With a playful touch of distinguished charm, exuberance, and warmth, textiles have been summoned for centuries to imbue our personal spaces with vibrancy and life, stunning our senses with myriads of color and texture that incite conviviality and narrate stories of wonder, comfort, and lush materiality. Artistically, textiles inspire a solvency of emotion, whether with monumental installations or thought-provoking tapestries, and as design objects textiles can illicit powerful bonds between the self and the lived atmosphere from abstract pieces that adorn the wall to luxurious throws placed on the sofa. In this vacillating yet fascinating space between art and design lives the sensuous and invigorating work of Sheila Hicks, an American textile artist based in Paris whose pieces forged from a lustrous six-decade long career can be seen in prestigious art museums and design galleries alike, exploring the expressive power of yarn and its legitimacy as a material to arrest our consciousness and reimagine how we situate ourselves in relation to the structures that surround us.
A pioneering and powerfully uplifting visionary, Sheila Hicks speaks to our souls through a multicolored intensity of form made joyful and honest with a transcendent command of thread, manipulating skeins of wool, poor linen, and forgotten materials in an insubordinate act of creative demolition only to resurrect them as provocative edifices of meaning with an imposing presence. Take for instance her piece Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands from 2016-2017, where spherical blocks of color overtake the environment in a vivid and undeniably beautiful totality that affects every aspect of space, from the line of visual sight to the acoustics. Designed for the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale in 2017, this architecturally rich work made a reappearance at the Bass Museum in Miami Florida in 2019 as part of Campo Abierto (Open Field) exhibition that prompted visitors to engage its reconstruction in the context of South Florida, where a nexus of multilingual origins converges with environmental concerns. Intriguing, lively, and tactilely inviting, Hicks’ Escalade illustrates how her work moves beyond decoration and tells a multifarious story of the art of making and how a keen sense of color can reinvigorate and inspire.
Astute, rigorous, and at times esoteric, a textural physicality defines the craft of Sheila Hicks. By making use of materials as diverse as plant fibers and rubber bands, Hicks’ dimensional weaving method has been manifested in raw pieces that unite disparate parts in a stunningly attractive whole, gilding the halls of well-designed spaces for decades. Currently, some of her work is on display at the venerated design gallery Demisch Danant in New York, whose exhibition In The Room is on view until February 3, 2024. Alongside work by the innovative Maria Pergay, the delightful Etienne Fermigier, provocative contemporary designer Jos Devrient, and a handful of other icons of French design, Hicks’ Prayer Rug from 1978 and Untitled weave from 1984 resonate an aesthetic intrigue and tactile allure as much today as when they were crafted, timeless in their dance of line, color, and material. Whether absorbing with joy one of her minims – what Hicks calls her small scale works – or enveloping the body with a larger, more epic installation in a museum or at a public site, there is no mistaking the distinguished complexity of her weaving and its ability to capture our minds with a refined sense of exultation, calling to mind the felt sculptures of Robert Morris or the prismatic color effects of Dan Flavin, at once carefree, dignified, boisterous, and sublime.