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.

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