Sheila Hicks, Lifelines exhibition with Atterissage in foreground. Photo Ruth Eaton

“Lifelines”: Sheila Hicks at the Centre Pompidou, Paris

“Lifelines”, a vast exhibition of Sheila Hicks’ work currently showing in Paris, is a riot of colour and texture that demonstrates just how much the 84-year old American artist is still at the height of her powers. Visiting it is an immersive and exhilarating experience and one that I cannot recommend highly enough.

Sheila Hicks Lignes de Vie Lifelines exhibition. Photo courtesy Centre Pompidou, Paris

Hicks describes her work in this way: “I studied painting, sculpture, photography and drawing, but textiles were what most attracted me. I practise a kind of textile art. I create environments, make objects with thread, weave fabrics, build soft sculptures and bas-reliefs …”

Sheila Hicks, Pecher dans la Riviere detail. Photo Ruth Eaton

Sheila Hicks Lifelines exhibition with Pecher dans la Riviere in foreground. Photo Ruth Eaton

The exhibition presents over a hundred “Minimes”, small-scale woven compositions made on a hand loom, alongside a number of monumental works. These include giant multi-coloured lianas that cascade down from the ceiling like bell-ringers’ ropes or woollen bales piled high in vibrant shades of orange and red. Hicks’ works operate in a kind of complimentary dialogue with the places in which they are presented and are often designed to be configured differently in different spaces.

Sheila Hicks, Lianes de Beauvais. Photo Ruth Eaton

As a student, Sheila Hicks was taught by Josef Albers, a major theoretician of colour and her command of colour is perhaps the most powerful and striking aspect of her work. It has to be seen to be truly appreciated; in “Lianes de Beauvais”, my personal favourite, the intertwining of yellow, orange, violet, grey, gold, green and light blue is breathtaking and even though this work is featured on the cover of the catalogue reproductions fail to do justice to its beauty.

Sheila Hicks, Rempart. Photo Ruth Eaton

In Hicks’ work you really want to reach out and touch the colour. While the colour in a painting on a primed stretched canvas by, say, Matisse or Kandinsky can produce a similar sense of exhilaration, it doesn’t inspire a desire to touch the canvas. In textile art, the colour can be literally soaked into (rather than lain on top of) the material and the fabric itself has an amazing tactile appeal. In fact I’d go further and say that not only is the visitor tempted to touch Sheila Hicks’ colour but also to wrap him/herself up in it!

Sheila Hicks, Rempart. Photo Ruth Eaton