"The Irrepressible Trajectory of Lines and Color"
by Cara McCarty
Hicks’s color and painting studies with Josef Albers and research into pre-Columbian culture with the eminent scholar George Kubler, at Yale during the late 1950s, were defining. The rigors of these foundational disciplines were complemented by lectures on architecture by Vincent Scully and critiques with Louis Kahn. A subsequent Fulbright grant to paint and teach a basic design course for architecture students in Santiago, Chile, permitted Hicks to visit ancient archaeological sites and document Andean weaving techniques in Latin America. After completing her graduate studies in painting, she moved to rural Mexico, where she lived and worked for five years. There, impactful collaborations with sculptor Mathias Goeritz and architect Luis Barrágan influenced her deeply, as is evident to this day. Her contemporary perspective remains firmly grounded in these experiences.
During the 1960s and ’70s, most of Hicks’s work was in the vanguard. For centuries, tapestry ranked among the highest art forms in France, and her deviations challenged its noble traditions. Perhaps the ultimate vindication of her oeuvre came from the Encyclopedia Universalis, published in 1996. The last paragraph of its six-page essay detailing the history of tapestry from ancient Mesopotamia and Greece through the late 20th century ends with a jolt. The sole image used to illustrate a “new art form” is The Preferred Wife Occupies Her Nights, Hicks’s non-figurative bas-relief in linen, cotton, silk, and metallic threads. Its spinning sculptural formation, with twisted cords spilling off the work onto the floor, transcends the art form’s codified definition. The work had been Hicks’s entry for the infamous 1972 exhibition of contemporary art, “Douze Ans d’Art Contemporain en France,” at Paris’s Grand Palais.
Installation view of “Grace No Gridlock,” Paris, 2021. (Photo: Claire Dorn)
The Preferred Wife Occupies Her Nights, 1972. (Photo: David Housez)
Nurses Uniforms, 1978. (Photo: Atlier Sheila Hicks)
The Evolving Tapestry: She/He, 1967-68. (Photo: Jean Michalon)
La Sentinelle de Safran, 2018. (Photo: Pepe Moron)