Born 1934 in Hastings, USA Lives and works in Paris, France and New York

Across a career spanning more than five decades, Sheila Hicks’s practice has always defied easy categorisation. Criss-crossing between genres and disciplines at the intersection of art, design, craft and architecture, she is particularly well known for vivid fibre-based works that encompass all kinds of materials and textile languages, and range in scale from the near miniature to the monumental. Drawing on a range of references, Hicks’s ‘unbiased weaves’ are sculptural and yet never static, made using supple materials and ‘dancing strands’. [1]

For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Hicks presents two works as part of the Embassy of Spirits at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where, through an accumulation of rainbow thread, colour itself is treated as material. With the first, the artist has taken Treaty of Chromatic Zones, 2015, a monumental bas-relief of ‘batons’ variously twisted, wrapped and stacked with silk and linen yarn in vibrant hues, as a starting point. Reimagined as The Embassy of Chromatic Delegates, 2015–16, Hicks has added cords, discs and clusters of ‘boules’ – densely composed textures in which secret treasures are hidden. These act as punctuations, or surprising interventions, dotted nearby: ‘solid but fanciful, complementary voices’. [2] Considered together, this riotous assemblage ‘symbolically and metaphorically suggests a reunion of delegates at a conference. They originate from diverse backgrounds. They meet, make friends, discuss, disagree, and compromise – each with particularities or peculiarities that are hard to ignore. The delegates are eager to plead their individual independence but also seek to achieve harmony and enrichment from the diversity.’ [3] And, just as the Biennale conceives of its embassies as safe places for thinking, it also provides for Hicks a context for conversation between forms and the spaces in which they are situated.

With the second work, Questioning Column, 2016, Hicks dresses the imposing nineteenth-century architecture of the AGNSW facade with long winding cords, descending dramatically down its length in evolving coloured graduations. The vivid synthetic textile she uses ordinarily has more commercial applications, but Hicks leaves it in its raw state, as pigment transubstantiated into fibre. Unlike some other materials, this fibre has a memory, which she uses to twist lines in space, variously pushing and pulling, massing and manipulating, until it finds its final shape. In wrapping one of the columns of the gallery’s entrance, Hicks literally and metaphorically softens it, remaking its monumental form as pure colour.

Both works combine personal rituals of making with intuition with intention. Moving seamlessly between an array of techniques – wrapping, braiding, twigging and stitching – at the heart of all Hicks’s constructions is a deep affinity for colour and texture. Her poetic installations respond to the architecture in which they are installed, while at the same time exploring the pervasive presence of thread in every facet of human existence, from birth until death.

[1] Sheila Hicks in conversation with Danielle Mysliwiec in Brooklyn Rail, 2 April 2014,, viewed 8 January 2016. [2] Email to the author, 20 January 2016. [3] ibid.