Pioneering Fiber Artist Sheila Hicks’ ♥ of Color

“I remember environments. I remember color climates. I remember textures,” Sheila Hicks told an audience during her talk at Design Miami/ Basel last week. At 79 years old, on the heels of the Whitney Biennial (where her cascading pillar of fibers was among the standout works) and with an ongoing series of kaleidoscopic installations at the Palais de Tokyo, Hicks’ rapport with color is longstanding and undisputed.

Just look to her commission unveiled at last week’s inaugural “Design at Large” program at Design Miami/ Basel. Séance, presented by Demisch Danant, is a site-specific, vibrantly colored environment for which Hicks created an interactive “color lab” for fairgoers. Among heaps of colored fabrics she described as “floating cotton candy,” visitors were invited to arrange hand-painted blocks of wood in their own unique color combinations. 

On the occasion of the commission, Hicks shared a stage with Sjarel Ex, Director of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, to chat all things textiles—but the conversation favored her love of color. “My favorite color is solferino,” she confessed, “a bright, magenta, Mexican pink” from which she claims to draw nourishment. And though it was no surprise to hear Hicks gush over pigments—beloved for wrangling vibrant hues for over five decades—she revealed her hypersensitivity to color. “If I get stuck in a dinner with a necktie in front of me [that] I can’t bear, it ruins the dinner,” she said. “I’ll remember you today by the color of the suit you wore,” she warned. 

So when did Hicks’ love affair with color begin? An anecdote from her adolescence is rather telling: at 15 years old, indulged by her parents much to the chagrin of her bourgeois neighborhood, Hicks painted her street-facing bedroom a daring “royal blue with scarlet flamingo edges and cadmium orange doors,” as she describes it. A neighborhood committee assembled to demand a repaint—but Hicks never budged. And no one in the Design Miami/ Basel crowd was surprised to hear it. Not from Hicks, who had just confessed to thinking about color before she even opens her eyes in the morning. “Don’t open your eyes, just think for two minutes intensely about color,” she encouraged. Hicks, who admitted to continuously changing the color scheme of her home; whose washing machine must be perpetually replaced after being subject to too many rinses with colored dyes. When asked why she chose textile and color, she affirms, “It chose me.”

As Hicks has famously migrated from the world of textiles to contemporary art, it was no great surprise to find her work as a centerpiece of Design Miami/ Basel, a fair abound with textiles and which brings together art, design, craft, and architecture—a harmony that Hicks has so famously mastered. Throughout the design fair, visitors encountered Anton Alvarez’s colorful thread wrapped architecture, bound with fabrics like fleece, wool, and velvet, and Brynjar Sigurðarson’s dining table made using a rope-making technique he learned from an Icelandic shark hunter. Across the street at Art Basel Unlimited, one could find Sterling Ruby’s soft sculpture installation of fabric, fiber, and rope, Sam Falls’ giant textile hammock of saturated orange fabric, and Alice Channer’s floor-to-ceiling, digitally printed swathe of silk—all which marry textile and fine art and which, even if indirectly related, offer a hat tip to Hicks. 

— Molly Gottschalk

Sheila Hicks, presented by Demisch Danant, was presented at Design Miami/ Basel 2014 as part of the “Design at Large” program, June 17th–22nd, 2014.

Explore Design Miami/ Basel 2014 on Artsy.