In a château graced by an extraordinary collection of ancient tapestries, and following Gabriel Orozco’s Fleurs fantômes (Phantom flowers) inspired by the wallpaper in Princess de Broglie’s guest bedrooms, what could be more natural than to call on Sheila Hicks, with her ears so attuned to the whisperings and memories of these walls, tapestries and wallpaper.
Indeed, with her, “the wall hangings have stepped out into the light to become a work of art”.
She manifests breathtaking skill in the way she handles the fibres, just as a painter might apply his gouache.
For her, each piece is a journey, an exploration she embarks on with the wonderful coloured bundles and giant balls of wool or flax, her faithful companions, which she manipulates to invent her poetry-steeped creations.
Monumental installations or delicate collages and woven assemblages of wool or linen derive from the same analysis of colour by this highly regarded artist, who is adept at all the textile practices she has been able to discover in all four corners of the globe, during her countless discovery trips.
In 2018, for her 2nd year of creation at Chaumont-sur-Loire, the artist is bringing her talent to bear in the Château’s apartments with the combined use of two materials: wool and paper, a paper no thicker than skin, as a nod to the old wallpaper, walls and souls suspended in these spaces through which so many guests, lives and phantoms have passed.
Paper, silk, bamboo, wool, in the same way as drawings, will strike up a dialogue with the time-worn walls and the peeling wallpaper, giving glimpses of secrets and long-hidden stories and reviving snippets of history that will allow visitors to travel back in time and rediscover the colours of the past.
"Although she spends many long hours meditating over the areas she must make her own, the materials she will employ and the colours she will diffuse within them, it is only when she is actually in the rooms themselves and experiences the ambiences she has to work with that she really makes a start on the act of invention. Then, using everything that comes to hand, every object, every architectural feature, every nook and cranny the walls might have to offer, she follows her instincts to create a scene in which her imagination will combine with the onlooker’s, creating poetic mayhem in the pre-existing order. She feels, she knows what must be, what must come, driven by her instinct and the long experience of a perfect eye. Just as some people have perfect pitch, she possesses an omniscient eye, which instantly takes in the entirety of a scene and its chromatic potential.
Drawing inspiration from paintings and elements of nature, she gives shape to the ideas and visions brought forth by her imagination.
Employing such unusual materials as thick, intensely coloured fabrics in the Château’s basements and the finest-quality papers in its top-floor apartments, she enters into poetic dialogue with the monument’s unique settings.
And so it is that, in the Château’s basements, she conjures up impressive flows of the deepest red to costume the “pantry” in dramatic fashion, spreading across the floor, rolled and positioned “like a game of chess” – a spectacular crimson curtain-raiser coming up against the powerful verticality of Jannis Kounellis’ beams in masterly fashion.
And in the neighbouring “butcher’s”, she goes on to invent a mysterious ultramarine “waterfall”, concealing a door into an imaginary tunnel, a play of light from the slit-windows, which she refers to as a “secret way out”.
In the “refectory”, she combines “interlacings” of sand-coloured and ochre ribbons, which work their way into the texture of the stones.
Beneath the Château’s roofs, in what were once the guests’ apartments, she proudly spreads her monochrome fabrics, so many banners announcing the triumph of colour, and also causes “the sky to fall into the fireplace”. Sensitive as she is to the subtleties of tones, she mixes the grey of an old bare wall with the pale pink of the finest Korean paper. She invents a “trembling wall”, which vibrates as visitors pass by, in the room whose walls were hung long ago with wallpaper that is now in tatters, itself stirred into movement by the passage of time.
In the room she calls “bewitchment”, she has created a cunning mixture of ragged fabrics and weaves that seem to have been there forever, clinging to the vault and enhancing the mystery of their setting.
Never losing the thread of her thoughts or from the spool in her hands, she takes fabrics and yarns of all sorts and casts them on floors and walls alike. She dialogues with history and architecture, creating environments, worlds in their own right. She brings out the ambiences in settings that previously inspired Sarkis and Gabriel Orozco, sensitive, like her, to the souls in waiting, the imperceptible signs left behind by centuries past.
There is no moiré effect, nuance of colour or light she is unfamiliar with. She makes joyous use of all possible materials and colours.
Without ever conveying any clear message, always imbued with several layers of meaning, Sheila Hicks’ installations are evocations of secret worlds that the artist is content to suggest and to insinuate into our souls." Chantal Colleu-Dumond
Sheila Hicks au Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, 2018 - © Éric Sander
Sheila Hicks, born in 1934 in Hastings, USA; has been living and working in Paris since 1964.
Through her participation in the longstanding tradition of modern art which combines abstract art with a range of other disciplines, American-born artist Sheila Hicks lends fresh interpretation to the mainstream artisanal textile tradition, blurring the boundary between painting and sculpture with her fabric creations. After studying under Josef Albers at Yale, she began to work with fibres during a trip to South America from 1958 to 1959, where she was able to study the hand-woven fabrics of Columbia, Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Fibres then became the material of choice in her work which, shaped by her travels and the cultures she has explored, she sees as a process that ends in a dynamic interaction between her pieces and the beholder, as well as with the architecture in which her exhibits are on display.