A new exhibition on London’s South Bank gives Jonathan R Jones a chance to sing the praises of American artist Sheila Hicks. Sheila Hicks: Foray into Chromatic Zones is at the Hayward Gallery Project Space, London until 19 April 2015. Read the full review in COVER 38, out soon.
During a successful career spanning five decades, Sheila Hicks has become synonymous with colourful and playful textile interventions that delight and subvert in equal measure. The heart of the exhibition is Hicks’s site-specific sculptural response to artist Dan Graham’s Waterloo Sunset Pavilion (2002–03) atop the Hayward’s roof. Titled Sunset Pavilion Inhabited (2015), Hicks’s piece consists of huge bundles of loose fibre in turquoises, blues, oranges, reds and yellows, piled up and held together by plastic netting. Offering an opportunity to lounge in Graham’s Pavilion, the work presents a welcome organic contrast to the slick glass and steel structure.
Hicks’s chromatic inspiration stems from her study of Bauhaus colour theory while at Yale, and it is no surprise to learn that the famous abstract colourist Josef Albers was one of her tutors. Her signature textile bundles, Nomad Treasure Bales (2014–15), are a kaleidoscope of colour. These tightly-wound flattened spheres of thread have an immense energy and vibrancy about them, and the tension of coiled springs. Their joyous palette recalls folk art, while formally they resemble laundry bales or the bundles of possessions suggested by the title. Apparently each contains a ‘treasure’ – a small memento from her travels – at its centre, lending them a totemic or fetishistic quality. But they also recall organic forms such as eggs, chrysalises or fungi, poised to release offspring or spores.
The golden Médaillions bas-relief I and II were originally developed as preparatory works for a monumental tapestry series for the Ford Foundation’s New York headquarters, first realised in 1967. Wear and tear had left them in a sorry state, and in 2013–14 Hicks oversaw the recreation of the work. Like a series of shimmering suns, the piece is once again a vibrant and celebratory installation.
The exhibition concludes with nine of the artist’s intimate Minimes, made using her portable hand loom between 1976 and the present: on the one hand deeply personal and, on the other, timeless and universal.