Sheila Hicks, a prolific textile artist is considered to be one of the great artists on the world stage. With exhibitions from Tate Modern to Pompidou Centre and the Venice Biennale, she is the recipient of numerous awards including the prestigious Smithsonian Archives of American Art Medal in 2010. Whilst Hicks receives the recognition and accolade she deserves today, this was not always the case. In the 20th century, textiles were not perceived as an art form and were often overlooked and considered inferior to fine arts. Respectively Sheila received more prejudice towards the material she used than to being a female artist.
Her journey began at the Yale School of Art in the late 1950s. Whilst studying lettering, design and colour theory under the famed Bauhaus member Josef Albers, she took a liking to textiles. When Albers saw her working with thread, he invited Hicks to his home to meet his wife, Anni Albers who was already a prominent artist and master weaver.
Anni Albers pioneered the ancient craft of the loom to which she applied modernist ideas. Hicks spoke of Albers saying: “To me, her work felt constrained by repetition, as if it were pushing herself to do something in the proper way. Throughout my life I’ve resisted those kinds of constraints.” Sheila realised she could unite Anni’s emphasis on structure with Josef’s principles on colour and through that she carved out her own interpretation and visual language.
Hicks translates elements of abstraction, colour theory and painting into thread. Her fascination with creating ethereal moments, joyful sense of colour, tactility, sensuality and rich texture brings us a sight of sumptuous beauty. The intricacy and scale of her work is an inspiration and if you ever have the pleasure of witnessing it in person, you’ll find yourself relishing the idea of taking up weaving and experimenting with threads.
Hicks’ strive for nonconformity is visible in her larger-than-life thread sculptures, which are known to have redefined how we think about sculpture. She is a restless innovator, but her reverence for craftsmanship runs deep. Her practise isn’t just about creating objects and installations, but about living a life centred on making. Her lifelong ambition was to be faithful to the fibre, but free from it and not constricted by societal standards.
Today, at 87 and with many more commissions to come and a career retrospective underway, Sheila shows no sign of stopping, often joking “what is retirement?” Known to be the liveliest person in the room, she works everyday with the help of her assistants in her studio in Paris and always with a loom to hand. Sheila Hicks is one of the few who have done so much to advance the medium of textiles and played a significant part in the attempt to refute the hierarchy that sets fine art above craft. A belief we firmly stand by here at the Kit Kemp Design Studio.