"Sheila Hicks Just Keeps Spinning"
by Ted Loos
The legendary textile artist on the creative process that keeps her going.
At 87, you are a longtime Paris resident and an unstoppable maker who basically invented her own category of fiber art. Now you have a big solo exhibition, “Sheila Hicks: Off Grid,” at the Hepworth Wakefield museum, in England, beginning April 7. What’s special about this show?
The thing I’m most excited about is that the building is by the architect David Chipperfield. They gave me a model of the galleries, with these irregular, unpredictably shaped spaces and light sources—it’s like having a dollhouse. There are strange surprises, and a very wide span. We’ve dug up some pieces and reformulated them. There are some rooms that provide an opportunity I’ve never had before, like a hanging space with a clerestory.
Many of your colorful fiber works hang, but sometimes they lie flat, squat, or linger oddly—they have an interesting relationship to gravity.
Gravity is a big player in my work. We have cascades, spills, crashes...the pieces tremble on the floor. They imply that if you come back tomorrow, they may have moved and morphed overnight. When you work with pliable and supple materials, you’re supposed to follow what the material expects and wants, but I defy that in a playful way.
Is that what makes you so original?
I’m fun-loving. I’m rebellious against tristesse and devastation. I’m not a very decisive person, but I’m alert, and I get tempted and lured into things. That’s how I got to France: This teacher at Yale invited me to lunch and said, “I heard about you. I want to arrange a grant. You’ll never be a truly cultivated woman until you know La France.” I thought I’d give it a chance. Then, once in it, you swim. I’ve been here since 1964.
Saffron Sentinel, 2017. (Photo: Rosie Marks)
Cordes Sauvages/Hidden Blue, 2014. (Photo: Rosie Marks)