Sheila Hicks, Forging Links in the Chain

A true ethnologist of textile culture, artist Sheila Hicks approaches creation from a place of travel and exploration, her only luggage being a collection of colorful balls and bundles. She establishes her own re-reading, a personal appropriation of traditional popular artisan textiles as well as of the varied steps in contemporary textile production.
Her poetically-titled works recall different stages in the transformation of textile materials. Here, a collage displays wool fibers dancing across drawing paper, expressing vivacity and movement with the bold simplicity of a child’s brushwork or a cave painting. Further on, a monumental installation brings forth a network of polyester fibers, combed and twisted into great ropes of vibrant color. The raw material is displayed here as gutted bales, partially wrapped in woven fabrics, awaiting the next stage of their transit.
Day is Turning to Night, 2014, silk, cotton, paper, ink, 23,5 x 14 cm
All of this visual vocabulary around the transport of fibers peaks in those works that evoke textile cargo shipments, echoing the journeys of the artist herself who since the beginning of her career has set out to discover different textile practices across the globe, armed only with her pocket loom. It is on this very loom, she says, that she weaves the daily journal of her wanderings: small format compositions, rudimentary weaves of cotton, silk and wool incorporating feathers, iron threads, paper or any other element that passes through her hands along the way. The thread is the path, and to weave means to travel.
A reflection of the fantastical imagination of the artist, the textiles dance across paper, the threads trace journeys and recount the path that unfolds a bit more each day; these objects are testimonies to ongoing encounters with people and landscapes, explored and methodically interwoven through the medium of textiles.
Landing, 2014, pigments, acrylic fibers, 480 x 430 x 260 cm (variable dimensions)
The work of Sheila Hicks also speaks to the transformations inherent to textiles as materials. From fiber to weave, strand to network, thread to rope, weaving to fabric, it is an ancestral story of the work of carding, spinning, winding and weaving which whispers throughout Hicks’ pieces. Through partnerships with a variety of producers who provide primary materials, the artist unwraps the entirety of the transformative processes in the textile chain. Sunbrella® is one such company, specialized in the production of awnings and tarpaulins for outdoor use; they supply Hicks with a vast palette of colors and materials that resist fading, weathering and fire damage.
Similarly, the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp – which brings together the entire production chain of European linen from cultivation to spinning and weaving – has forged a special relationship with Hicks, regularly providing surpluses of fibers, threads and fabrics. And what better choice than linen, a longstanding support material among painters, to give an artist as she intervenes upon the codes of the history of art? With a wink to the monochromatic, Hicks presents a series of frames covered in bits and strands of linen, playing with the regular role of the canvas as support, here becoming the very material presented as work.
The White Wall, 2013, wool, linen, 180 x 180 cm
At over 80 years old, Sheila Hicks seems to also unravel the thread of eternal youth. She was a student of Josef Albers in the 1950s and today presents her fresh, vivid installations alongside the work of the youngest generation of artists at Palais de Tokyo and the Frank Elbaz gallery in Paris – which will present a solo exhibition of Hicks this year during FIAC at the Grand Palais.
Photo Credits: Zarko Vijatovic
Courtesy of Sheila Hicks and Frank Elbaz gallery, Paris