October 27, 2010

Sheila Hicks: Miniatures

Ringlets; made in Paris, 1993; interlock, reversible; rubber bands, paper clips; 12 1/4 x 5 inches
A cascade of circus-festive, elastic bands congregates and loops into a paper clip. A repetitive gesture, on the accumulation of similar elements, accords with my natural instincts.
I chose to build with fiber rather than overlay paint upon paint, or carve wood, or struggle to give form to soft clay or wax.

One of my favorite catalogs on my bookshelf is Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor, from a 2006 exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center in NYC. Now that I am painting at a very small size, the small works that Hicks has made throughout her life have extra meaning to me. Sheila Hicks is an important contemporary textile artist whose work I had been unaware of until friends told me about the show; I sadly missed it, but the catalog has given me a great deal of pleasure and inspiration.

Although Hicks makes many more traditional looking pieces, the works that I most love are surprising and inventive, such as Ringlets above. Paper clips and rubber bands: what could be more simple, or closer to hand? They are transformed into a marvelous rhythm of irregular circles and bouncing colors. Hicks commented on many of the works in the show, comments that are thoughtful, articulate, and often personal, so that the pieces are like a diary, a notation of place and feeling, and of making. It was very difficult to choose just a few works to show here because there are so many ideas and enticing images in the book.

Dimanche; made in Paris, 1960; wrapped leather, linen, paper; 3 1/2 x 5 inches.
Shoelaces bound with linen. Sunday I rifle through castoffs in the flea market in search of distinctive discards.

Another piece made of ordinary materials, Dimanche is tightly bound, yet bursting with energy.

Trout Quipu; made in Galway, Ireland, 1964; woven, braided reversible, three finished selvages; wool; 8 x 5 1/2 inches.
Quipu––an abacus of the Andes––became the model for a series of wall panels I knotted in a carpet workshop in Ireland. The concept of dangling, tangled warps worked into a counting system was labor-intensive but captivating.

I chose this image because I found the inspiration for it so interesting; imagine turning an abacus into a weaving!

Cross Over; made in Paris, 1968; woven, all selvages finished; wool; 8 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches.
Vertical parallel warp detaches and moves diagonally to invite weft to follow the errant path.

I find this piece lovely, as though two figures, side by side, are moving to touch each other and join together. It's quite a conversation they are having.

Miniature Textile; made in Nantes, France, 1987; woven, stitched, reversible, all selvages finished; 7 x 5 inches.

I see this as a charming portrait: a young woman, stylish haircut, bound and free. Or sometimes I see a cartoon face, full of joy and fun.

Back from the Front; made in Jerusalem, ca. 1979; knitted, stitched cotton jersey; 9 x8 inches.
Khaki green t-shirt jersey is repeatedly sewn with a sharp needle.

It is moving to think of Hicks sewing "repeatedly" on a khaki army t-shirt "with a sharp needle", a brilliant metaphor for the intractable problems of Israel/Palestine.

Tibidabo Daydream; made in Barcelona, 1973; woven, all selvages finished; wool, cotton, paper; 9 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches.
On my way to Tibidabo, the Barcelona amusement park, I bought pajamas for my son who was in the hospital. I kept the tags and inserted them as weft.

What an idea, to weave clothing tags into a textile. This is an example of the weaving as diary; photographs work for this, but how much more present are the actual objects of a life.

ChoCho San; made in France, 2006; dyed, woven, and sewn; synthetic fiber, color transfer paper; 10 x 7 1/4 inches.

The sewn, brightly colored piece of paper caught between strings, bound by weaving, though still managing to burst free. The combination of transparent and opaque, paper and fiber give a sense of movement, so that I might have titled this "Continental Drift".

And here, taken from her website, is a Hicks commission, which I think is pretty amazing; the ideas from the miniatures writ large.


  1. These Hicks pieces are all new to me. She's been a favorite since I discovered her back in the late 60s. One of her hangings was in the student union at RIT. Cream colored wool (?) with long loops and braids of wool bound in blues and greens. It hung above an antique green piano. I can't begin to convey how striking the juxtaposition of those two objects was to a young art student. I only was in the building a few times but I've never forgotten the thrill of my first sight of them.

  2. Thanks for sharing that wonderful memory, Linda. I would love to see some of her work in person.

  3. Thanks for this posting, Altoon. I'm going to see if that catalog is still available. I agree with you, I love the use of everyday stuff in Hick's work, and how that turns each piece into a kind of journal--very personal, though they also have a timeless quality, as if unearthed from an archeological dig. Also very interesting to see the large installation in relation to the intimate work.

  4. Yes, the book about her work,"Weaving as Metaphor", is available on Amazon.

  5. Sheila Hicks exhibition opening at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Friday next Nov. 5.
    Tel. 978.749 4015

  6. Sheila, thanks a million for letting me know about the Hicks exhibition, which is called "Sheila Hicks: Fifty Years". It's on till February 11. The Addison is a very long drive from here, but I will try to make it to the show.

    and glad you enjoyed this post, Susan. I was glad to see that the catalog was still available.

  7. that catalogue is one of my favorite books - I read it like poetry. I love the combination of material (formal) and personal involvement she had with working, like a diary.