxco-Iguala

In the late 1960s Hicks started making these Lianes named after lianas (flexible climbing stems, rooted in the ground but long and dangling, typical of tropical rainforests).  Lengths of undyed linen are wrapped at intervals with colourful threads to form cascading hangings...

Sheila Hickes - Lianes Nantaises

In the 1960s the Commonwealth Trust invited her to Kerala, India to design handwoven textiles for commercial and domestic use.  Here she got inspiration for her Palghat hangings with their threads spilling from the centre...

Sheila Hicks - Palghat Tapestry

Sheila Hicks - Palghat Tapestry (detail)

The torn strips in her work "Wow Bush/Turmoil in Full Bloom" were originally 3000 white nurses blouses which in 1977 were fashioned into a piece for the Lausanne Tapestry Biennale and later reformed into a sculpture at a community centre in Montreuil, Paris.  The emotional reaction of her audience, due to their hospital experiences evoked by the nurses blouses made her want to produce more work in this vein.  Later still the blouses were shredded into ribbons, dyed in Hick's washing machine, then grouped into bundles that can be rearranged every time they are displayed...

Sheila Hicks - Wow Bush/Turmoil in Full Bloom 

Sheila Hicks - Wow Bush/Turmoil in Full Bloom (detail)

Drawing parallels between writing and weaving Hicks sees creating interlocking threads to form a woven image being akin to joining letters to form words and sentences.  This "wild calligraphy" forms symbols in space (with the added benefit of reflections on the wall behind)...

Sheila Hicks - Caligraphy Sauvages

Sheila Hicks - Caligraphy Sauvages (detail)

Much of Hicks' work involves experimentation with scale and materials...

Sheila Hicks - Cordes Sauvage/Hidden Blue

Sheila Hicks - Cordes Sauvage/Hidden Blue (detail)

Darned linen socks, worn inside wooden clogs, given to Hicks by Carmelite nuns when they learned of her interest in thread writing (now an excellent example of visible mending)...

Sheila Hicks - Footprints

21st century experiments and repurposing of materials... 

Sheila Hicks - Joie de Vivre

Sheila Hicks - Ninety Colours

Sheila Hicks - More Wandering

"Nowhere to go" is the largest exhibit - made up of netted bundles of coloured acrylic fibre, piled up in a monumental fashion in a corner of the gallery...

Sheila Hicks - Nowhere to go
Sheila Hicks - Nowhere to go (detail)

A number of very large, colourful, wrapped linen panels are also on show...

Sheila Hicks - Wrapped Linen

Apart from the Minimes, I think the Grandes Boules were my favourite pieces.  These items, also referred to as "soft stones" or "meteors", form large, colourful, pebble shaped sculptures of a many-layered core that has been thread-wrapped.  They looked the perfect shape and size to sit on but that wasn't an option, unfortunately.  Again, this exhibit has the capacity to be changed every time it is shown.  I would have loved some of these of have been available in the garden to sit on.  There were some family drop in workshops where you could make your own version in miniature which looked like fun! (And there are a number of adult textile workshops coming up in June and July which look interesting - especially Felt, Bind & Stitch with Helen Riddle on Sat 30 July & Sun 31 July 2022.)

Sheila Hicks - Grandes Boules

This forms a brief skip through the exhibition showing some of the pieces that caught my attention.  "Off Grid" is on until 25 September 2022 - well worth a visit!

Just for info - The Hepworth has a lovely cafe & shop and there is a pay and display carpark nearby.

Sunday 10 April 2022

Britta Marakatt-Labba at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

Felled Forest - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Felled Forest (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Recently I took a trip to Birmingham to see an exhibition called Under the Vast Sky by Britta Marakatt-Labba at the Ikon Gallery. Britta Marakatt-Labba is a Sámi artist from Sweden.  The Sámi people are an indigenous population of northern Scandinavia and northwest Russia, an area called Sápmi in their own language and which has, in the past, been referred to in English as Lapland.

Felled Forest - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Felled Forest (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Traditionally, the Sámi have pursued a variety of livelihoods including coastal fishing, fur trapping, sheep herding and their best-known means of livelihood - semi-nomadic reindeer herding. Marakatt-Labba's work features the history, culture and cosmology of the Sámi, illustrating community and everyday life and topics including terrorism and climate emergency.

Mineral Extraction - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Embroidery is Marakatt-Labba's main craft but she also uses collage, sculpture and installation, all of which are evident in the exhibition. Alot of her work on show is panoramic in view and you need to get up close to see the fabulous detail of her stitched work.

History (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

There are a number of watercolour paintings (History - see above) that form the preparatory design for a 24m long work that hangs in the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso which details Sámi culture, language, history and cosmology.

A political piece called The Crows (Garjjat) deals with the historic moment when a group of activists staged a peaceful protest against the expansion of a hydro electric power plant in Alta in northern Norway.  Marakatt-Labba took part in the protest herself and was imprisoned.  Using the crow, which is a symbol of authority to the Sámi, she shows them changing into policemen who charge at the activists.  These protests paved the way for politcal reforms which led to the establishment of a Sámi parliament.

The Crows - Britta Marakatt-Labba

The Crows (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

The Crows (the detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

The installation piece, Events in Time, repurposes large flour sacks stamped with the image of the German eagle and swastika, a remnant of German occupation of Norway in World War 2, hung in a circle reminiscent of a traditional abode. These may have been acquired through barter between the Sámi and soldiers and belonged to Marakatt-Labba's aunt.  One of the sacks has an embroidery referencing the terrorist attack of Uttoya by right wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, who is depicted as a double headed bird of prey, surrounded by guns with bullets spraying out. 

Events in time - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Events in time (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Events in time (detail of reverse) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

There are also some Sámi godesses wearing the horned hat or ládjogahpir  (once prohibited under colonial rule).  When depicted in red it symbolises resistance and protection as here.  It appears in much of Marakatt-Labba's work.  When shown in blue it symbolises sorrow and mourning for the wounded earth as well as grieving and loss of a way of life and the knowledge tied up with that.

Events in time (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

There are also some sculptures featuring the heads of the Sámi godesses...

Granite Sculpture - Britta Marakatt-Labba

The fish is sacred in Sámi culture and acts as a mediator between the world of the living and the netherworld. This collage of dried fish skin has been embroidered on.

I have caught them all (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

While I was there I was able to take part in a workshop which is part of a series run by textile artist Maria Wigley and uses Marakatt-Labba's work as inspiration.  We began the process of making some stitched books.  It was a really enjoyable session. Maria herself is inspired by text and mark making and is a member of the Prism textile group. You can catch the current Prism exhibition,UNTOLD, including Maria's work, at The Art Pavilion, Mile End Park, Clinton Road, E3 4QY until 18th April 2022.

Britta Marakatt-Labba's exhibition is on at the Ikon Gallery until 29 May 2022.  Definitely a must see exhibition!

The Ikon Gallery has a cafe attached - the Yorks Cafe.  It also has a small shop and some lockers to leave your things in while you look round.  Well worth a trip!