Wandering into a side room at Alison Jacques felt like stumbling into an odd interplanetary church service. Arranged on plinths were small fabric discs, bound into shape by lengths of thread, looking like cosmic spheres, but also somehow like heads on straining necks. On the wall, a larger disc, like a godhead, radiantly pink.
I’d entered into the world of Sheila Hicks, a prolific artist who works in a bunch of media but who is primarily known for textile works like these. US born but Paris-raised, I hadn’t seen a show of hers before - but this London exhibition is a prelude to a much larger one at The Hepworth in Wakefield next spring.
All the little discs have funny names, often bilingual - Phare de Stiff or Penn ar Rugel for example. They’re cuddly but constrained. Made of linen, cotton and silk, the material lends feeling. As Hicks says: “Thread is the universal language. It could become a hammock, or a fishing net, or a hat, or a home… It’s the first thing you feel in the morning when you wake up in your bed sheets, then you step on a rug, you pick up a towel…”
Maybe that's why this little congregation seems so warm and welcoming.
In the main gallery there are larger-format wall works, more regularly encased in vertical strips of thread. Most are hung from the ceiling, but close to the wall, encouraging the user to peek behind.
Walking around the show made me think of a much larger exhibition centring around textiles I’d seen a few years back at Tate: a retrospective of Annie Albers. (In fact Hicks was taught at art school by Josef Albers, Anni’s husband, so they must have known each other.) But where I found Albers’ designs precise but narrow and stilted, there’s a wild woolliness around Hicks’ threads.
“To be here and now, seeking harmony", Hicks says of her intentions with the exhibition. “To make immediate impact and, hopefully, leave lasting impressions.”
Sheila Hicks: Music to my Eyes is at Alison Jacques (London). 04 June - 31 July 2021