Archive for January 8th, 2015

Reading: Sheila Hicks: Weaving as metaphor

Stritzler-Levine, E. (Ed.) (2006) Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor New Haven: Yale University Press

I first saw this book during Liz Williamson’s class at Sturt almost 3 years ago (see 24-June-2012). At that time it cost an appalling amount of money. I now have a fourth edition copy for a mere large amount. It is indeed a beautiful book.

In my post linked above I wrote about the importance of scale. The works in Weaving as Metaphor are quite small – many around 23 x 12 cm. The variety and complexity achieved is eye-opening.

There are a number of interesting essays. Arthur Danto explores instances where weaving has been used as metaphor, particularly in political analysis. Joan Simon gives an overview of Hicks’s career and in particularly her longterm use of a small fixed frame to create these miniature works. My jotted notes:

  • Wide variety of materials and found objects
  • “evoke evidence of place” (p. 50)
  • “emphasis on different ways of revealing and enhancing the warp threads” (p. 51)
  • ways “to break through the visual plane” (p.51)
  • “integral cohesive forms that stand at the size they need to be as works in their own right” (p. 58), although discoveries inform larger works
  • “the number one decision is color, and that determines what happens” (Hicks quoted p. 58)
  • the readability of the mark – a brushstroke, a sweeping gesture (p. 59)
  • Nina Stritzler-Levine discusses these miniature works in the context of Hicks’s design work. More jottings:

  • “[MoMA’s] concerns about identity at a time when definitions of design and craft were in flux..” (p. 349). I ask when are they ever not, in modern times?
  • “Hicks’s insistence on not giving credence to terminology may derive from her desire for multiple readings of her art.” (p.349)
  • “Pure expression and the utilitarian often join in the most surprising moment.” (Hicks quoted p. 350) “she actually solves problems by integrating art, design, and craft and placing all three disciplines at the service of industry” (p. 351)
  • Painter Piero Dorazio – “She thought the fields of color and the patterns of vertical and horizontal lines in Dorazio’s abstract paintings had a strong textile sensibility” (p. 363). I did an internet search on his images – exciting colours and interactions.
  • Working with a business in India: “they patiently corrupted the things they knew how to do expertly” (quoting Hicks, p. 365).
  • Sensitivity responding to indigenous cultural traditions (p. 377)
  • Of course there’s a lot more – the above is just a sampling of things that touch on some of my current preoccupations.
    The Notes to the text are also rich in information particularly:
    “[Hicks has] offered a taxonomy of her different explorations within ‘four categories’: ‘closed compositions,’ where ‘nothing can be added or taken away’ (her miniatures are included in this category); ‘open compositions,’ which comprise ‘modular elements’; ‘blocked compositions,’ which are ‘made up of similar elements multiplied but limited by the dimension of the surface to be treated’ (architectural commissions), and ‘ephemeral compositions,’ which are ‘acts, manifestations; short-lived, symbolic.'” (p. 385). An interesting way to categorise work, particularly given the emphasis elsewhere on the “autonomous” painting or work of art. I think it could also offer an approach to submitting assignment work – perhaps send a single “modular element”, together with documentation / photos / video of an installation of multiple elements.

    There are also photographs of some of Hicks’s journals. It’s interesting to see the mix of notes, images and just a couple of sketched details of structures and designs.

    All very interesting, and generously illustrated with documentary photographs and images of works. However finally I get to the meat – the catalogue of the exhibition. Perhaps 150 miniatures pictured, each given a page and the facing page giving details of title, date, materials, dimensions, and sometimes some brief comments by Hicks. Measuring one photo chosen at random, it shows the work at 70% the size of the original. You can see so much. There is such an amazing wealth of inventiveness, so much to learn from (I’ve also been reading “Steal like an artist” by Austin Kleon – more on that another day). This book has been my evening reading/looking for a couple of months, and while I’ve spent time with every page I don’t suppose I’ve absorbed half a percent of what I could gain.

    Of course having such detail just leaves one wanting more. Dimensionality is lost, colours are presumably shifted, textures and sheen lost or diminished, colour interaction – what happens when you tilt your head or move around or back or forward – all is lost. This book was originally the catalogue of an exhibition, and just as with Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present (26-Dec-2014)) an excellent catalogue has left me hungry.


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