Sheila Hicks at the Hayward Gallery – ‘Foray into Chromatic Zones’

'Nomad's Treasure Bales'

‘Nomad’s Treasure Bales’

The first things which struck me walking into Sheila Hicks’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, were colour and texture. Hicks studied at Yale under Josef Albers, so it’s no surprise that her skill with colour is strong and vibrant. After completing her studies at the School of Art and Architecture, she studied in France and moved to Mexico, where she learnt traditional textile techniques. Hick’s work ranges from the small and intimate to monumental commissioned sculpture pieces and site-specific installations.

'Cordes Sauvages Pow Wow'

‘Cordes Sauvages Pow Wow’

Straight in front of you as you walk in the room is a hanging sculpture of entangled cords, ‘Cordes Sauvages Pow Wow’. Using cotton, silk, wool and synthetic fibres, these long cords have been created and hung like colourful branches of a weeping willow. Alongside this are a selection of ‘Nomad Treasure Bales’, which to me looked similar to Moroccan cushions! Their weave of criss-crosses, layer after layer, creating a web of patterns and shapes, binds the bales together. They almost look like large fabric buttons or marble coloured stones and their impact works with many of them together as they were. At the centre of each bale is a ‘treasure’ from her travels, cocooned in the netted fibres.

'Drawings with Fiber'

‘Drawings with Fibre’

In glass frames on the far wall are her ‘Drawings with Fibre’. These are mohair on rice paper, creating a light, wispy image, similar to the effect of an ink droplet into water.  I liked her simple play with her material and how it complimented her more structural work. Also on display are some of her ‘Minimes’. Hicks has a small-scale loom which she carries with her and these ‘minimes’ are small, woven tablets of inspiration. She has been making them for decades, almost like a diary, on her travels. They consist of layers and weaves of textiles, but also feathers, shells, hair, porcupine spines and anything really which is of significance or inspiration to her at the time. This technique of experimentation is where she says she found her ‘voice’.



Hicks considers travel and research to be in hand with work and life, much the same as her textile and sculpture works blur boundaries with design and architecture. She was commissioned to create textile wall installations, such as for the Ford Foundation in New York, of which there is a square example of this work in the exhibition.  Alongside this are some other examples of her textile and architecture commissioned projects.

Embroidered 'sun-dials' for the Ford Foundation's wall.

Embroidered ‘sun-dials’ for the Ford Foundation’s wall.

My favourite section of the exhibition was sadly closed to the public that day, but I could still look at least. The elliptical, glass room, ‘Waterloo Sunset Pavilion’ (designed by Dan Graham), was filled with bales of colour! Hicks has taken over the space with her site-specific response ‘Sunset Pavilion Inhabited’. Huge scale bundles of colourful fibre, held together by net, are placed in the room like giant, fluffy beanbags. Their colour is so vibrant it’s enchanting and I was so disappointed my desperate urge to go and dive in to the rainbow couldn’t be satisfied!

The exhibition runs until 19th April and it is free entrance! For more information click here.

Find Sheila Hicks resources at 709.2 HIC and Josef Albers at 709.2 ALB in Library 1. Why not read our blog on a visit to the Colour Reference Library, held at the RCA here.

Robynne Willowby, March 2015.