Sheila Hicks, born in Nebraska in 1934, has lived and worked in Paris since 1964. She began as a painter, but soon broadened the scope of her artistic output using soft materials and drawing inspiration from ancestral art, particularly pre-Columbian. Her wrapped, woven, embroidered, knotted and twisted works are made of fibres both natural and man-made and systematically transcend strictly pictorial or sculptural genres as they assimilate the open space.
The artist deploys all manner of resources in her experiments. It is her belief that each material speaks its own language, defined by properties such as color, thickness, and haptic quality. By merging, within the same work, highly disparate and even unexpected color tones, textures and materials, she initiates a conversation in which each voice has its own place, a conversation in which we, too, are invited to take part. Indeed, she invokes our most elementary visual and tactile experiences, those we acquire in the very first years of our existence. Based essentially on the physical and the sensory, this primitive experience constitutes a resource inherent in humanity, and therefore universal, even if it is most often buried, not to say repressed, by society. Both steeped in this pre-conscious inner world (founded on ancient reminiscences) and deeply inspired by nature, which is ubiquitous within her oeuvre, Sheila Hicks’s works allow a multitude of infinitely poetic associations.
Deep on a Hidden Forest Walk, turquoise and mauve-colored ropes wrap around one another, intertwined, entangled, curled in capricious twists, reaching out in every direction that gravity allows. A rope, trivially speaking, is an object comprised of several bundles of yarn bound together, then twisted. It is produced for its practical qualities and, thanks to its strength and suppleness, can be used for tying, hauling, and hoisting. Sheila Hicks has restored to this object its ‘untamed’ form, shaking off its shackles of subjugation to the utilitarian purpose for which it was conceived. Resonating closely with Nature, which ultimately always regains the upper hand, the artist reclaims this tool by restoring its plant-based form and emancipating it from its artefact status. Thus, these ‘wild ropes’ are allowed to climb freely into the trees, like vines.
As for Cosmic Wisdom and Neighbourly Affection, each of these artworks also appears driven by the desire to come alive, to develop its own personality. Created as a centrifugal expansion emanating from an inner core, they expand and thrive from the originating nucleus from which they seem to draw their strength. This point of origin is perhaps merely the impetus that propels the object’s incremental creation, its successive envelopments in its own nature. In fact, the process appears to emulate the encircling trajectories and satellite orbits that planets describe within a solar system.
Through the use of a sun- and rain-resistant material, Sunny Side of the Moon will be visible both day and night. Blue Vertical and Blue Horizontal echo each other like the black and white of a chessboard. And although united by the same intense blue color, the two panels play on their interdependence as well as their opposition by embedding themselves in an orthogonal system of Cartesian coordinates.
The Prayer Rugs, finally, are precisely that: prayer rugs. They invite us to settle there and find a space conducive to spirituality. Their size is such that they easily accommodate several people at a time, or even an entire family.
In creating the Cosmic Vibrations installation for the inauguration of the new space at Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Hicks has adapted to the specificities of the location, as is her wont. Perhaps she is also responding more generally to the onerous context of our times, opening up paths of sensitivity we may have lost. What is certain is that Sheila Hicks encourages us to break free of the confinement of our individualistic world by affording us access to the most immediate and sensitive qualities of our universe.
Julia GarimorthChief Curator, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris